Area residents aid missions

Groups travel abroad, raise money at home to help others

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Melvin Weitz steers his 1950 Chevrolet, "the first new car I bought," past a small cattle stampede at the Southeastern Washington Fairgrounds.

In the dust of the rushing herd, he parks, opens the trunk and withdraws the tools of his trade - a five-pronged hoe and metal hook for picking up trash.

The 75-year-old Weitz spends his days collecting glass, newspapers and aluminum cans at the fairgrounds and from restaurants throughout the valley to help fund missions along the equator around the world.

It's just one way that local residents bring food, medical care and Christianity to Third World nations.

Not everyone has the chance to serve as a missionary, says Weitz. But there's plenty one can do in Walla Walla to fund Christian ministry overseas.

All of the money he earns collecting recyclable materials goes to the Blue Mountain Chapter of Wycliffe Associates, a lay group supporting Wycliffe Bible Translators around the world.

"This is so we can translate God's word into their own language," says Weitz, spearing his how into a trash bin at the fairgrounds. "This is so they can get to know God's word."

Weitz, who retired from a local plumbing and sheetmetal company in 1975, has been raising money for Wycliffe for 10 years.

"He's the hear and soul of this chapter," says Rosalie Vogt, an area representative of Wycliffe Associates and a member of the national Wycliffe Associates board of directors.

As are representatives, Rosalie and her husband Glenn Vogt bridge the gap between the Blue Mountain and the national Wycliffe Associates organizations.

The local chapter's dozen or so members raised $2,800 in 1987 for the interdenominational Wycliffe Bible Translators, which operates on air service and rescue system in developing nations in addition to translating Bibles into the languages of remote cultures.

The group generally doesn't send local people overseas, but organizes fund-raisers for ongoing missions.

"We'll raise money for a generator for a village, or a well, a hangar for an airport or a telephone communications system, " explains Duane Kusler, president of the Blue Mountain chapter.

The group maintains a long list of projects to which they can contribute, and they often invite missionary speakers to renew interest here in overseas mission work.

It's a low-key group, says Kusler, and not, one to stage flashy fund-raisers.

"We don't sell knickknacks or put on car washes."

But it was a car wash that helped send one group of youths at Pioneer United Methodist Church to mission projects in Mexican border towns last year. Pioneer provides ongoing support to Los Ninos, a San Ysidro, Calif.-based non-profit organization providing help to needy border residents.

The Revs. Roger and Patricia Robbennold, co-pastors of First Congregational Church, and youths from their church have also traveled to the Mexican border to work in Los Ninos programs. And like Pioneer, First Congregational helps establish local markets for Third World artisans who make clothing and crafts.

And like many churches, a portion of First Congregational's annual budget goes to the denomination's worldwide mission programs.

Churches throughout the Walla Walla Valley also sponsor local individuals who want to serve time in mission abroad. Some volunteer years, others spend their vacation time building churches or schools, or otherwise contribute to missions abroad.

The Rev. Howard Baker and 10 members of The First Church of God traveled to Nang Riong, Thailand, to build a church and parsonage last year. Baker has also been to south India four times since 1981 and taken work groups from the local church to Africa, Japan, Kenya and Mexico.

The excursions las up to a month.

Recently the church sent more than 1,000 used boys' and mens' shirts to South India for children in orphanages and church members there.

At First Baptist Church, the congregation helped send one couple on a three-year mission to Nairobi, Kenya, and another member of the church to Northern Australia.

In addition, the church is supporting Baptist ministry to Hispanic communities in the Yakima Valley and elsewhere in the United States.

Each year the church also helps send a group of adults and high school-age students from the church to work in Baptist ministries in Central America.

The congregation's largest annual outlay - $20,000 - goes to the American Baptist International Ministries organization, according to First Baptist's pastor, the Rev. Doug Barram.

But while some congregations make mission work a top priority, every church in the valley makes some contribution, many of them through direct contact with needy residents of the Third World.

And on a somewhat smaller scale, outside the church walls, there are people working every day here to help sustain mission work.

For Weitz, the work can prove as challenging here as battling disease, politics and homesickness abroad.

While gathering bottles and cans one hot day in August 1986, tow men hit Weitz over the head with a green whiskey bottle, perhaps hoping to steal his goods.

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