30 Hearts, an organization started by a couple from North Ridgeville, began with the purpose of helping orphans in Bako, Ethiopia.
But it is the lives of Medina County residents that are being changed today.
Mark Szakacs, of York Township, and Nicole Weidokal, of Medina, recently returned from a weeklong trip to the sub-Saharan Africa country where, as part of the 30 Hearts organization, they helped move families into new homes.
“We had the opportunity to move the kids to the houses … and we got to see some of the hard work that many local people have given towards these homes,” said Szakacs, who is a member of Heartland Community Church in Medina. “We were able to move them there and it was a pretty great experience.”
The origins of this most recent trip started more than eight years ago.
“My wife and I traveled to Ethiopia in 2011 for the first time to go visit a little girl that she had been sponsoring,” said Jeff Mancinetti, 30 Hearts founder. “We went … seeing the poverty in Ethiopia firsthand was just really eye-opening and it changes you.”
Mancinetti and his wife, Emily, returned from the trip wanting to do more.
They kept in contact with their translator and some others they met on the trip and began the 30 Hearts organization with the hope of creating families for children.
By May 2015, the organization was underway.
“We started with 30 children and six women,” said Mancinetti.
Each woman adopted five of the children.
“So, we’ve created six families so far.”
The women who were recruited by 30 Hearts were also without homes or stable living conditions. Through the organization, they gained a home and a family.
The organization has a social worker and a part-time tutor who works with the mothers and children. Soon, there will be a nurse working with the families as well.
The organization was renting a place in Bako for the families to stay, but it has been raising money to build homes for them.
Szakacs and Weidokal said they finally got to see the housewarming unfold — and so much more.
While there, Szakacs and the rest of the group participated in a church service. It was a different experience —it was not like a service that many Americans are used to and it was in a different language.
It was still a good experience for the group though, he said.
“It was cool in a sense that we were special guests in the service and the kids had prepared multiple songs for us and they sang for us and even performed a skit that reassembled what we were ultimately there to do and how they were thankful for it and wanted to pay it forward,” Szakacs said.
Weidokal, the global missions coordinator at Heartland Community Church, also was on the trip and said that the trip was beneficial to the group, not just to the families there.
“I think for those of us who go, there’s something unique that stepping out of our comfort zones opens us up to God working uniquely in us and I think that’s kind of the ‘why’ behind us sending teams,” Weidokal said. “But, it also allows us to encourage our partners who are the day in and day out of the ministries that we are supporting. In this case, the heroes are really the moms that are there loving these kids day in and day out.”
The team left Jan. 31 and returned Feb. 8.
Szakacs said the experience for him was humbling.
“Going over there, you are expecting to help the kids but, in reality, at the end of the week I realize that the kids did so much for me,” he said. “You learn a lot about yourself and your heart and how important it is to love someone.”
On Friday, worship teams from local churches will be getting together to do a night of musical worship at Grace Church in Middleburg Heights and to show some pictures from the trip.
Money raised from the event will go to the 30 Hearts organization.
Other ways to get involved or donate can be found at http://30hearts.org.