MissionTree offers another way to give

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | December 4, 2012 | 0 Comments

Website offers donors opportunity to sponsor specific persons or projects and follow their progress online

Three years ago, Brandon Zingsheim was moved by the mission appeal that Zambian priest Father Dennis Phiri made at his parish, St. John the Baptist in New Brighton, and he wanted to know more about the priest’s diocese and vocations work.

But then he wondered, “OK, I put my dollar in the collection plate — now what? What happens? I never hear back. He’s never going to come back to our parish.”

These questions led Zingsheim, a software engineer, to develop with the help of a team an interactive website called MissionTree, which offers donors the opportunity to not only electronically sponsor specific persons or projects in a mission diocese but also to learn about and follow them through online biographical articles, blog updates and photos.

Since its official launch in June, the site, has raised more than $15,000 for tuition and expenses of five seminarians from the Chipata mission diocese in Zambia — the home of Father Phiri, he said.

The website “creates this sort of one-to-one relationship that wasn’t really possible before,” said Deacon Mickey Friesen, director of the archdiocesan Center for Mission, which awarded Zingsheim a grant for the project. “It’s a whole other way of thinking about how we support mission vocations overseas.”

Great potential

Initially focused on African vocations, Zingsheim hopes to add other types of mission projects to the MissionTree site. It helps donors get more involved in mission work, either individually or through their parishes, where MissionTree organizers seek to develop partnerships, he said.

As evidence of the growing relationship between MissionTree, St. John the Baptist and the Chipata mission, the diocese’s bishop, George Lungu, concelebrated and spoke at weekend masses at the parish in October.

With more than 1,150 young and developing dioceses in 120 countries, there is no shortage of possible projects, Deacon Friesen said. “Potentially there are all these mission dioceses. This is a perennial need to have the resources to train their future leaders.”

Zingsheim decided to take on the vocations projects in part because he learned that many young men who want to attend seminary in the Chipata mission don’t have the funds.

“A major focus for us will always be vocations because we believe that that is the seed for so much of what the Church is capable of,” he said. “In some ways, it’s almost like an eternal reward to fund someone becoming a priest or a sister.”

MissionTree also is interested in helping women religious and with humanitarian projects such as building wells in other countries and regions. Zingsheim is considering applications from Africa and Central America.

MissionTree donors can designate which project or person they’d like to fund. They are able to see the percentage of funds raised for each seminarian, along with a personal bio and blog, Zingsheim said. They are also able to pledge prayers for the young men.

The site makes it possible to donate almost in real time, Deacon Friesen said. “It’s not like you’re becoming a pen pal with a seminarian but you have the ability to hear from them and to be able to support them and pray for them,” he said. “It puts a little more of a face on it this way that has not been possible before.”

It’s a tangible way to get involved, said MissionTree board member Mike Brashier, who attends the Cathedral of St. Paul. “You almost foster relationships with the people you’re giving to.”

Seeking to complement existing mission relationships, Zingsheim is working with the Center for Mission to introduce the site to parishes. “Depending on the needs of the parish and depending on what the desires are of social justice ministries, we’ll be inclined [to offer]  brochures to suggest MissionTree as a partner for them to engage with,” he said.

Zingsheim added: “The whole objective of our ministry is to make this information transparent for people and to do it consistently, regularly, with feedback and giving people a real sense that there’s fruit coming from their donation.”

Though donors don’t have to be Catholic, MissionTree enables them to answer the Catholic call to mission work, which the mission churches themselves are answering, he said.

The site is a means to bring people to Christ — both donors and recipients, Brashier said. “We recognize the need of this kind of avenue for outreach to be able to evangelize the world,” he said. “It will, I think, bring a streamlined way to do charitable giving and also just evangelize on other levels.”

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