Sep 26, 2008 Tami S. Zimmerman Uncategorized
At 50 years of age, Jamesville resident Mike Rufo volunteered for the first time to lead a church mission: to “adopt” a village in West Africa. This brave move on Rufo’s part brought him and six team members nine hours by plane to a remote community in Senegal called Ndiadiane (pronounced jahn jahn) where it would begin a five-year project of help and hope for its Serere-speaking villagers.
The Eastern Hills Bible Church in Manlius is no stranger to Africa. It has a long-term relationship with people in Ghana, sending teams of people to the country for more than 15 years. When Rufo approached Eastern Hills Senior Pastor Doug Bullock about his desire for duty, he said Bullock referred him to Matt Paschall, a missionary who’s now in France and familiar with Senegal; he, his wife and four children are moving there come December.
“[Rev. Bullock] said to me, ‘I’d like to try something in Senegal but I don’t know what that looks like,'” Rufo said. “‘Can you head that up and see what comes of that?'”
Rufo began by contacting Paschall, who suggested the church “adopt” a village.
“At the time we didn’t [even] know what that meant,” he said. “That was just a phrase. The only way I saw that we could do it is to bring a bunch of people and see how it played out.”
In January, seven members of the team took the overseas journey where they discovered a whole different world. Remote, underdeveloped and without services, villagers had never even seen a doctor before, Rufo said. After touring several communities within Senegal, they chose to adopt Ndiadiane — the first village they went to and where they spent the most time — a sensible choice yet still a difficult decision to make: “As Westerners, we can bring resources. We can bring help in some way,” Rufo affirmed. “But we still didn’t know what we were doing.” Confident in their mission, however, Rufo and his team committed themselves to the poverty-stricken society, willing to “sort it all out later.”
God’s love reigns
“When you go there, something happens,” Rufo said. “I’m 50 years old, how did I miss this?”
Rufo recounted a defining moment from his January stay:
He was sitting on a bench when a little girl no older than 10 sat next to him, holding a small bag of M&Ms. She never saw the candy before, nor did she know how to open the bag.
“I opened it for her and she kinda smiled,” Rufo said.
A crowd of kids joined them, and, while all laughing together, the little girl put her arm on Rufo’s leg.
“My whole world changed at that moment,” he said, pondering the epiphany he experienced that day. “Here, we tend to get tied up in all the stuff we need to do and people will just fly right by you and not even notice you. In that culture, that doesn’t happen. Nobody flies by you.
“I think I really felt, sitting there with that little girl’s arm on my leg — I think I see how God sees her,” he paused, “and we should do the same.
“So now I have this vision every night that we can go back in Ndiadiane, hang out with all these people, and just be a family in the middle of Africa,” he added.
For almost all the members involved, this mission is the first of its kind for which they’ve ever volunteered.
“We have this team of people deeply committed to this adoption,” Rufo said. “Everyone’s life has been affected in very real ways.”
From then to now
A medical team, packed full with 400 mosquito nets and medical supplies, was sent in May to address various health issues including malaria — a disease prevalent throughout Africa. Kid’s Quest, an Eastern Hills children’s group, raised money over the summer in hopes to provide each youth a net. The villagers know they need nets, said Rufo, who remained home during the second trip. Nets cost $5 each and they just can’t afford them, he added.
Rufo said he hopes the third visit, scheduled for November, will strengthen ties between the people from two distinct cultures.
“We told these people we’re coming back for five years; three times a year,” he said. He explained to the villagers why the group was so committed. He told them that over time, they can help with irrigation, health concerns, and so forth.
“Curing them all of disease today and not going back later, in our mind, is not what we’re about,” he said. “We believe that it is more effective to provide continuing medical care to assist with prevention as opposed to giving them the medicines on a single trip.”
He also noted that everything they do there is a joint US and local Senegalese church effort.
Additionally, while Rufo began as team leader, they have since formed a leadership team comprised of six members to aid in decision-making and accountability.
“Because our cultures are so different, you need checks and balances to make sure you don’t get this cool idea to go do something without asking the right people,” he said. “You’re building a relationship.”
Eastern Hills Bible Church is holding a silent auction to help benefit its cause at 7 p.m. Friday Oct. 24. All are welcome to attend.
“We’re just trying to raise money to get doctors over there and buy medicines,” said Rufo, estimating the cost of one person to go is about $2,200.
“As a community at Eastern Hills, we’re making it work,” he said, hoping to get a head start on 2009 funding. “We’re looking long term.”