By Barb Galbincea of the Cleveland Plain Dealer
BERLIN, Ohio - Christian Aid Ministries is a charity, plain and simple.
Like the Amish and conservative Mennonites who are its core supporters, Christian Aid's international headquarters in pastoral Holmes County does not crave attention. Its cream-colored, single-story building, simply furnished, sits chastely on a rise just off state Route 39, not far from a billboard touting the shortcut to Heini's Cheese Chalet.
Visitors who flock to Berlin for handmade quilts, woodcrafts, folk art and homemade baked goods probably have no clue that they're a stone's throw from a charitable organization that raised more than $191 million from private sources in 2005, ranking it 76th nationwide, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Nor is it likely the tourists ever imagine that the same locals who clip-clop through traffic in horse-drawn buggies may also board jets for Pakistan, Indonesia or other far-flung destinations to minister to those in need.
"They don't even drive a car, but they'll fly halfway around the world to help," said David Troyer, the soft-spoken, 54-year-old general director of Christian Aid. "The Lord works through his people."
Posted at Christian Aid's main entrance is a Bible passage from Galatians that is the organization's guiding principle: "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith."
Founded in 1981 as a tax-exempt nonprofit, the effort began as an outreach to Christians behind the Iron Curtain. Now, Christian Aid annually channels more than 15 million pounds of food, medicine, clothing, seeds and religious literature to people around the world.
It has major programs and staff in six countries - Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Haiti, Nicaragua and Liberia - and limited programs in places such as Costa Rica, El Salvador, China and Kenya. Aid also was shipped last year to people in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Grenada, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Latvia, North Korea, Tajikistan and Uganda.
Many of the Christian Aid programs stress self-help. For instance, there are sewing centers where women learn a trade. The students give away the first three garments they make and keep the fourth.
A dairy farm, populated by cows flown in by Christian Aid, is next to the charity's orphanage in Romania and serves as a training program for the older children.
Although Christian Aid has a mailing list of 30,000, "we don't go around and beat on doors," Troyer said.
"That's not God's way. A cheerful giver is more effective," he said.
"People want to help, so we are kept busy trying to arrange that. We show them quite clearly how they can help.
"Among our type of people, that's how you do it. As the Scripture says, 'It's more blessed to give than to receive."'
Of the more than $191 million raised in 2005, $169 million was in donated items - mostly medicines that Christian Aid gets through an intermediary from pharmaceutical companies.
Among other donations:
More than 2 million pounds of clothing.
20,645 handmade comforters, at an estimated 13 hours each.
122,337 pounds of raisins.
177,838 pounds of fabric.
63,896 pounds of boneless beef.
101,880 pounds of fresh chicken.
The meat, along with some that is purchased, is processed at Christian Aid's cannery, next door to its warehouse in Ephrata, Pa. The canned meat is then shipped to people in need.
Last year, Christian Aid volunteers processed nearly 400,000 cans of chicken, beef and hamburger. In all, the charity tallied 141,685 hours from volunteers in 2005 at the warehouse and cannery and its clothing collection centers in the United States, in overseas projects and in relief programs for victims of disasters like Hurricane Katrina - an effort that drew more than 27,000 volunteer hours alone.
With many skilled carpenters among the Amish and Mennonites, Troyer said, their construction know-how is especially welcome in places devastated by natural disasters. That's why Christian Aid volunteers flew to Indonesia after the tsunami and to Pakistan after the earthquake there.
"We go and we build homes," Troyer said. "But the main idea is to share the love of Christ person to person. The most important thing is to show them that God loves them. We try to be his ambassadors."