Before setting out for a missionary trip to South Africa this past fall, a pair of young congregation members handed Pastor Steve Carmany a family check to use at his discretion.
At the time, Carmany didn’t know what he would use the funds for. But as it goes with such matters of the Spirit, he knew it would only be a matter of time before its purpose would be revealed.
Carmany had traveled to South Africa as a part of a humanitarian effort by the Southwest Minnesota region of Evangelical Lutheran Church Association (ELCA). Split into 10 conferences, Carmany is the director of the local conference representing thirty area churches.
It was his first excursion to the continent. He was told that South Africa was the most developed of the countries, but over and over again, particularly in large cities such as Johannesburg and Durban, first world amenities were juxtaposed with third world realities––separating the haves and have nots and serving as a chilling reminder of the days of apartheid.
Carmany recalled one unforgettable image that seemed to embody the paradoxes of the country. It seemed plain enough. Standing at crossroads on a rock was a young African boy with a radiant smile who whole-heartedly waved at the passenger van that carried Carmany and his 11 other travelling counterparts. But what struck Carmany later while thinking about the picture was the realization that this child would have a 50 percent chance of having lost both of his parents to AIDS by the time he reached 18. And, based on statistics, one-third of his classmates were already likely HIV positive.
“I was told that the first time you go to Africa you are overwhelmed with all the information that you feel that you’ve learned,” he said. “The second time, they say you realize all of the things you didn’t know. And the third time you realize how many things about the life of Africa that you’ll never truly understand because of the the complexity of their many layers of history.”
As a member of the Southwest Minnesota region ELCA, Granite Falls Lutheran has been supporting missionary efforts in South Africa for many years. Together the collective of churches has helped lift up individuals and communities by sponsoring the schooling of disadvantaged youth as well supporting infrastructure projects, from churches to HIV/AIDS prevention centers.
The sponsorship of youth is a newer endeavor of the southwest Minnesota churches. Carmany said that in order to pass eighth grade students have to purchase uniforms, books and pay tuition before they are able attend secondary school and, as a result, lower income student’s are often unable to receive these opportunities.
Page 2 of 2 - For the past three years the churches have worked to change this and at present are sponsoring two-dozen students. “In each of the eight areas we are associated with I know we could pick hundreds of kids,” noted Carmany. “But from each area we were only able to pick three.”
The Granite Falls Lutheran pastor said that the churches looked to support students in the most vulnerable and critical situations––in fact, every single one of the students being sponsored lost both of their parents to AIDS.
“Most of the kids we are sponsoring are teenage girls. Without this sponsorship their life would probably not be real good.” Carmany said.
As a supplement to the program the churches have begun to work to continue the sponsorships after high school, helping the students obtain jobs that might facilitate the creation of a middle class.
A point of purpose
Still walking around with a check burning a whole in his pocket, it was in the midst of a visit to the Sivikindlala HIV/AIDS Prevention Center that Carmany recognized the appropriate application of the funds.
Granite Falls Lutheran and the other southwestern Minnesota ELCA churches helped fund the construction of the humble center, where inside one would typically find a large vat of stew and a table of ornately colored beads. According to Carmany, proceeds from the sale of the beads goes toward the purchase of food, which is brewed into a stew that feeds a few dozen orphans every day.
Recognizing immediately that this is what he had been waiting for.
“I bought all of the beads I could,” the pastor said.
Carmany returned to Granite Falls with the beads and a plan to stretch the original checks positive impact in tow. Rather than just display the beads, the Granite Falls Lutheran pastor had them auctioned off in a concert with a youth group pie sale fundraiser held at the church the last week of April. Adding value to the beads were shadow box display cases made by the seventh grade confirmation class.
All told, the event would help raise an additional $450 from bead sales, the proceeds of which were subsequently wired to the Sivikindlala HIV/AIDS Prevention Center to support its services.
In South Africa the money will go along way toward making the future of the local orphans a little brighter. And so maybe next time Carmany returns to the country’s crossroads he’ll still find a bright-eyed boy waving and smiling.