Members of Murrysville church make global impact on mission trips

| Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, 10:53 a.m.

Five Greensburg Salem soccer players have expanded their horizons during mission trips with Cornerstone Ministries, a nondenominational church in Murrysville.

Instead of spending time at the beach, seniors Heather Dougherty, Rachel Ott, Brittany Schaller and Josh Kappel and junior Collin Hall have used vacation time to help those less fortunate.

Along with Youth Pastor Dan Hertzler, students have ventured to San Luis in Mexico, Cap Haitian in Haiti and the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Arizona, where they encountered poverty they could not even imagine existed.

In June 2011, Hertzler escorted 30 students to a San Luis orphanage supported by Cornerstone. They discovered families living in squalor during visits to a city dump.

In trips to Haiti in July 2011 and July 2012, the American missionaries helped to conduct daily soccer camps for 700 kids, in addition to working at a medical clinic and on construction projects. On the Apache reservation, northeast of Phoenix, the students painted a school and ran children's programs last June.

“I just can't say enough about the work these young people did,” Hertzler said. “What they saw and experienced is far from anything they have even seen in the United States, and they jumped in to help in whatever way possible, trying to make their brief stay memorable for those they were there to help.”

Ott has made three trips to Mexico and two trips to Haiti, with another trip to that country scheduled for early this year. At Greensburg Salem, she is the leader of 1-2-1 Christian Club, which conducts outreach programs in the school and community.

“Going to Haiti was a life-changing experience,” said Ott, who plays goalkeeper for the soccer team. “To see extreme levels of poverty is something many people my age will never have an opportunity to see and experience. Instead of living in homes that we have, many of their homes are literally cardboard boxes with one or two rooms and unstable roofs.

“We helped them build better places to live and visited shut-ins,” Ott said. “We gave the people beans and rice, talked about their lives and led them in prayer. They struggle to get enough food every day. In America, we do not see poverty like that.”

During Ott's first trip to the Mexican orphanage in 2011, she met and befriended Sarita, 6.

“Sarita singled me out to help her and she became my little sister,” Ott said. “I write to her and the orphanage sends back pictures that she draws.”

In Haiti, Dougherty, who aspires to become a teacher for special-needs students, struggled to conquer extreme heat that sapped her energy.

“We met people who don't have much of anything,” said Dougherty, who also plays basketball and lacrosse for the high school. “We gave them rice and beans, foods they always eat. We gave them care packages, including toilet paper and basic necessities. At the soccer camps the Haitian kids asked us every day for our clothes, shoes, sunglasses and cameras. They have nothing and most of their clothes were from Americans on past visits. People were far poorer in Haiti than in Mexico and it's difficult to imagine conditions there compared to the United States.”

Students said they returned with a more profound appreciation for their lives in the United States.

Schaller, an all-section forward and midfielder during her junior and senior years and an all-WPIAL selection as a junior, remembers “sharing testimonies, ideas about life and Christianity, and what faith means to me and us,” she said, referring to visiting the poor in Mexico and Haiti.

“What was especially sad was seeing people who lived in the city dump, digging through garbage looking for food,” Schaller said.

Even though it has been two years since an earthquake devastated Haiti, conditions have hardly improved, she said.

“Conditions in Haiti were much poorer than in Mexico,” she said. “Roads were not paved and on our last day there last summer we were in my pastor's truck and one woman actually tried to give us her baby.”

Schaller, who belongs to the Environmental and Christian clubs at Greensburg Salem, said the suffering in Mexico and Haiti put into perspective perceived problems at home.

“People here get mad at stupid things and take everything for granted. I am more appreciative of what I have. I have indelible memories from my visits,” Schaller said. “I'll never forget the people and conditions I found.”

Hall made mission trips to Mexico in 20122 and to the Apache Reservation last year.

“I'm much more appreciative for what we have in America, even little things such as air conditioning,” he said.

He assisted with work projects, such as painting a school and orphanage. He helped with vacation Bible school for children, putting on skits for kids and adults, and food distributions in villages.

“It opened my eyes that everything is not nearly as nice as it is here,” he said. “It showed me some people have nothing but are still thankful for what they have. Conditions in Arizona were the most shocking because we were still in the United States. I thought it would be better than it was, but conditions were worse than I expected, especially at the Apache Reservation.”

“But as poor as conditions are, everyone we met was thankful for what they received, even for smallest things,” Halls said. “All the kids were a lot of fun, in part because they did not realize how bad it was for them.”

Kappel, a member of Cornerstone for 13 years, traveled in July to Haiti.

“Conditions were worse in Haiti than I expected,” said Kappel, a member of the high school swim team who plays alto sax in the marching band. “We often found many people living in one home with only one or two rooms. Seeing so much poverty made such an impression on me. Kids asked us for our clothes and shoes and told us their stories about the problems they face every day. We shared testimonies about our faith and how we came to know God or something we went through to make our relationship with God stronger.”

Soccer drills and scrimmages highlighted Kappel's daily interaction with the Haitians.

“Haitian children have little opportunity for an education,” said Kappel, who has a 4.0 grade average and is enrolled in honors and Advanced Placement classes. “I appreciate more of what we have in the U.S. and see how much we take for granted, including our education. ... What I saw makes me want to take advantage of what we are offered in school and make the most of our opportunities.”

The boys' soccer coach, John Lynch, understood their desire to visit the impoverished nations and lend a hand.

“Helping others is a big part of their make-up,” Lynch said. “They are not afraid to become involved in programs such as those. They are calm, nice players, and they have a temperament suited to helping others.”

Les Harvath is a freelance writer.

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