The Rev. Charles Leger has made community outreach one of his priorities since coming last year to Jennings Chapel United Methodist Church in Woodbine. But this summer, Leger and his wife will take that goal to a higher level.
The Legers, Methodist ministers who live in Howard County, will be in Bosnia from July 15 to 31 to work in the Volunteer in Mission Program of the United Methodist Church. They will head to the town of Mostar. The couple will spend much of their time with the Muslim community, whose infrastructure was destroyed after the country's civil war, which ended in 1995.
"It's building that relationship between our [areas] that's [important]," Charles Leger said. "We believe that what happens over there affects what happens over here and vice versa. There will be no proselytizing. We're not going there to convert people, but we're going to help them and do what they need us to do."
The Rev. Paul Shoffeitt, who has been a member of Jennings Chapel for 24 years, said the congregation strongly supports its pastor's trip.
"We're very, very pleased that they're going and think it feels good for this community to reach out to another community," he said. "The world is getting smaller and smaller, and trips like this help raise our consciousness about needs that exist in other parts of the world."
Charles Leger (pronounced Le-jhee) said he and his wife will celebrate their first wedding anniversary June 21. They met at Wesley Seminary in Washington with the dream of doing mission work together. They have been on mission experiences independently, but this will be their first trip as a married couple.
The Rev. Beth Leger works with Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church in Frederick County and Mountain View United Methodist Church in Montgomery County, while her husband is also with Poplar Springs United Methodist Church in Mount Airy.
Both feel strongly that this type of mission work should be a part of their lives as ministers. Charles Leger said they are laying the groundwork for trips to Russia and Belarus to help with orphanages, possibly starting in 2006.
"We would like to do this on some type of regular basis," he said. "It's part of what we feel is our calling in the ministry. This is something that God has placed on us to do and given us gifts for it."
The four churches of which the Legers are pastors combined to pay for the trip. But this won't be a 17-day vacation. The Legers are headed to an area that is rebuilding, is looking for direction and needs help.
"It's been a long time since the war, but they're still coming back to where their homes were," said Beth Leger. "It must be just frightening because they're rebuilding the things that we take for granted, the basic necessities."
According to a set of "talking points" compiled to explain the trip, the area is in good hands. United Nations troops act as peacekeepers, and the "government is dedicated to maintaining the peace. ... [But] there are still land mine fields, but they are marked," Charles Leger said.
The Legers said they are anxious to share their experiences with their churches when they return. After the trip, they said, Bosnia won't be just a name to the people of their four churches - it will be a place they helped.
"It makes it much more real and tangible," said Shoffeitt. "I think we benefit from not only his going, but what [they] bring when returning."