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Missionaries' call overshadows dangers, Sewickley Valley church leaders say

| Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Dr. Richard Gobao inoculates Russ Mowry, Sewickley Presbyterian Church's associate pastor of youth and family ministries, at his office in Scott Township Monday, March 3, 2014. Mowry and others from the church will be taking a mission trip to Haiti in June.

Although local group leaders say there always is a need to be cautious when traveling to a foreign country, there is no reason to be afraid to participate in mission trips, they say.

Several groups in the area are starting to prepare for mission trips in spring and summer by getting vaccinated and taking other precautions.

The Rev. Russ Mowry, Sewickley Presbyterian Church's associate pastor of youth and family ministries, is organizing a first-time student trip to Haiti from June 18 to 27.

“In any location that needs a significant amount of assistance, there is inevitably a risk involved. As Christians, taking little risks is simply part of being who we are called to be,” Mowry said.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs U.S. Department of State warns about murders and kidnappings in the Port-au-Prince area; the poor emergency-response network; and cholera, a bacterial disease spread through the ingestion of contaminated water that can cause diarrhea and dehydration.

Although parents have expressed worries, Mowry said, he is taking precautions to make the trip as safe as possible. Participants will stay in a rural area outside of Cap-Haïtien — at a work site visited by many groups before without incident — and they will not go near nor even through the Port-au-Prince area.

The group has hired a translator and has registered with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP, a U.S. government program that assists travelers in case of disaster or emergency. Travelers are required to get suggested vaccines listed on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, where they are advised to make sure they have a prescription antibiotic, water-purification tablets and oral rehydration salts, in case they contract cholera.

A mission team member, Maddie Braksick, 15, daughter of Leslie and Matthew Braksick of Sewickley Heights, said she knows the group won't be going anywhere that would put it in danger.

“Clearly, the country is in a less-stable position compared to other parts of the world, but we all have been called to help, and that's exactly what we are going to do,” said Braksick, a Sewickley Academy sophomore.

Michael and Betty Kaszer of Sewickley have been missionaries for nearly 20 years with the Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders, or SAMS, in Ambridge, a nonprofit that trains, sends and supports Episcopal/Anglican missionaries. The Kaszers lead yearly mission trips to Honduras for St. Stephen's Church in Sewickley, where they are members. The group will help at an orphanage May 31 through June 7.

According to a Bureau of Consular Affairs Honduras travel warning, dated Aug. 13, 2013, “...crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country, and the government of Honduras lacks the resources to address these issues. Since 2010, Honduras has had the highest murder rate in the world.”

Michael Kaszer said that during all of the group's trips to Honduras, there never has been a “serious incident.” Kaszer said he and Betty are seasoned Honduras travelers, know where to go, when they should go and how do it so they can travel safely with their group. He said they don't go to dangerous areas, use common sense, “stay out of the line of fire” and employ private instead of public transportation.

Before leaving for the trips, the Kaszers meet with participants to train them about hygiene. Participants are urged to get suggested vaccines and drink only bottled water.

To find out more information about the mission trips, call Betty and Michael Kaszer at 724-799-0436 or email mkaszer@aol.com. Contact Russ Mowry of Sewickley Presbyterian Church, 414 Grant St., Sewickley, at rmowry@sewickleypresby.org or 412-741-4550.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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