The mission statement, love and go, helps encourage the parishioners at Christ Episcopal Church to live their faith and Rev. Tom Reeder, pastor at the church, leads by example.
Christ Church, Reeder said, is the coordinator for all western support of St. Bartholomew's Orphanage in Kajo Keji, South Sudan, the world's youngest nation, and the church routinely sends mission teams to the orphanage.
This summer Reeder and his family spent three months ministering to the children, the widows who care for the children and the residents at a nearby leper colony.
Rev. Tom Reeder, above, baptizes a child at an orphanage while his daughter Sophia, who raised several thousand dollars to purchase supplies for a leper colony, hands out loaves of bread to lepers during a mission trip to St. Bartholomew’s Orphanage and a leper colony in Kajo Keji, South Sudan. The orphanage is an international mission for the members of Christ Episcopal Church, 426 Mulberry St.
"We minister to the orphans and widows because they are vulnerable and forgotten," Reeder said. "The lepers even more so. Lepers are doubly forgotten."
The country, which gained independence in July, was engaged in several decades of civil conflict during which more than two million people died, leaving the developing nation with virtually no infrastructure and many orphans and widows.
During his time there, Reeder, in addition to baptizing a number of people at the orphanage, helped the orphanage get the supplies they needed and continued helping the widows learn a trade such as sewing, nursing or teaching in order to sustain themselves financially.
"To be a widow anywhere is hard, but these women are very vulnerable especially when they've lost their husbands," Reeder said. "We want to empower them economically so they have a future."
Overall, the missionaries who travel to the orphanage, including the Reeder family, bring a lot of material help through clothing, food, shoes and medicine, but the missionaries themselves often walk away with a gift of their own.
"We bring love to them, and they return love to us. They minister to us as much as we minister to them," Reeder said. "Everyone who goes from the church has their lives changed. They have their faith strengthened and deepened."
For Reeder, who with his family has traveled to the region several times, the most memorable part of this trip was watching his daughter, Sophia, minister to those in need at the leper colony.
"Watching her blossom in her own program was an amazing thing as her dad to see," Tom Reeder said. "She made a great difference in the lives of people who are suffering."
A senior at Muncy High School, Sophia designed a program and raised several thousand dollars to support the leper colony. With an interest in medicine, she hopes to pursue a career in tropical medicine, and the trip gave her a chance not only to explore her interests but also give back in a meaningful way.
One of the things that always has struck the high schooler about the African region is the injustice and great need many people there face.
"I was shocked and disgusted to discover that 90 percent of the world's funding for medical research goes toward diseases that affect 10 percent of the population such as male-patterned baldness and impotency," Sophia said. "The fact that hundreds of people die every day of diseases that could easily be prevented horrifies me. For example, the cost of diagnosis and treatment for malaria is about $7 for a cure - the cost of two lattes at Starbucks.
"The disparity between my home culture and that of South Sudan, the world's least developed nation, is always painful to see," she continued. "No person with even an inkling of compassion could see it without having their heart and soul cry out for change. It's really, truly heartbreaking."
The disparity inspired her to use the money she raised to purchase food, medicine and supplies for the colony. Despite the lepers' great suffering, they greeted her with nothing but smiles and gratitude for her kindness and offered prayers for her to continue to grow in her own faith.
"Yes, I am just one person, but one person can make a difference," Sophia said. "God has taken whatever small gifts I had to offer and multiplied them."
Throughout the trip one of the things that struck both father and daughter was the deep faith the people in South Sudan have in spite of their suffering.
One man, Tom said, lost seven children in the war and yet was singing and dancing to praise God in church.
"We always say about our work in Africa that it is somehow heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time," Tom said. "People there have nothing but their faith, and that's what keeps them going."