In the 1930s, Dan West, a Midwestern farmer and Church of the Brethren youth worker, served cups of milk to hungry children in war-torn Spain. Realizing that the families needed "not a cup, but a cow," Heifer Project was born. Today, families in 115 countries have received such animals as water buffalos, sheep, pigs, horses, rabbits, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, bees and, of course, heifers. Training supplied by Heifer Project helps these families become self-reliant and lead healthier lives. Here are some stories of UCC churches working with Heifer Project.
Heifer Ranch sparks combined mission trips
Miracles and blessings abound at St. Andrews UCC in Perkasie, Pa., and have ever since the church took a group of youth and adults to Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Ark. The fi rst trip, in 2001, was the catalyst that breathed new life into the church's youth group, generating excitement about the mission that provides animals to struggling families in economically-disadvantaged countries. This summer, the trip cemented that excitement with an even higher level of commitment.
The Rev. Scott Hutchinson says it is the combination of service and learning that is so appealing to church members. "It's grueling, in some ways," says Hutchinson, referring to the 105-degree heat index the group endured while doing chores on the working ranch. "But their educational model is such that they weave refl ection into everything you do. You're learning about global hunger and your connections to people around the world while you're working."
While staying overnight in the Global Village section of the ranch, St. Andrews shared the "Heifer Hilton" (an open-air livestock barn converted into an open-air dormitory) with First Presbyterian Church of Davenport, Iowa. The two groups immediately hit it off.
"By the end of the week, we were one group, not two," says Hutchinson. The two pastors began discussing how to continue the friendship, and plans were made to share mission projects each summer. Last summer, the groups merged to paint a church sanctuary in inner-city Philadelphia. This year, the joint mission trip was in Iowa. "This was all an outgrowth of our time at Heifer Ranch," says Hutchinson.
Even more gratifying is the overwhelming generosity and urgency awakened in the people of St. Andrews since the group's trips to the ranch. St. Andrews decided to support Heifer Project by holding a "Living Gift Market," an alternative gift market where church members raise money by buying animals and technology for families in need. The church had one goal: fi lling a "gift ark" in one year. (A gift ark costs $5,000, providing animals and technology for 30 families.)
"We raised almost $7,400 in one day," says Hutchinson with a smile. The following year, the congregation fi lled yet another gift ark for Heifer Project. "It's really opened our eyes to the miracles in our midst," he says.
Honduras trip transforms teens' lives
Judy Doane and Rose Becker, both 17 and members of Original Congregational UCC in Wrentham, Mass., see the world through different eyes now. Last summer, the two teens went to Honduras on a trip sponsored by the Massachussetts Conference, in partnership with Heifer Project.
Seventeen youth and four adults traveled for 10 days through Honduras, visiting many of that country's poverty-stricken communities. Doane and Becker worked with the group to dismantle a wall and build a small addition onto a Pentecostal church in one of the poorest villages.
"[The village] didn't have any running water," remembers Doane. "They had water brought in to them in trucks."
While they mixed cement by hand, the teens exchanged a few words with the Honduran church members, using their two years of high-school Spanish. Becker says that she worried that the church members and Hondurans wouldn't have much to talk about.
"I thought maybe the fi nancial and cultural separations would be too big to cross, and it would just make for a very awkward week," says Becker. "But the Hondurans accepted us without hesitation. Here we were, a bunch of American strangers and they welcomed us into their community without any doubts at all. That made for a great week."
While visiting a bee project run by Heifer, Doane and Becker learned that families are taught how to care for the bees and how to market the honey and beeswax produced by the bees. Later, they visited homes that had received cows from Heifer Project. Becker says that those visits helped her understand why Heifer Project makes such a difference. "Instead of giving money, which runs out," she says, "this lasts a lifetime."
Carl MacDonald, Associate for Youth and Christian Education Ministries at the Massachusetts Conference, says mission trips like these are life-changing. Although some may question spending thousands of dollars to send the youth out of the United States, MacDonald says the trip can mean more to them than a simple monetary donation would mean.
"We can't evaluate how transforming it is in [the teens'] lives," he says. "They come from their comfortable living situations and go to a country and realize they don't have the luxuries or basic necessities. Hopefully, they will connect it to their faith, and it will result in future involvement with their local churches."
The fact that only UCC youth took the trip helped the teens feel more connected to their denomination.
"Just the idea that everyone I went with had some of the same beliefs I had made it easy to relate to them," says Doane. "You experience all these new things and it brings you together. It was nice to have that one solid common characteristic that could help bring you together in the beginning."
Upon their return, Doane and Becker shared their stories with several church groups and helped spearhead a successful Heifer Project fund-raising campaign.
"We got everyone excited about purchasing an animal," says Becker. "Judy and I felt like ambassadors. We were the fi rst people from our church to actually see the real Heifer Project."
It takes a 'Global Village' to understand
Heifer Project caught the attention of Marlene England, chair of the mission and outreach team at Glade UCC in Woodsboro, Md., when she learned that middle-school children could take part at Overlook Farm, a Heifer learning center in Rutland, Mass. England and her husband had taught a summer youth group class on world hunger. Overlook Farm was the perfect tie-in. So in July, a group of 15 church members, ranging from age 11 to 60, visited the farm for four days and three nights. Taking care of the animals and attending educational acitivities fi lled the days, but England says the Global Village stay was defi nitely the highlight of the trip.
Divided into three "families," the group started their visit with a breakfast of millet porridge. Many of the youth turned their noses up at such a breakfast, says England. By noon, with stomachs grumbling, it was time to think about lunch. This time, the group had to prepare its own meal, fi rst gathering wood, then fetching water. The resulting soup of quinoa and a few vegetables had to tide the workers over until dinner.
By dinnertime, the hunger pangs were hard to ignore, says England, as the "families" headed to the "marketplace" to purchase dinner with limited currency. An added twist decreed that the youth in each family became the adults, having to choose and prepare the food to feed their "family." "Our girls were so proud of themselves," says England. "They got rice, red pepper, tomato, some red cabbage and potatoes. They just oohed and aahed over this dinner they'd created."
The experience made clear the struggle some people have just to survive. "It takes so much time to prepare food from scratch," England says. "You have to get the wood, carry the water, fi nd the food and cook it. These families in third-world countries spend a lot of their day just feeding their families. There isn't time to fi x up your resume and look for a new job."
"You can read the statistics, but when you [experience] the Global Village and see how people are living, that's an eye-opener," says England. "The experience was tremendous for all of us, from the youngest to the oldest."
Centers make lasting contribution
Forty years ago, Sandy Groll lived in an area where Heifer Project goats were given to local families to raise. A kindergartener, Groll took her family's three goats to show-and-tell at her school. Years later, she felt drawn back to Heifer.
"I started out as the offi ce girl in the back doing orders 22 years ago," says Groll. Today, she's the Education Coordinator of the Ceres (Calif.) Center. At 6.25 acres, Ceres is the smallest of the three Heifer Project learning sites in the United States. Each year up to 4,000 people, ranging in age from elementary school to senior citizens, visit the hands-on educational site. The hope is that one or two out of every 50 or 100 will one day come back to Heifer, either through donating or volunteering, says Groll.
"The biggest way we get known is when they go back and tell a friend about the fun they had at Heifer Project," Groll says. "Maybe they'll tell their church." Planting the seed is the main goal of all the learning centers, she says. "Moms will write and say, '[My daughter] still talks about this and she wants to keep one-fourth of her allowance in a jar for a goat for Heifer Project,'" Groll adds. "That makes it worthwhile for us."
Find out how you can become involved at Heifer Project. Write Heifer International-World Headquarters, P.O. Box 8058, Little Rock, AR 72203; 501/907-2600, 800/422-0474; heifer.org. Or contact one of the Heifer Project centers: Heifer Ranch (Perryville, Ark.), 501/889-5124; firstname.lastname@example.org; Overlook Farm (Rutland, Mass.), 508/886-2221; and Ceres Center (Ceres, Calif.), 877/841-7182; email@example.com.
Youth from St. Andrew's UCC in Perkasie, Pa., and First Presbyterian Church in Davenport, Iowa, learn teamwork at the "low ropes challenge" at Heifer Ranch in Perrysville, Ark. Photo by Britanny Rush.