A mission that began with a phone call

Jake Elias of Faith Mission stands next to clothing ready for containers. (GREG VANDERMEULEN/Winkler Times)

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A single phone call and a willingness to respond to a need half a world away were the seeds that grew into Faith Mission in Winkler.
The organization that grew out of one simple goal of helping other has grown considerably since it was incorporated in 1994.
Jake Elias, one of the founders and current board member, said they had a missionary staying at their house who’d come from Ukraine.
“While we were having supper he got a phone call from a pastor in Russia asking if he could possibly get together a container full of clothing,” Elias said. “He was doing a presentation at the Sommerfeld Church that evening, and he mentioned it there. A few of us got together and said we would try.”
Elias gave up his single car garage to help store donated clothing and it wasn’t long until a neighbour offered to do the same.
“By the time both garages were full we figured we had enough for a container,” he said.
A trucker was heading to Abbotsford, B.C., where a clothing baler was available, and he offered to help. The clothing was packed and tarped into gravel trailers that were being hauled on a flatbed.
That could have been the end it, if it wasn’t for the amount of leftover clothes that had to be disposed of. “We weren’t sure what to do with the leftovers,” he said, adding they decided to send another container which was quickly followed by more.
“Last night we packed container number 247,” he said.
Faith Mission’s first local bale was made at Jake and Helena Elias’ workshop in 1993.
The organization moved to the old sewing factory on 2nd St. in Winkler that same year, and into the other end of the same building in Jan. 1995. Faith Mission saw several other moves, to Main Plaza on Main St. in 1996, to Cargill Road in 1999 and to their latest home on Roblin Blvd. in 2015.
Faith Mission’s main outreach is to supply clothing for the needy in former Soviet Union countries such as Ukraine, Estonia, Kyrgyzstan, and the Republic of Georgia.
The clothing is sorted, compressed into 100 pound bales and transported via rail to Montreal or Halifax where the container, loaded with about 300 bales, is loaded onto a vessel for the voyage across the Atlantic.
Evangelical churches share the gospel as they distribute the clothing to needy people.
While the facility and volunteers run like a well oiled machine, Elias said they never imagined what that first container would turn into.
“We would have never ever dreamt that something like this could come out of it,” Elias said. “We figured at first if we pack a container of used clothing that will pretty much take care of all the used clothing that’s out there, but that was not the case.”
Conditions were improving steadily in those countries, and Faith Mission was considering changing their recipients.
“In 2013 we were almost to the point where we were thinking which country will we send our humanitarian aid to because Ukraine was starting to look up,” he said. “Then the war came.”
The need continues and close to 170 volunteers throughout the year make it happen.
While Faith Mission is not affiliated with a specific church, volunteers come from various churches, Bible study groups and school groups.
“The community has really stood behind us and supported us well,” Elias said, adding they will continue to help.
“We always say as long as the need is there and the support is here and finances are coming in so we can ship, we’ll keep going,” he said.
But why do they put that kind of energy into helping others?
Elias said it’s simply a part of their faith, something that’s been modelled by prior generations.
“Scripture tells us to love each other and that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.

Faith Mission, Winkler. (GREG VANDERMEULEN/Winkler Times)