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Immaculate Heart Church undertakes mission of friendship: Parishioners travel to Kenya

The members of the mission team, along with students from the school, stand outside the Multipurpose Hall. Submitted Photo

A mission team from Immaculate Heart Catholic Church in Crosslake recently traveled over 8,000 miles to Moto, Kenya. From June 6-18, a team of twenty adults and youth traveled not simply to help, but to make friends.

"We went to build a bond of friendship and relationship with Moto Hope, which is a mission founded by Father Francis Kabiru, a Kenyan priest in Minnesota. He is pastor in Walker and Hackensack," said Father Ryan Moravitz, pastor at Immaculate Heart.

The Crosslake church got involved about four years ago, in December 2012. The project began with raising funds for a multipurpose hall at the school in Kenya to be used for the community and the school.

In the last few years, the church has raised almost $80,000 for the social hall. It now has a kitchen the whole building has been tiled. This is how Immaculate Heart's relationship with Moto Hope began.

"I talked to Father Francis and said, 'If we're going to do this, we have to build a friendship with them,' and that friendship isn't just sending your checkbook. It's sending faces and sending hearts to build those friendships," said Moravitz.

That was the core of the mission. The goal was to build a bond with the children and the families there and to show them that they have friends all the way on another side of the world. The church is on board with more than just raising money.

"It's so important that it's not about doing some work then leaving. It really is almost more for us than them, and it needed to be more than that. It is truly about building relationships and building bonds of charity and friendships with people around the world," said Moravitz.

Although the main focus of the mission was building relationships, the team did do other projects, including planting trees, painting, tiling, cooking and setting up the library in the school.

The library had 10,000 books that were sent through Books for Africa. The team sorted all the books and brought more than 13 laptops and set up a network. They got the laptops set up with a catalog for the library so the kids are able to look up and check out books on any one of the computers.

They were able to catalog over 1,400 titles and shelve even more. There is no internet there yet, but the computers are set up and ready for when internet is available in that region of Kenya. A portion of the library will be for the community.

When asked about taking another mission to Kenya in the future, Karen Gray, youth minister at Immaculate Heart Church, was quick to answer. "Absolutely. The whole team - kids, everybody - even if they don't know it yet, they'll want to go back.

"I think the team members as a whole felt we received more out of the trip than we gave," said Gray, "because it was about the relationships. When the kids were in school during the day we did projects, but getting to know them and spend time with them was the most important."

"I think this was incredible and life-changing. I don't think I will ever experience anything else quite like it," said Cole Gray, Karen's son, who was a part of the Kenya mission team.

Moravitz asked, "Wouldn't it be something if we had them come here on a mission? You don't think about that because, in the world scheme, we're rich, so why would anyone need to come on a mission here? It's that reality of knowing we need help too. We need insights too."

To the people in Kenya, time doesn't mean anything, it is the people that are important. What is important is people and praising God, and there are no time limits for those things.

"For us, time and things are a priority, but for them, people are the priority. People are the treasure there, not schedules and material things," said Moravitz. "Relationship is at the core, and anything you have above the bonds of love, be grateful for it."

Kabiru's mentality of this mission is to empower through education. The mission was not about bringing boxes of clothes or other items. His vision is to support the students through the school.

"In Kenya, education isn't a given. That's something we take for granted here," said Gray. "A lot of those kids talked about how they would give back to Kenya, how they would make their country a better place. What we can learn from them is exponential. The happiness and joy they have is something we seek in the wrong places."

"Their vision for the place is definitely 'knowledge is empowerment'," said Moravitz, "If they're going to change the country, education is key. If the country doesn't educate its young people, it is not going to get anywhere. The people understand that. Their goal is to empower their children to be the next generation of leaders."

The students at Moto Hope get up at 4:30 a.m. every day. They make their beds military tight and they are in class by 6 a.m. They go to school until 3:30 p.m., when they get a two-hour break to study. Then, at 5:30 p.m., they bathe and go back to class until almost 9 p.m. After that they have evening prayer and they go to bed.

This schedule doesn't stop the children from being happy.

"They are the happiest kids you have ever seen," said Gray. "They wash their clothes by hand every day, hang it out on the line, and they are so hospitable it's almost uncomfortable. They are very loving, caring and community oriented."

After several days of spending time with the children in families in Kenya, the team had to go home. Some team members were said to have been reluctant to leave. However, the friendship that was created will still exist.

"We hope to continue the bond that has been built," said Moravitz. "The question is, how do we do that now? There's a number of ideas in a two-way direction. We have something to offer each other. Building a friendship, in all reality, is just figuring out how we can work together to make ourselves happy and make the world a better place."