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Church movement leads Smithsburg man halfway around world

October 31, 2005|by JANET HEIM

janeth@herald-mail.com

When Bruce Neumann got involved with Cursillo, a laity-led renewal movement within the Episcopal Church, he expected his faith would be strengthened.

What the member of St. John's Episcopal Church in Hagerstown didn't expect, however, was that the program would lead him halfway around the world - twice.

"I had a strong urging from way above to put my name on the team," said Neumann, who lives on Misty Meadow Road in Smithsburg.

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He got involved with Cursillo about 10 years ago at the urging of his wife, Rebekah, a part-time associate pastor at St. Thomas' Episcopal Church in Towson, Md. The couple has been married 31 years and has three adult children.

Neumann, a quality control coordinator at Jamison Door Co., was part of a group of Maryland Episcopalians selected to travel to Accra, the capital of Ghana.

Their goal was to provide leadership training for the Cursillo movement to Anglican Ghanaians, at the request of the bishop of the Diocese of Accra, the companion diocese of the Diocese of Maryland.

The Episcopal Church in Maryland started its Cursillo program about 26 years ago, "exporting" Cursillo from the Diocese of Virginia, Neumann said.

Maryland offers about two Cursillo weekends a year and planning is in the works for its 90th Cursillo weekend. Skits, a variety of lectures on living a Christian life, and music and singing are hallmarks of the weekend.

The movement originated in Spain, where Cursillo means a short course in Christian living.

The first group made its mission trip in August 2004 to provide training, and a follow-up visit was made this August to assist the Ghanaians in holding their first Accra Cursillo weekend. Neumann had not planned to go on both trips, willing to let someone else have the opportunity, but when he heard they were looking for people to apply for the second trip, he said he would go.

He stayed with the same host family both times and found the Ghanaian people to be "extremely friendly." It was the first time Neumann experienced the feeling of being a minority, but he said the Americans were made to feel comfortable.

The Marylanders were partnered with different teams of international volunteers. Neumann's team consisted of people from England, Switzerland and Ghana.

While Neumann arrived to help educate, he and his team received an education themselves. The male-dominated society and cultural differences provided learning experiences for the American Episcopalians.

The food, which is much spicier than American cuisine, consisted of a lot of starch with a little protein. Beans and fresh fruit were usually on the menu, Neumann said. He added that there were lots of goats and chickens running around.

The traffic congestion in Accra, a city of 2 million to 4 million people, was constant. Most people walk where they can, relying on diesel taxis for longer distances.

"I wouldn't want to drive there," Neumann said. "It made traffic in New York and D.C. look good."

As for language, Ghanaians speak queen's English, which is a more proper version of the language, and their native language, Ga.

Other comforts of home, such as hot showers, were appreciated by the group when they had to take cold showers and bucket baths.

Weather was another surprise. When the team left Maryland, the temperature was 100 degrees; when they arrived in Accra, where homes are not air-conditioned, it was 80 degrees. Neumann said they joked that they went to Africa to get cool.

Neumann found the experience "enriching" and said he'd like to go back in five years to see how the program is growing.

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