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Local ministry volunteers spend time in African nation

Group aims to help make life better for those in developing nation of Benin

By Ryan Cornell

Following a trip to Africa last month, an Edinburg church group is seeing the Christmas season through new eyes.

Led by the Rev. Dr. Rebecca M. Murray, pastor of Christian Leadership Ministries, the group of volunteers -- the Rev. Mignon Akasa, the Rev. Robert May, elder Pamela Wells and the Rev. Marvin Hurston -- traveled to Cotonou, Benin.

Murray said the group attended the Nation Transformation Conference from Nov. 1-10 and spoke with pastors, teachers, business owners, government leaders and other innovators.

"They come together for about a week and we talk about different ways we can bring change to the nation," Murray said. "This last one, I think, was my most productive conference I've ever done."

She said they talked about how people can be involved in ministry and still be influential as "good, godly people" in government, business, education, media and the arts. She added that the conference helps improve lives through prayer and empowerment.

"We go in and empower them with words and encouragement and new ways to do things," she said. "We're there working, helping the local people and encouraging them and sitting down and talking with them about how to make life better for themselves."

Benin, located on the West African coast between Togo and Nigeria, is a French-speaking country and a developing third-world nation. According to the Human Development Indices, about a third of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day.

"There's children on the streets begging for food," Murray said. "It's sad. One thing that struck me is that everyone there will sell something to make money. It could be eggs or a couple of oranges. They will cook on the streets, make a fire on the street and cook there."

Last month marked her second trip to Benin. Despite "not having hardly anything," the people there are very loving and kind, she said. The group stayed in a guest house belonging to the former ambassador of Benin and ate dishes prepared from rice and chicken or fish.

"I think the first thought when you get there is as Americans, we have so much," she said. "I see that there are so many people there that don't have houses, just floors, poles and thatched roofs. No bathrooms or kitchens. It's pretty sad because you see such poverty, it's not something that we're used to seeing as a whole, nationwide."

She said the love and kindness of the Beninese people sticks out in her mind as well as their gratefulness for her presence.

"I think everyone should have the opportunity to go and see how the rest of the world lives," she said.

"The material things in life don't mean what they used to mean," she said. "What means something to me is love, the friendships that I've made and any way that I can encourage somebody."

One of those friendships is with a bishop in Benin who invited the group to the conference. His son Asyncrite, 19, lives with the Murray family in Edinburg and is studying at Lord Fairfax Community College. Murray said Asyncrite plans to transfer to James Madison University after one more semester and move back home to Benin after finishing his studies to become an elementary school teacher.

The nondenominational Christian Leadership Ministries started out as a bible study for teenagers in 1994 with the Murray family hosting worship services in their basement. Six years ago, the church at 3203 S. Ox Road in Edinburg was built and the growing congregation moved in.

Today, the ministry fellowships with a number of churches in foreign countries as part of Portering the Glory International. The church hosted an international symposium in June that brought people representing 35 nations.

On New Year's Eve, the ministry is hosting a pastor and his wife from the West Indies, where a team recently built a church. Another group is building a school in the Ivory Coast.

Murray said she's taking a group in February to Peru to meet with church leaders and spread the gospel.

"We'll go by boat on the Amazon and minister to some of the tribes that you cannot get to by road," she said.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com

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