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Local church group to help in Uganda

After the Watoto Children's Choir visited Detroit Lakes a year ago, a group of people from the Zion Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes decided it was time to return the visit.

From Dec. 29-Jan. 12, 18 adults and youth will travel to Uganda to build a schoolroom for those in need.

"There's 60 million kids orphaned in Africa because of AIDS," Joe Milner said. The children have no place to live, many are living on the streets, taken to become soldiers or prostitutes.

But through the Watoto organization -- which is Swahili for "children" -- groups like the Zion one travel to Africa to help build a schoolroom or a home for a teacher or family of eight children and a mother.

Several of the church members attending have never been on a mission trip before and are looking forward to its rewards.

"At this point in our life, it's something we can do," Royal Herbold said.

He added that he and his wife, Mary Kay, have been interested in traveling to Africa in the past, but there was no purpose. Now there is.

Wade McDonald said his purpose for the trip isn't just for himself.

"From my childhood, being close to foster care, I'd like to donate my time and give back," he said. But more importantly, he's taking his son, Devon, along to "show him the world is not candy coated."

He added that Devon will be able to take the humbling experience back to his peers and build character and strength.

There are other people that have taken mission trips in the past and are looking forward to another on the list.

Carol Nord said she and her husband, Rod, went to Jamaica with the JUMP program and had a "really rewarding experience."

"The children have a joy we don't always see here," she added. "There's an eagerness to relate on an open level."

While many children in the United State have been given material gifts, it's different for those from struggling countries.

"It's a worthwhile project and a way to see the real Africa rather than going as a tourist," she added.

"They get to see us, too," Rod Nord added.

There are many images of Americans that aren't positive, and mission trips such as this can help break that stereotype. "What affects them is going to affect us," he said.

The group has had to get vaccines for the trip, which means there's a risk of catching something like yellow fever, "but there's a risk getting out of bed in the morning," Carol Nord pointed out.

The trip won't be all work and no play either. A safari, cultural dance and other sightseeing opportunities are planned.

When asked what aspect the group is looking forward to most, almost in unison they answer "the children."

Some of the those taking the trip are hoping see some friendly faces as well. LuAnn Milner said her family hosted a few of the kids from the choir last year, and they "captured" the hearts of the family.

Sheri Leitheiser said she and her family hosted three of the children as well. "They came from nothing, and to see the joy in their faces is phenomenal."

"I can't wait to meet one kid I will remember for the rest of my life," Matthew Weiss said.

And it's not just about the kids' friendly faces either.

"We sponsor one of the teachers, so I'm looking forward to meeting her, if possible," Joe Milner said.

Devon McDonald said he's looking forward to "seeing the culture." For practical reasons, too. "It will help with my geological skills in school."

"You can see pictures, but to go there ... It's never what you think," Doug Leitheiser said.

To raise money for the group's trip, they are hosting several fund-raisers in the next couple months.

Sunday, Nov 2, there will be a lunch and silent auction from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Zion Church. There will be a potato and salad bar with all the fixings, plus an authentic African dish to try. Cost is $7 per person, $3.50 for children 4-12, and 3 and under are free. Some of the silent auction items include hand carvings, a quilt, Norwegian sweater and more.

Then on Dec. 13, there will be a bake sale and a drawing for raffle items, for which tickets are being sold now. Items include a white wicker set, handmade quilt, Winchester 22 Model 190 gun, loon carving and Jim Foot wildlife print.

"It will be an interesting experience," Royal Herbold said.