Father Chikadi J. Anyanele, left, provides help to women and children in Nigeria thanks to donations sent from parishioners of Saint Andrew Parish in Wilkes-Barre.

You have saved us

WILKES-BARRE – The generosity of a small parish in Luzerne County is making a difference on the other side of the world.

Through donations, parishioners of Saint Andrew Parish in Wilkes-Barre have helped to feed families in Africa, care for children in an orphanage, start small businesses and even put in a public toilet.

“The people of Saint Andrew Parish have changed the lives of their fellow children of God in Nigeria,” Deacon Bill Behm, Parish Life Coordinator, said.

The outreach efforts started when Father Chikadi J. Anyanele, better known as Father John, a missionary from the Congregation of the Missionaries of Mariannhill, came to visit the parish before the COVID-19 pandemic.

While spending nearly two weeks at Saint Andrew Parish, Father John celebrated daily and weekend Masses and interacted with parishioners.

“He anointed those people who were dying, he visited the sick, he went with me to hospitals and nursing homes,” Deacon Behm explained.

One particular story also stood out in helping Father John build an instant and memorable rapport with parishioners.

Due to the generosity of people from Saint Andrew Parish, the village of Umuizi-Umunkwo was able to build a public toilet. Indoor plumbing is considered a luxury for only the very rich.

One morning during his visit, Deacon Behm spotted Father John deep in prayer behind the rectory. The spot where he was praying is marked with a clothesline in the shape that resembles a cross.

“He said, ‘Isn’t this where your first pastor is buried?’” Deacon Behm recalled. “I said, no, it’s the last pastor’s herb garden…I told the parish that story and the laughter didn’t stop for a couple of minutes.”

By the time the coronavirus pandemic hit, Father John had returned to his native Nigeria. By chance, Deacon Behm reached out to see how he was doing and that is when the Parish Life Coordinator learned of a severe need for food in the missionary’s home village of Umuizi-Umunkwo.

Deacon Behm mentioned the conversation to parishioners during Mass and people instantly wanted to help.

“Suddenly, people were dropping off money at the rectory, they were dropping it in the mail slot, putting it in the Sunday collection marked for Father John,” the deacon said.

Since March, the parish has sent approximately $2,000 to help Father John and the people in Nigeria through the help of the Amen Foundation.

Father John has kept in regular communication with the parish.

During a recent voicemail message, Father John told the people of Saint Andrew Parish, “you have saved not just me, but widows who have children who could not feed well any longer, I have shared your gift with them….We are grateful to all of you.”

Father John has also provided the parish with pictures and an accounting of how the money has been spent.

The listing includes providing four 50-kg bags of rice to women of the African village at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, supporting several individuals with money to begin small businesses and caring for sick members of the community.

“He gave some seed money to people to plant food, plant gardens and to be able to feed themselves and sell the produce to become more self-sufficient,” Deacon Behm explained. “He also helped someone who started a business making shoes out of discarded tire rubber.”

Deacon Behm has been deeply touched by the compassionate response of his parish.

“We are part of the universal Church. It doesn’t matter what color we are, it doesn’t matter what continent we’re from, what matters is that we’re all universal children of a God who loves us all,” he said. “We cared enough to think beyond ourselves and think of the world and think of a friend who they met that is struggling.”