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Doing unto others

Church invests in helping community

Church invests in helping community

November 22, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

KEEDYSVILLE - When the Rev. Malcolm Stranathan randomly gave $50 each to 30 people at his church and told them to use the money to help others in the community, he had no idea the experiment would result in the relocation of a refugee family from Ethiopia to Keedysville.

On Sunday, the one-year anniversary of his giving out the money, several people told the congregation at Salem United Methodist Church how they used the money.

And Silver Ajal, the head of the refugee family, thanked the church for all it had done for them, including paying their rent, buying furniture and choosing them as a family to help.


Ajal, who works as a school counselor in Jefferson County, W.Va., said he has been amazed by the generosity of the congregation.

An anonymous woman gave the church the $1,500 seed money and Stranathan explained to the congregation that the money was not to go back to the church, but rather to help others in the community.

The idea of giving out the money was inspired by an Oprah Winfrey show, Stranathan, pastor of Salem United Methodist Church, said Sunday after the service.

The action also reminded some of the book and movie "Pay It Forward," in which a young boy decides that if he helps three people with good deeds and they do it for others - thereby "paying it forward" - positive changes could occur.

And positive changes did occur locally, Stranathan said:

· Agnus Louise Rohrer, 90, who lives in Potomac Towers, used her $50 to buy a microwave for a woman in the public housing complex who was short on funds, he said. Rohrer did not know the woman, Stranathan said.

· A woman from Wheeling, W.Va., at the church because she was visiting her mother, took the $50 she was randomly given and, together with a friend, used it last winter to buy a Christmas dinner and presents for a needy single mother and her four children, he said.

· Ray Hanson of Boonsboro said he has a reputation for being cheap, although he prefers the word "frugal." Either way, when he donated his $50 to a Toys for Tots program while with the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard in Martinsburg, W.Va., others were surprised, he said. He challenged others to match his donation and the group raised $1,800.

But the most amazing story, by far, Stranathan said, was the refugee family.

For years, Roger Burtner, a retired United Methodist pastor, has been in charge of working with churches in Maryland who helped resettle refugees in the community.

When he saw the pastor walking toward him, he said, "I did not want to take it." But he did. And he knew that with that action the Refugee Resettlement Fund for Southern Washington County had been created.

Over the next few months, he encouraged other churches and other people in the community to donate money for the cause.

In all, he raised $1,800, while an additional $4,200 came from other sources, including area churches, Stranathan said. The effort also received $4,000 in in-kind contributions.

Meanwhile, church members bought clothing, bedding, furniture and kitchen supplies for the house in which the family lives. Enough money was collected so their rent was paid for the first three months, Stranathan said.

At a July meeting, a church committee voted to help the Ajal family: husband Silver Ajal, 44, his wife, Aduk Okway, 30, and their sons, Hilary, 10, and Ian, 5. Silver Ajal of Uganda and Okway of Sudan met and got married while in a refugee camp, where Ajal had been for 13 years, Stranathan said.

When handing out the money one year ago, Stranathan said he did not know what to expect with the experiment.

"Best case: Everyone would do amazing things. Worst case: Nobody would do anything," he said.

What happened was way beyond his imagination, he said.

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