South Charleston pastor Paul Helmick prepares for trip to Ghana

By George Hohmann

Rev. Paul Helmick, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in South Charleston, is set to embark on an eight-day visit to the African nation of Ghana, where he will inspect wells that provide safe drinking water to rural villages.

Helmick will be traveling with a group under the auspices of Rotary International. He has been a member of the South Charleston Rotary Club for two years and was a member of the Elkins Rotary Club in the early 1990s.

“I believe water is the greatest resource we have in the world,” Helmick said. “The control and use of water is essential for our survival. Rotary, through its projects, is trying to make clean water accessible to everyone.

“I look forward to witnessing the Rotary projects in fruition and look forward to meeting people whose lives have been changed because, for instance, they don’t have to send the kids five miles down the road to find water. I also look forward to spreading the news through churches and various Rotary clubs upon my return.”

Rotary International is a non-profit, international service organization with 1.2 million members and more than 35,000 clubs. Rotary’s mission is to “provide service to others, promote integrity, and advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through our fellowship of business, professional, and community leaders.”

Helmick will travel to Ghana with six other Rotarians — one from Lewisburg, one from Princeton and four from the Rocky Mount, N.C., area. The leader of the group is Walter Hughes Jr., who travels to Ghana several times each year.

The group will fly from Dulles International Airport to Accra, the capital of Ghana. From there they will travel north to the city of Sunyanai and rural areas where clean drinking water is scarce.

According to the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, northern Ghana suffers from recurrent drought. Water pollution is an issue and there are inadequate supplies of potable water.

Helmick and the others will inspect deep-bore wells throughout the region that have been drilled with help from Rotary International. The machine-bored wells are typically drilled 600-feet to 1,000-feet deep. Because electricity is sometimes unavailable, a manual pumping system is used to bring fresh water to the surface.

In addition to learning first-hand about the wells and their use, Helmick expects the group will inspect micro-flush toilets, an in-home sanitation system promoted by Rotary. He also will attend several Rotary Club meetings to exchange information about cultural and humanitarian projects.

“We also have a visit to a missionary hospital scheduled and I am going to preach a church service in Ghana,” he said. “I don’t know the details yet — I don’t know if it will be a Methodist church.”

According to the CIA’s World Factbook, Ghana is a nation of 28 million people in Western Africa. It borders the Gulf of Guinea. A former British colony, Ghana gained independence in 1957. The country is slightly smaller than Oregon.

It is estimated that 71 percent of the country is Christian, almost 18 percent is Muslim, 5 percent is traditional and 6 percent practice another religion or no religion.

This isn’t Helmick’s first trip abroad. He and his wife, Kathy, participated in a trans-cultural trip to Brazil and he has toured Israel and Jerusalem.

The trip to Ghana will be easier than the trip to Brazil in that English is the official language of Ghana while Portuguese, which Helmick does not speak, is the official language of Brazil.

Helmick recalled an incident during his trip to Brazil: Trying to speak Portuguese, “I thought I was asking for a Diet Coke and was handed a box of chocolate cookies,” he laughed. “At the next place, I just pointed!”

Helmick has been brushing up on British English because that’s what he expects to encounter often on this trip.

Although Ghana is 5,515 miles from South Charleston, Helmick has been making a lot of connections. For example: his daughter, who works for a nonprofit in Raleigh, N.C., is overseeing a program that is going to help fund projects with solar power in Ghana.

Helmick has been active with the Boy Scouts of America for more than 50 years. He will be a chaplain at this year’s World Scout Jamboree, which will take place at the Summit Bechtel Reserve at Glen Jean, WV,  in late July.

“While in Ghana, I hope to meet with some of the Scout leaders who will be coming to the Jamboree,” he said. “We’re up to 164 countries that will be represented at the Jamboree.”

Helmick has been a United Methodist minister for 18 years. He has served in Jane Lew, Clarksburg and Reedsville. He has served at the First United Methodist Church in South Charleston since 2013.

“I am making the trip to Ghana as part of a 30-day renewal leave from the church in South Charleston,” he said. Retired Rev. David Biondi will be his interim substitute at First United Methodist.

The trip costs approximately $3,000. Helmick said money is coming from a variety of sources, including a grant from the Southern West Virginia District of Rotary, contributions from First United Methodist Church members and friends, and personal funds.

Helmick is still accepting contributions. “There have been some expenses I didn’t anticipate,” he said. “For example, getting the required shots (protection against yellow fever is mandatory) and malaria pills cost close to $500.”

According to the CIA Factbook, the major infectious disease risk in Ghana is very high. Diseases include diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid fever, malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever.

Checks may be sent to the First United Methodist Church of South Charleston, 905 Glendale Ave., South Charleston, WV 25303. Donors are asked to write “Pastor’s Ghana trip” in the memo line.