Rooted in Christ

"Rooted in Christ" Continued...

Issue: "The brain trust," June 30, 2012

The Root Cellar tailors help to the particular needs of each refugee. Mario Kani of South Sudan, 45, lost his right leg in July 1996 when a mine blew up his Land Cruiser as he navigated a river crossing. Kani's search for better medical treatment brought him to Portland. He volunteered at the Root Cellar as he waited to find paid work. He now works full-time for a trucking company and has been able to ship nine hospital beds and eight wheelchairs to hospitals in Africa, where many patients must bring their own bedding or sleep on the floor.

When Kani learned about a van destined for the junkyard, he paid $1,500 to have it repaired and shipped to a church in Zambia. He asks, "Why can I not help somebody?"

The Root Cellar has also helped Kani reconnect with two children he left behind in Sudan. He hadn't seen them for 13 years, though he telephoned weekly and paid their school fees. Two years ago, with the help of the Root Cellar staff, Kani completed the paperwork to bring his children to the United States. In April he drove to New York City to pick up his children, now 13 and 16. He knew they wouldn't recognize him, so he brought pictures of himself posing alongside a familiar older woman the children knew in Sudan.

"I had to introduce myself," Kani said. His first words to them: "I am the dad.'"

The Root Cellar serves a multi-religious population-Christians from Sudan, Muslims from Somalia, and Buddhists from Vietnam-while maintaining the centrality of the gospel. Executive director Kurt Holmgren says his staff asks God to help them be bold: "Our main purpose here is the proliferation of the gospel. If there is ever a time we are not deliberate about the gospel, we want to make sure we are brought back to that."

Before each clothing and food distribution day, Root Cellar staffers pray with volunteers. One week, after Holmgren read and talked about Psalm 40, the volunteers prayed in their own languages. Portland refugees speak 40 different languages, and the prayers included three recognizable English words, repeated by many: "Root Cellar" and "amen."

The Root Cellar doesn't have to worry about government interference because it doesn't accept government money. Last year, the organization received about $1 million worth of non-monetary donations from churches and local businesses. A paid staff of four oversees programs, including a three-room dental and medical clinic that sees hundreds of patients. Nearly 200 people regularly volunteer. About 200 families take part in some kind of program each week.

Some neighbors are reluctant to come to the Root Cellar, so the group goes to them. During the summer, volunteers carry grills to a park near a government-housing complex. Over hamburgers and hotdogs, staff and volunteers interact with neighbors who haven't yet made their way to the center.

"When I first started here I would have said, 'Let's get people on their feet so they can move out of this neighborhood,'" Holmgren said. "Now I say, 'Let's get people on their feet so they can make this neighborhood a place that people want to come to.'"

Money Box

Contributions and other revenue for The Root Cellar in 2010 totaled $1,242,570, with expenses of $1,316,034.

The organization at the end of 2010 had net assets of $1,838,088.

Executive director Kurt Holmgren received a salary of $52,380.

This year's budget: $375,000.

Listen to a report on The Root Cellar on WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It.

Vote for the 2012 winner and read profiles of finalists and winners from 2006 through 2012 on WORLD's Hope Award page.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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