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Leechburg church group goes to Jamaica on a mission of faith

Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
From left, Julie Cominos, 12, of Leechburg; Abe Gibson, 15, of West Leechburg; Jordan Sarver, 15, of West Leechburg; and Emma Peterman, 14, of Gilpin, serve up roast beef dinners to raise money for their upcoming missionary trip to Jamaica. Photographed at the First United Methodist Church in Leechburg on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014.

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By Braden Ashe
Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, 12:11 a.m.

As the Alle-Kiski Valley braces for another week of snow, members of the Leechburg First United Methodist Church are breaking out their summer clothes.

Eight parishioners are leaving on Sunday for a week-long mission trip to the impoverished Jamaican village of Harmons.

They'll join 35 missionaries from across America to build houses, harvest crops and volunteer in local hospitals.

For Rev. Jerrad Peterman, who coordinated the trip for his Leechburg congregation, it's the second mission trip to Harmons in three years.

Peterman first visited the mountain village in southcentral Jamaica as a pastor at a Waynesburg Methodist church. After transferring to Leechburg First United Methodist Church in summer 2012, he began working to bring the experience to his new congregation.

“It really is a life-changing thing that I wanted people here to experience,” he said. “People there don't have any of the resources we have, but all the more joy.

“For them, it's all about building relationships, and there's a lot to be learned from that.”

The people of Harmons are among the world's poorest and most isolated.

With a 75 percent unemployment rate, most families can't afford to send their children to school past the seventh grade.

The homes there are often poorly built and packed with multiple families. And with its remote mountain valley location, villagers rarely have contact with the outside world beyond the missionaries that come to help.

Mission trips to Harmons are done through Won by One to Jamaica, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit that bolsters economic, educational and physical development in the village. Since its 1989 inception, Won by One has sponsored about 300 children's educations and built more than 700 homes in Harmons, according to founder Henry Shaffer of DuBois.

Each year, the organization houses between 750 and 2,000 missionaries in a complex that employs up to 70 villagers while it's in use.

The missionaries that stay there work dozens of hours in Won by One's four greenhouses it built to provide the villagers with a food supply throughout the year.

“When my family and I started doing work in Third World countries, we decided to stay in one community and try to help them build it up,” Shaffer said. “It's been a good thing. It seems to have as much a positive impact on the volunteers as it does the Jamaicans.”

The missionaries from Leechburg next week are scheduled to build two 12-by-15 houses, tend the greenhouses and volunteer in a local hospital. Peterman said the group — comprised of four adults and four juveniles — will host ministry nights for the Jamaicans.

Pat West, 72, and her 12-year-old granddaughter, Julia Cominos, are among the eight members of the Main Street church going on the mission. It's a first for both.

“It's something I've always wanted to do,” West said. “I'm excited to see what's in store for us and feel blessed for the opportunity.”

Like all church groups that travel to Harmons, Leechburg First United Methodist Church was responsible for funding its own trip.

They footed their $12,000 bill through fundraisers and personal donations.

“We're very grateful to have this support from our congregation,” Peterman said. “This is such a powerful trip because it shows the power of people coming from different places to have positive impacts on each other's lives.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or

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