WOLCOTT (04/27/2016) -- No missionary was present. No one from Nepal visited. Only people from the local community attended the Sparks Mission Dinner at Wolcott Congregational Church in Wolcott on April 24. But the scope and reach of the program will impact children more than 7,000 miles away.
Wolcott's Sparks Mission Dinner had two goals: raise money to buy books for a school in Nepal, and introduce the Sparks youth group and other church members to a place unlike their everyday surroundings.
"It really is the whole concept of introducing the church to some place that doesn't have Christians, doesn't have anything that we have," said the Rev. Sue C. Strachan.
The dinner was the brainchild of Sparks director Debra Wilson. After hearing about the deadly 2015 earthquake in Nepal that killed 9,000 and left over half a million without homes, Wilson began searching for ways to help. She found several campaigns on IndieGogo.com — an entrepreneurial funding site that created the option to fund relief projects after the earthquake.
"I found one request… It just struck my heart," said Wilson. "It said 'please help my village'."
That project was started by Lokendra Badu, a native of Muchchok village in Gorkha, Nepal. The village was only miles from the earthquake's epicenter. The Shree Chaturmala School where Badu's father teaches was destroyed; four teachers were killed. Soon after, Badu began a campaign to raise $80,000 to rebuild the school.
Wilson decided this would be an excellent way to introduce her youth group to a global mission. The group — called Sparks, a reference to the opening line of the hymn "Pass It On" — began researching online about the quake, the government, even studying Hindu, the predominant religion of Nepal. In the meantime, Wilson ran into an obstacle. Badu's campaign had officially closed months before, and getting money or supplies directly to him would be difficult due to a blockade imposed on the nation by India. So, Wilson found another group who was organizing aid to the village. Through the help of Sharing Resources, Inc. and the Gorkha Foundation, Wilson made arrangements to buy books needed for the rebuilt school.
"It's upside down mission," said Wilson. "These kids' whole lives are online now. Missionaries don't come to churches like used to."
Instead, Wilson had the youth become the missionaries, teaching the local community about Nepal and the devastation of the earthquake. Through their research and several photos of the destruction, the people, even a video of the events of the earthquake itself — a haunting scene that still created tension in the shoulders more than a year later — the Sparks group built a compassion bridge from Wolcott, CT to Muchchok, Nepal.
Julia Thies is one member of the Sparks group. Thies researched Nepalese recipes and created a recipe book that was distributed at the dinner. Many of the foods offered at the dinner came from her research. Thies made a rice pudding dish for the event. She also wrote and presented research on the government of Nepal.
"I like learning about different ethnicities and stuff so I was kind of excited to learn about another culture and country," said Thies. Thies says she would like to reach out and help people from other places as well as those in Nepal.
An offering made at the dinner raised $241, all of which will be used toward purchasing books for the Shree Chaturmala School. The church's mission board had previously donated $200 to help purchase books.
The United Church of Christ recently reaffirmed its efforts to provide relief in Nepal. Find out more here.
Drew Page is the News & Media Editor for the Connecticut Conference, UCC.