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Methodist from Snoqualmie to help build church in Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) is the third largest country on the continent of Africa. It is home to about 59 million inhabitants, many of whom are orphans and have been stricken by political instability and warfare, internal strife, a stagnant economy and AIDS.

In 2001, when a bishop in its southern region made a request for assistance from Methodists internationally, local members of the Snoqualmie United Methodist Church and other area Methodist churches knew that they had to help.

This is the sixth year that the Methodist Mission Project will be returning to the city of Kolwezi in Congo.

"The Congo is in desperate straights and gets almost no support or visits from outsiders at all," said Keith Haines, co-leader of one of two mission teams (one construction and one medical) that will be going to Congo for three weeks this August. "It's one of the poorest countries in the entire world."

The cost of the trip for one team of 10 is about $40,000 for travel, food and housing costs. So far, Haines' team has raised more than half of that amount through fund raising, he said. Volunteers range in age from 18 to 60.

"Some of them [people in Congo] haven't ever seen an American or anyone that looks differently than they do," Haines said. "We are there to build relationships with the Congolese, support them and we have a construction project of helping them finish a church. Church is a very important organization for them in their culture."

The team this year will be constructing a church for the area but they will not be proselytizing or trying to get converts. They are there to help people with day-to-day life.

"It's just a great way to serve God and mankind," Haines said.

In order to help fund-raising efforts, Jill Mortenson, a local massage therapist and mother to Kelsey Euerle, who will be traveling to Congo as part of the mission project, is planning a Valentine's Day Swing Dance to be held at the Meadowbrook Farm Interpretative Center in North Bend on Feb. 11.

She got the idea, she said, because she and Euerle took a dance class this past summer.

"[I thought] it would be fun and raise money at the same time," Mortinson said.

The dance will be from 7-10 p.m. with dance instruction from 7-8 p.m. taught by Randy Carter from Si View Recreation Center. Festivities will begin at 8 p.m. There will be baked goods, snacks and some nonalcoholic drinks available. Donations are welcome both for the trip and for the activities once the volunteers are in Congo.

Tickets are $15 for an individual and $25 for a couple and are limited. Almost the entire amount raised from ticket sales and donations will be given to the mission.

Everyone is welcome to the all-ages event, Mortinson said, advising that tickets be purchased by Feb. 3.

"So many people say 'I don't know how to dance,' but I say that we're all in the experience together," Mortenson said.

She added that people who have movement issues or who do not want to dance are also welcome to attend. A van will be available for transportation to Meadowbrook from the Bellevue Methodist church and the Snoqualmie Methodist church.

There will also be a silent auction and raffle for items including blown glass artwork, gift certificates, gift baskets, art from Congo and a handmade quilt.

"It's been awhile since I tried swing dance ... but I'm looking forward to it," Haines said.

Euerle, a 2005 honors graduate from Two Rivers' High School currently living in Oregon, will be unable to attend the dance, but she said that she is looking forward to her first trip to Africa, something she has wanted to do since she was a child.

"I'm really excited," she said, noting that she will enter Oregon State University next year and intends to study wildlife biology. "Just the culture of the people over there; it just seems so amazing the way they live and even though they have terrible hardships there, they have so much joy ... I think they just need someone who shows they care."

She is the only volunteer going to Congo who is a member of the Snoqualmie Methodist congregation, she noted, but she has known the other people who will be going for years. She added that she is appreciative of the Snoqualmie Valley community for its fund-raising efforts and for the support in preparing for the journey, which has required her to study Swahili along with getting a good grasp of the many safety, health and legal issues when traveling. The effort is worth it, though, she said.

"I've heard that you go to make a difference and that they totally make a difference in you, as well," Euerle said.

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