Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 12, 2007
Local group helps Kenyan parish recover from war
Edmonton couple met priest on walk through rain forest
By BILL GLEN
Helma and John van den Bijgaart have formed the Father Francis Educational Aid Society.
The van den Bijgaarts met Ng'ang'a while on a trek through a Kenyan rain forest. Helma was moved by the man's commitment to his parish. "He was so humble. He never asked us for anything," Helma said.
"The whole village relies on him," John said. "Because Kenyans have little money to begin with, the priest is basically on his own. We thought about what we could do. We formed the society to help."
Ng'ang'a has the only vehicle in the village where he serves as parish priest, local commodities purchaser and ambulance driver. Yet his entire income consists of Sunday collection, or some $2 a week.
He works with 16 trained volunteer catechists who lead prayers for the community when he is in other areas of the mission.
Following their visit, the van den Bijgaarts kept in touch mostly by email. Since forming the society, they have been able to send over some $6,000 that the priest has used to install a few solar panels, drill a community water well and set up a temporary school.
"It is a very remote area. The people feel there is a curse there and no one wants to come back," John said.
Suddenly, Ng'ang'a called from Kenya. He had raised his own money to travel to Edmonton by selling sheep. He was on their doorstep a few days later.
- photo supplied
Fr. Francis Ng'ang'a felt like Jesus walking on the water when he walked across a frozen pond during a 2004 visit to Alberta.
For a shivering month in November 2004, Ng'ang'a visited Edmonton where he was warmly welcomed into the van den Bijgaart home.
"He had no idea how far away Canada was," John said. "Communication with Kenya is so difficult. We had hopes that he was coming but we had no idea that he raised his own money."
The Kenyan kept himself busy. One weekend, he assisted in a Marriage Encounter in Saskatoon. He participated in a parish men's prayer group and concelebrated Mass with Father George Neumann and Archbishop Thomas Collins.
He spent a weekend delivering furniture with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
"We took him to the Rocky Mountains," John said. "He loved making snow angels. And just the thought that he needs support and he has none."
It was the first time he walked on a frozen pond.
"Father Francis said he felt like Jesus walking on water," Helma said.
In a recent letter he wrote to the van den Bijgaarts, Ng'ang'a said, "I depend on the (society) very much and wish that our vision becomes a reality in the homes of the Third World."
He is hoping the society can raise about $22,000 for building materials and equipment for a skills institute where the locals will be trained to sew, in computers, homemaking, masonry and carpentry.
A donation of $228 pays the school fees of a child for one year.
With the support of Neumann, the society will hold a fundraising supper March 3 at Good Shepherd Church.
"We have four ladies going to Kenya (Helma included) on Feb. 19 for six weeks," John said. "The money will be put in the bank here and the ladies will withdraw it over there. It's a safe way to transport the money.
"One hundred per cent of the proceeds (from the fundraiser) are going directly into Father Francis' hands," he said.
Tickets cost $35 each and can be purchased by calling John or Helma van den Bijgaart at 483-0155 or from Roma Newcombe at 483-6720.
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