Preschool weighs world hunger

Unlike most Americans, the pastor at Oakdale’s House of Prayer Lutheran Church wishes his New Year’s resolution had been to gain weight.
“This is the one time I guess I should have piled it on, given the children a higher target,” pastor Phil Walen said.
The students at Muffin Man Preschool, which operates as an outreach ministry of the church, spent the past month trying to collect enough food to outweigh the 188-pound pastor.
Most of the preschoolers said they didn’t know why they were collecting food. Some said they got to eat it after the food drive was over. But one student knew the right answer.
“Cause they’re going to bring them to Africa because people need ‘em, because they need to eat ‘em,” preschooler Ben said.
Well, he was almost right.
The 284 pounds that the preschool has collected will go to North St. Paul’s food shelf.
Ben thought the food was going to Africa because the preschoolers spent the past month learning about the continent’s geography, ecology and its poverty.
“There’s people in the world who have much less than the children in the room, so to help them understand that we thought we’d have them collect food for children in need,” said Carrie Carlson, one of the teachers at the preschool.
Out of all the places in the world, Carlson and her co-teacher Neva Larson chose to teach the children about Africa because of its ties to the House of Prayer Lutheran Church, where the preschool operates as an outreach ministry, Carlson said. The church has a sister congregation in Ifunda, Tanzania, and Carlson had the town in mind when the teachers chose the month’s topic.
“We wanted to pick a place somewhere in the world, and it’s been talked about in (my church and at the House of Prayer) about traveling to Africa and helping them drill wells over there so they can have fresh water,” Carlson said. “We’re trying to raise money to assist in that because the same water is used for bathing and the animals walk in it, so dysentery runs rampant over there.”
About 1.6 million people in Tanzania are living with HIV/AIDS and it is an area of “very high” risk for infectious diseases including bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid fever and malaria, according to the World Factbook.
Since House of Prayer began its relationship with Ifunda in 1999, the church has been trying to make a difference in the town. It helps support two medical centers in the area and provides 10 students with scholarships.
“There are few of them who can afford to go on to high school,” Walen explained.
The church has also sent three groups of about 10 people to Ifunda.
The country is one of the poorest in the world with a per capita income of $700, compared with that of $41,800 in the United States. Agriculture accounts for almost half of Tanzania’s gross domestic product, provides 85 percent of exports and employs 80 percent of the work force, but topography and climate conditions limit cultivated crops to 4 percent of the land area, according to the World Factbook.
To help provide resident’s with some self-sustaining income, one of the groups helped start a coffee farm, coffee being one of the country’s main exports. The other groups helped construct church buildings and presented Ifunda’s pastor with a motor bike to make his trips through the rugged terrain between the town’s 12 “preaching points” less time consuming.
“He either had to walk or ride a bike, which would sometimes take him all day to get back and forth,” Walen said.
But the relationship isn’t one-sided.
“They’ve helped us understand about God’s work in the world,” Walen said. “I think as Christians in the United States we can forget how powerful the message and the movement of God’s spirit is throughout the world, and maybe not be quite so comfortable but more aware of the needs of the people throughout the world.”
And that’s part of what Carlson and Larson have tried to teach their preschoolers.
“We talked about how one family might not have a whole chicken for dinner; they might have to share with two or three families,” Carlson said. “We talked about how they grow everything themselves and eat mangos and kiwis so (the children) can understand that the food they eat is not the same as we eat, like McDonald’s or Burger King, and they don’t have that type of thing out there.”
The teachers then started the food drive by sending a grocery bag home with each of their 49 preschoolers.
“Some parents are coming in with two bags,” Carlson said before the drive ended. “So, they’re responding very well.”
And with the help of Walen, who has allowed the children to weigh him, so are the children.
“It helps the children kind of focus on something fun and exciting,” Carlson said. “You see, they all love Pastor Phil, so any time we can involve him, it’s great fun.”
And that relationship isn’t one-sided either.
“I enjoy the kids and their energy, so when I need a little lift or a little break, it’s fun to wander back there and take part.”
Muffin Man Preschool, at 6039 40th St. North, will hold an open house today, Feb. 1, for anyone interested in its preschool program non-perishable food donations are welcome.
Food donations for Pastor Walen are also welcome as he tries to get a head start on next year.

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