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Missionary speaks to Kiwanans about central Africa

Friday, November 7, 2008

Mike Ratcliff
Mike Ratcliff was the guest speaker for the Kiwanis meeting Thursday. His topic was "Up the Congo River."

Ratcliff visited central Africa for the second time on behalf of Western Ohio Conference of United Methodist Church. He went primarily to teach leadership development classes to native church and community leaders.

"This was something that was not planned," he said, "it just happened. It was what I did for a living (leadership development)."

Ratcliff showed the group -- Kiwanis members and visitors -- pictures from his trip. They portrayed how infrastructure had not kept up with its population.

Groups of children would welcome Ratcliff and his group everywhere they went.

"There was not a look of depressed sadness on these kids. There was a sense of hope," he said.

Elementary schools contain stone seats with no desks. The blackboard is inadequate. Children wear donated clothing and do not have shoes. At an orphanage where 54 kids live, they are bathed outside and own very few toys but receive two meals each day.

"That was better than most of the kids," said Ratcliff.

He gave a doll to a little girl who was found wandering alone in a village, where she was the only person alive. The girl was brought to the orphanage. Ratcliff asked the group if anything anybody does makes a difference.

"Yes," he said, "giving this little girl a doll made a huge difference in her life."

Indoor electricity and water does not exist. Roughly 50 to 100 people use a community well for water. Multiple families live in a single dwelling. Buckets of water are used to flush toilets and fill up tubs.

"We slept under mosquito nets due to the lack of glass in the windows," Ratcliff said.

Bicycles or walking are the two main types of transportation. There are very few vehicles. People travel several miles for several days on dirt roads to a destination.

The Congo is a place with no support from the government. They do receive help from China and other places. The people in central Africa struggle to build houses, schools and churches.

The lack of medical care gives a person an average life span of 42 years.

In the past 10 years, 4.5 million people have died of communicable diseases, HIV/Aids and the list goes on.

Ratcliff plans to visit again in June of 2009.

He is a native of Putnam County and a graduate of DePauw University. He currently resides in Dayton, Ohio with his wife, Linda.

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