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One man's faith has worldwide impact

Alum tells the story of Matthew 25: Ministries in his book, "Are Not My People Worthy?"

by John Bach

Wendell Mettey's heart was broken in Nicaragua.

It was 1990, and Mettey, then a Baptist minister, agreed to accompany a group of Cincinnati doctors on a relief effort to the developing country. He never could have imagined the impact that trip would have on his life and, as a result, on the lives of so many others. It was during that short mission, after all, that the sad eyes of young children first burned into his memory.

When Mettey began his work in Nicaragua in 1990, teachers there were limited to two pencils a year, and schoolchildren never owned one. Since then, Matthew 25: Ministries has shipped more than 25 million pencils to Nicaragua.

When Mettey began his work in Nicaragua in 1990, teachers there were limited to two pencils a year. Since then, Matthew 25: Ministries has shipped more than 25 million pencils to Nicaragua.

The hospitals in war-torn Nicaragua at the time didn't have mattresses. Surgical gloves were washed and reused. There were no antibiotics, pain meds or even soap. And one particular image haunted Mettey -- that of a father sitting for hours in a waiting room holding his severely burned baby. The 1968 University of Cincinnati economics graduate-turned-preacher left feeling helpless. Yet, he had to do something.

Mettey often reflects on that trip, now 16 years later, as he oversees operations inside the Center for Humanitarian Relief, a 132,000-square-foot warehouse north of Cincinnati in Blue Ash. Mettey is founder and president of Matthew 25: Ministries (M25M), a Christian relief agency that responds to worldwide tragedies and disasters by shipping basic supplies -- clothing, bedding, food and hygiene products.

In 2005 alone, the staff and volunteers inside the Center for Humanitarian Relief filled 417 40-foot containers bound for tsunami victims in Southeast Asia, Hurricane Katrina victims along the U.S. Gulf Coast and earthquake victims in Pakistan.

Mettey obviously did do something when he left Nicaragua. The one-time Bearcat baseball player leaned hard on his faith, his passion for nurturing and even his economics degree to begin chipping away at world poverty.

On his second trip to the Central American country in 1992, Wendell hand-carried a desperately needed microscope to the Velez Paiz Hospital, along with some good news. The American minister had raised enough funds to purchase and ship one ton of basic supplies (soap, sutures, beds and mattresses) for the hospital. That was the beginning.

Mettey saw he could make a difference. He made the difficult choice to resign his pastorate at Montgomery Community Baptist Church, which had 1,200 members, and begin Matthew 25: Ministries. Since then, M25M has shipped more than 27 million pounds of aid within the US and to 35 countries.

The nonprofit's basic operating concept is this: Corporations donate surplus items, slightly damaged and out-of-style goods that were destined for dumpsters and incinerators. M25M then arranges for shipment to its warehouse and carefully sorts, palletizes, bar codes and ships the supplies back out as humanitarian aid. The donor gets a tax deduction, and the "poorest of the poor" get help.

"It is true, we can help a needy world with the things we throw away," Mettey writes in his book, "Are Not My People Worthy: The Story of Matthew 25: Ministries." "We truly live in a land of abundance. With such blessings comes an enormous responsibility, the greater of which is to help the less fortunate of the world.

"A chipped bar of soap, a worn mattress, clothing improperly labeled, shoes no longer in style, incorrectly sized surgical gloves, products with scuffed labels or torn cartons, all candidates for the landfill -- all desperately needed in the Third World."

For Mettey, what began as an effort to deliver supplies by the suitcase-load is now an operation that delivers supplies by cargo plane and ocean freighters. And every day is a new challenge.

Are Not My People Worthy?

"Usually my work is driven by what crisis is going on in the world at the time," he says. Never was that more true than last year when Katrina decimated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. To accommodate the constant stream of donations and volunteers at their doorstep, Mettey and his staff of 17 didn't close the company doors for 30 straight days.

"For Hurricane Katrina, we had this place filled and emptied about 10 times," he says, pointing to the enormous warehouse. "We had 300 to 400 cars a day pulling in. People just kept coming.

"And we had to sort everything. We are equipped here to handle trucks with forklifts. These people were coming in with carloads, truckloads and horse-trailer loads. It was an amazing time."

In 2003, Wendell Mettey flew to Washington, D.C., to accept a Jefferson Award and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for Outstanding Public Service Benefiting the Local Community. During his acceptance, he told the story of the baby boy who had been badly burned in Nicaragua. Mettey recounts his remarks in the final chapter of his book:

"All I could see were his sad eyes looking up at me. Children should not have sad eyes. They should have happy eyes. Far too many children have seen and witnessed too many things not even grown-ups should see and witness. Too many children in this world have terrible things happen to them. Too many children have sad eyes.

"Each time I go back to Nicaragua I search the crowds for that little boy, now hopefully a young man. I am afraid I will never see those eyes again, at least not in this life. They never had the opportunity to become happy eyes. But I see him in those same sad eyes of too many children. As long as God gives me strength, I will do all I can to change sad little eyes into happy little eyes."


Update: Read 2012 feature on Matthew 25

Matthew 25: Ministries homepage

Purchase "Are Not My People Worthy?"

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