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Oxford Centre/Curries minister Rev. Sarah Grady saw hardship and hope during two-week mission to Kenya

By Jennifer Vandermeer, Norwich Gazette/IngersollTimes

Oxford Centre and Curries United Church minister Rev. Sarah Grady, front right, said she was often followed by Kenyan children eager to touch her blonde hair - something they don't often see in their remote region. Submitted

Oxford Centre and Curries United Church minister Rev. Sarah Grady, front right, said she was often followed by Kenyan children eager to touch her blonde hair - something they don't often see in their remote region. Submitted

It isn't often that when giving money to a charitable cause, a donor is able to hear a firsthand account of how their donation has been used, but after a United Church of Canada pilgrimage to Kenya, the impacts of passing the collection plate are being shared close to home.

Oxford Centre and Curries minister Rev. Sarah Grady was among the 17-member delegation that recently returned to Canada after visiting the east African nation. The delegates saw for themselves the benefits that come from the United Church of Canada (UCC) partnering with the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), and the additional partners that operate programs for the underprivileged under that umbrella.

“We were there to work. We were there to witness, to listen,” said Grady.

She said there was a variety of groups and projects benefiting different sectors of the community. For instance, the delegation visited a rural village where the residents in the region were experiencing severe drought and famine. It was not only affecting their land, but their crops and livestock. Grady said she saw how through the church partnerships, people are learning how to collect rain water when it does rain. This is something new for the rural area, where there is currently no collection system and water is brought in regularly by tanker truck.

“They are poor people,” said Grady, explaining that even some of the simplest systems have yet to make their way to the remote location.

“What we do there is try to help people help themselves,” she said.

Another visit was to meet with Congolese sex workers who were urban refugees, facing racism because of their heritage.

“Hearing their stories was difficult,” said Grady, explaining there were a lot of heartbreaking stories and circumstances to see.

“But I also saw a lot of hope.”

With the funding from the UCC's Mission and Services fund, through the NCCK, the partnerships have been able to develop services and shelters for those in need, and have been able to make available free counselling and treatment for those living with HIV/AIDS. There is a clinic now available for mothers and a family physician to treat residents.

Partnerships have also been able to establish a girls school for those who would otherwise not receive an education.

“I saw how much good the partnerships we have are doing for people and meeting them where they're at,” said Grady, who is now a Mission and Services “enthusiast,” who will speak to groups about her experience and explain the good their donations are doing for others.

Personally, Grady said she gained a deeper understanding of the UCC partnerships in general, and a deeper relationship with her own personal faith. She said she used the two week pilgrimage as part of her annual study leave from the local church. Not only did she learn more about her role in the church, but also realized things she takes for granted as a resident of a First World country, such as regular garbage disposal and access to fresh drinking water.

UCC Mission and Services distributed over $25 million last year across Canada and internationally. Of that amount, $32,000 came from Grady's own congregations at Oxford Centre and Curries. Nationally, 90 per cent of the funds collected are distributed to partners and 10 per cent remains at the church to cover administration costs.