FAIRMONT — Dr. Michael Reese’s passion for mission work began at a young age.
He remembers his great-aunt Ruth Shaffer was a missionary in Kenya in some of the same areas that Reese and his team work today. She and her husband went to Kenya as missionaries in 1923 and spent 35 years there.
He remembers his aunt coming in for reunions and lining all the children up and checking their heads, ears, eyes and teeth just like she did the children of Africa.
So when the Bear Valley Bible Institute called and asked if he would be interested in mission work, the answer was of course yes.
Reese has multiple degrees. He began advanced studies in 1977 at Fairmont State, pursuing a degree in biology, but then changed his major and schools in search of something “real.”
“I will never forget it,” Reese said. “I was a biology major at Fairmont State. We were studying atomic theory in Chemistry 106, Dr. Swiger’s class. I thought, ‘This is theory.’ I wanted to study something real, so I transferred to Freed-Hardeman University and became a double major in Bible and biology and earned my BS in Bible.”
After graduation from Freed-Hardeman University, Reese was hired as minister of Oakwood Road Church of Christ. He preached there for eight years when he was hired as the minister of the Mannington Church of Christ, where he has been the full-time minister for the past 26 years.
Throughout his preaching career between 1977 and 2010, Reese continued his education, also earning a BS in biology from Fairmont State, a Master of Arts and a Master of Divinity from Southern Christian University in Montgomery, Alabama, and his Doctorate of Education from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
Reese began his mission work in 1981 when he and his wife, Linda, spent six weeks in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
In 2004 Reese was contacted by Bear Valley Bible Institute and conducted a mission trip to the Ukraine.
In 2005 Reese began his mission work in East Africa in Arusha, Tanzania. He has made two trips a year to the region since.
Reese’s mission work encompasses four areas — evangelism to strengthen churches in the villages and church planning; coordinating the Kenya School of Preaching Kisumu; directing the Kenya Christian Youth Camp; and helping found and operate the Ohono Christian School in Ohono, Kenya.
His work in Kenya has grown many folds since his first trip.
The Ohono Christian School, which is approximately 30 miles from the Uganda border, began with just 20 students in 2011. This year there were more than 300. The school’s expected enrollment by this time next year is more than 400 students.
“I hand-carried totes of flip charts and materials for the initial curriculum. I helped raise money for the tables and chairs for the students,” Reese said about the school. “I do whatever needs to be done.”
The Kenya Christian Youth Camp, of which Reese is the director, will hold its fifth annual camp this year and expects more than 350 campers.
This year the camp has invited a team from the Martinsburg area to assist.
“Safety is a concern in a Third World country — not because I am a Christian, but because I am an American and we are rich. We don’t know how blessed we are compared to anyone in a Third World country. When I know the funds I have for my hotels and traveling expenses are more than they will see in a couple of years or even a lifetime, you have got to be careful.”
The unrest in Africa for the most part is not close to the region Reese and his team work. However, the shootings at the Westgate Mall are in the same area.
“In the past few years, I have become much more aware of the persecution of Christians, especially last year,” Reese said. “I have always said I will not put my team in jeopardy. I will not compromise anything. If we have to get out, we will.”
Reese and his team travel with a local resident, David Wasonga, while in Africa. Wasonga and Reese have become dear friends. They became friends when Wasonga was a student at the Kenya School of Preaching. He is now the director of the Ohono Christian School.
Wasonga even named his last child, Linda Reese Wasonga, after Reese’s wife.
“I feel very safe when I am there,” Reese said. “I know David would protect me if need be.”
In his mission trip in March, Reese and his team partnered with Healing Hands International to do a drip-irrigation project. The project provided one kit for each person who completed the seminar. The seminar taught participants how to make a compost pile to fertilize crops, build raised bed gardens and how to use drip irrigation.
Drip irrigation consists of a 5-gallon bucket and a garden hose with two holes every 12 inches. They fill the bucket in the morning and evening and the water irrigates the crops through the two dry seasons.
One kit will feed about six people through the dry season, giving them a way to feed their family year-round.
“I am very pleased with this drip-irrigation project. We had 80 people from 45 congregations with several villages represented,” said Reese. “We will run this seminar periodically, and anyone who shows evidence of making compost piles and beds the way we showed them, we will give them a kit free. The next step is to teach them to raise chickens, rabbits. We will probably begin that early next year.”
Reese’s goal is to one day do a family mission trip to Africa, taking his wife, daughter Sarah and her husband, Philip Plyler, and daughter Maddie, son Ben and wife Jessica and newborn son Braxton.
Reese has already taken his mother Nita on a mission trip in 2007.
With his second trip to the mission fields in Africa, Reese and a team of three others — Keith Kull, Peter Ray Cole and Aaron Gallagher — will head back to Africa in early August.
Reese and his wife have discussed the dangers of the area, and his wife has told him, “No matter what, never deny Christ.”
Email Tammy Shriver at email@example.com.