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Women spread hope in Nigeria

August 31, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

While Becky Hein and Roxanne Terry brought very different backgrounds and experiences to their month-long mission to Nigeria this summer, both returned determined to go again.

Hein grew up in Nigeria, where her parents, Roger and Sylvia Burtner, were missionaries. She lived there from the time she was 10 until she was 17 and helped her parents with literacy training.

Now a special-education teacher at Eastern Elementary School, Hein, 52, jumped at the chance to revisit the land of her youth when she joined a United Methodist Church's Volunteers in Mission group on the trip to Nigeria in June.

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"It was my first trip back to Nigeria. I visited the school I attended and the 'down bush' area where I lived with my parents," Hein said.

Her brother, Chris Burtner, and his son, C.J., 14, also went on the trip.

Terry's experience was her first in Nigeria. She went on a mission trip last year to Bosnia and has taken several mission trips in the United States.

"The people in Nigeria kept saying that we bring them hope," Terry said. "One man there even said that he knew why we Americans live longer - so we can come and help them."

The average life expectancy in Nigeria - a nation of 137 million on Africa's western coast - is 50 years because of poverty and the AIDS epidemic.

Although trained as a registered nurse, Terry was assigned to work in the library of the primary school where the mission group was stationed.

"The principal there said she had thought all Americans were lazy and rich," Terry said.

Young children, many of whom had never seen a white person, were at first scared and then curious, trying to touch her pale skin, Terry said.

Once the mission participants pitched in to help with painting the school and replacing the roof, the negative perceptions faded, Terry said.

Hoping to return to Nigeria, Terry said she would like to use her medical skills on her next trip.

A handful of doctors, few medicines and little knowledge of basic hygiene combine to send infant and child mortality rates sky high, she said.

Terry got involved in the mission trip through her church, Otterbein in Hagerstown. She recently shared her experiences and pictures with her congregation.

Hein said she will speak at the Third World Banquet Sept. 18 at her church, Benevola United Methodist near Boonsboro. The banquet begins at 6 p.m.

While both women financed their own mission trips, they journeyed to Nigeria with "project money" contributed by the denomination, churches and individuals so more could be done during their stay.

Terry corresponded with friends and family during infrequent visits to an Internet cafe in one of the larger cities. In one message, she described the primitive conditions.

"I have to remind myself that I am in Africa and change happens slowly, especially to the poor," Terry wrote.

There were high points - including the day the principal of the primary school received word that 28 of her 30 students qualified to go on to secondary school, Terry said.

The strangeness she felt when she arrived went away quickly, Terry said. She and Hein worked closely with each other and the rest of the team, reveling in the knowledge that their presence was appreciated.

"It has been one of the greatest experiences of my life," said Terry, who is planning her next trip.

Hein, too, said she is eager to go back.

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