By Celine Klosterman
CLINTON – Fields of soybeans that grew outside Prince of Peace Church the past two years weren’t just crops. They were a lesson, according to Gabriella Egging.
By tending, harvesting and selling the crops, then donating the proceeds to a charitable program, Catholics have offered “a beautiful example of outreach and compassion,” the parishioner said. “It’s wonderful for people to come to church and see that.”
She and her husband, Lou Egging, recently began coordinating the third year of Prince of Peace’s participation in Foods Resource Bank (FRB). The Christian organization offers communities an opportunity to raise funds to support agricultural projects overseas.
For the past two years, members of Prince of Peace, Elvira Zion Lutheran and First United Methodist Church of Clinton have grown crops that were sold to fund projects promoting clean water, sanitation and crop production in Chingale, Malawi. The three churches in 2011 raised a combined total of more than $11,000, of which Prince of Peace contributed $3,470 that was donated last month.
For 2012, the churches decided to support a program benefiting Haitian immigrants and their descendants living in former sugar cane work camps in the Dominican Republic. The immigrants are learning new skills in crop management, community seed banks and horticultural production, according to FRB.
The churches got involved thanks largely to Steve Witt, a member of Elvira Zion Lutheran who was intrigued by a video he saw on FRB about eight years ago. He suggested his church contribute, and a few farmers in the rural congregation agreed to raise crops for a project in Africa.
Witt then invited First United Methodist – located in downtown Clinton — to help out, too. The FRB model calls for a rural church to team up with an urban church, which can donate money to pay for seeds, fertilizer and other inputs, he said.
Several years ago he spoke about the project at St. Ann Parish in Long Grove, which also takes part in FRB. His audience included the Eggings, who approached him after the presentation to ask about getting involved.
Witt was receptive, but Prince of Peace was busy preparing to build a new church at the time. After construction was completed in 2009, the couple saw an opportunity for the parish to take part. “We had surplus land around our church; we weren’t doing anything with it but mowing it and keeping it green,” Gabriella Egging said. “We thought, Why not grow something?”
Parishioner LaVern Schmidt and his sons Donald and Duane volunteered to tend the eight acres of soybeans, she said.
The men’s work helped support cassava and vegetable production for hundreds of Chingale farmers, rehabilitation of 20 boreholes for water and sanitation, and the use of engine pumps that eased watering of plots in Malawi.
Catholic Relief Services, one of 15 partner organizations with FRB, oversaw the projects, Gabriella Egging said. Each overseas program receives funding for a limited time; recipients are expected to eventually sustain each project themselves, she added.
Witt said he’s glad multiple area churches are contributing toward that end. “If I had a goal, it’d be for a project large enough that we’d try to encompass every church in Clinton County. Sometimes there’s an attitude that ‘They’re Catholics; those people are Lutherans, and never shall our paths cross.’ But we work together really well. It’s been a great ecumenical effort. We’re a Christian response to world hunger.”