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."