Methodists on a mission: Group travels to a forgotten part of the world
CHINA GROVE — Wanda Watts’ first mission trip to Karabagh last year came out of a desire to honor the memory of her late friend Jamima Demarcus.
Demarcus, a member of First Methodist Church in China Grove, had been an active force in Project AGAPE, a humanitarian relief group that works in the region, Watt said.
“She was very dear to me, so when the opportunity came to go I decided I would,” she said.
This September, Watts, also a member of First United Methodist, is going back as the leader of the group from the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. Her 24-year-old son, Rusty, and fellow church member Sue Sukrotchko will join her.
“Until you’ve been to a place like that, it’s hard to explain,” she said. “When you come back and you walk into your house, you think, ‘What am I doing with all this stuff.’”
Watts described the conditions in Karabagh a “very crude.”
“Most of them have no real windows, they just have plastic coverings,” she said. “They have holes in the floor where snakes and insects come in and small boxlike wooden stoves that they take inside during the winter and pipe out through the window, but smoke still gets in the house.
“They have very little, but they are very happy.”
Watts said she’s been to mission trips to South America before, but she feels more of a connection to Karabagh because it receives so little humanitarian aid while needing so much.
“Methodist churches in North Carolina are the only ones that go to that area,” she said. “No international organization will go there because there’s no permanent peace treaty.
“There was a never a time when I felt like I was in danger.”
Watts said Karabagh was part of Armenia at one time, but under Russian rule it became part of Azerbaijan.
“Before the collapses of the Soviet Union this area petitioned to go back with Armenia, but before the papers were finalized the Soviet Union fell apart, so there was a civil war between Azerbaijan and this area,” she said. “Now, there is hillside after hillside of bombed out houses.”
Through Project AGAPE, Methodists from across the state travel to Karabagh to complete mission work.
Last year, Watts’ group completed a medical clinic. They will be putting a roof on a house during their two-week visit in September.
“It’s amazing that love doesn’t recognize border and does not care about distance,” said Nara Melkonyan, an Armenian who serves as director of Project AGAPE. “Being thousands of miles from the people of this small mountainous country, United Methodists could not stay indifferent to their sufferings.”
Project AGAPE, which is a joint-ministry venture of the Western and North Carolina Conferences of the United Methodist Church, operates a hospital, children’s home and Christian Education Center in the Karabagh region.
The group’s house renovation project brings conditions up to standards that every human deserves, Melkonyan said.
“These are people who live on the verge of survival, without running water, without bathroom, kitchen, heating facilities and sewage system,” she said. “All these cause severe medical conditions that are getting worse every day.”
Project AGAPE’s Cattle Project provides socially vulnerable families with pregnant cows to help them become self-sustainable.
The region also receives shipments from North Carolina that include food, clothing, new shoes, beddings, school supplies, hygiene supplies and furniture twice a year.
“Many children will not be able to go to school if not for the shoes, clothing, school supplies and backpacks provided by AGAPE,” Melkonyan said. “The activities carried about by Project AGAPE are incredible in size and scope and they are truly changing lives.”
Watts said before her crew leaves for Karabagh they need to raise money for building supplies.
Right now, they are collecting scrap metal of any kind to sell. Those interested in donating old appliances, junk cars, tin, aluminum or anything else can call her at 704-467-3235 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watts said those interested in attending the mission trip or donating funds and supplies for a shipment can also contact her.
“The people there are very receptive and glad to see us,” she said. “Project AGAPE is helping one family at a time and really making a difference.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.