JOYFUL IN SUFFERING
By Dave Stave
Observer Staff Writer
A La Grande woman traveled to Kenya in East Africa in September to receive training as a volunteer counselor for Good Samaritan Ministries.
Julie Achleithner, who works for Pepsi-Cola in La Grande, returned home with insights into helping people with their drug addictions and other problems. But the African people she saw, who experience joy in the Lord in spite of suffering brought on by poverty and AIDS, have made a lasting impression on her.
"They live with so little, and are so happy and content," said Achleithner, who traveled to Uranga, Kenya, with a small group from the Good Samaritan Ministries Center in Pendleton.
Achleithner and the others stayed at James Opeyo's compound in Uranga while attending GSM's Africa Continental Training Program. Opeyo is national director in Kenya for Good Samaritan Ministries.
Achleithner and her group attended training sessions in the morning, but had a taxi driver available to them at a cost of about $1.48 a day to take them to a village, a Good Samaritan Ministries school, Lake Victoria and other places.
Achleithner said the four widows living at the compound were inspiring. Some of the women and orphans she met had lost either spouses or parents as a result of AIDS.
The widows would meet on Thursdays to pray, Achleithner said, and continue praying through the night. They would pray for the needs of Good Samaritan Ministries staff members and the African people around them who were suffering from poverty or illness. But that's not all. Their weekly prayers also span the Atlantic.
"They pray for us here in America," Achleithner said.
Gifts for children
One day Achleithner and her group visited a Good Samaritan Ministries children's school. She and each of her companions had packed an extra suitcase with bottles of pain-reliever and other supplies that would be distributed at the compound to people in need.
They also came with paper, pens, pencils and books to share with the 650 schoolchildren.
Achleithner said she was amazed with how grateful the people at the school were for the gifts.
"Some of the parents were crying their eyes out, they were so appreciative."
One day Achleithner and her group were invited to visit a woman in her 60s who had been sick for more than two weeks.
"She was very ill," Achleithner said. "She could not eat or drink; her fever was so high."
The group spent some time praying for her and bid her goodbye.
The next day Achleithner and the others could not believe it when they saw the woman coming their way.
"I didn't recognize her at first. She walked to the training center to give praise to God for her healing."
Achleithner noted that hospitals, doctors and medicine are not available in that part of Kenya.
The believers in Uranga, a 10- hour drive from the capital city Nairobi, depend on God for everything, she said. "They require God for their existence. And when they require God, He comes through."
Achleithner said she came to enjoy many of the children, and even taught a couple of boys how to play hacky sack.
"I couldn't speak their language, and they couldn't speak mine, but we connected."
The children, she said, have very little in the way of entertainment.
"I only saw one toy simple sticks and can lids," she said. "And yet the kids were happy."
Achleithner said the African people responded to her constant smile by giving her a new name, "Omore," which means "ever happy" in Swahili.
On one occasion, Achleithner visited a newly built Good Samaritan Ministries nursery school. The structure had a dirt floor, mud walls and an aluminum roof.
The people were so receptive to Achleithner that they told her they wanted to name the nursery school after her.
Achleithner hopes to return to Kenya in three or four years, and when she does, she'll likely see the name Omore Julie Good Samaritan Nursery School posted on the building.
Good Samaritan Ministries is a nonprofit international Christian counseling and training organization founded by Bettie Mitchell. It has centers in several states and in 29 other countries. Its international headquarters is in Beaverton.
Having taken classes in Pendleton and graduated from her training in Kenya, Achleithner will be providing counseling services to people in La Grande on a one-on-one, as-needed basis.
As she thinks about the 16 days she spent in Kenya in September, Achleithner remembers the warm encounter she had with a humble farmer while she walked to the morning training sessions.
She would see him hoeing his small parcel to prepare it for the planting of corn.
"He would look at me and say, Good morning. God bless you,' " she said.
His friendliness struck a chord in her heart.
"He had so little, and he was so joyful," Achleithner said, noting that Americans often are caught up by their possessions.
"It put my life in a different perspective as to what is really important."