|Jim and Rita Riley, shown here on their first trip to Africa in 2008, will travel to Africa next month for Jimís fifth trip and Ritaís second, teaching pastors and visiting orphans and schoolchildren.|
|Rita Riley said her heart is with the schoolchildren and orphans she visits in Africa. Her co-workers have donated many school supplies that she takes to the children.|
Special to the Tribune
Jim and Rita Riley have spent most of their married life in the ministry - first traveling the country in a bus as the singing gospel group The Revivaliers - and in travels to Africa, teaching native pastors and helping orphans and young schoolchildren.
Jim has for 10 years been the pastor of the Junction Christian Fellowship church just off Highway 69 in Poland Junction, and he and Rita are preparing for his fifth and her second trip to Africa. Jim made his first trip in 2006 when a group of Arizona pastors invited him along on a trip to Kenya and Uganda. In 2008, he and Rita traveled together, and Jim returned in 2010 and 2011.
In Africa, Jim is known as "Father Cowboy," because he wears boots, western shirts and a cowboy hat.
The Rileys' Southern Gospel style of music is a big hit with the people they visit, and Jim takes soundtracks so they can learn and sing the music.
Jim spends most of his time in Africa with a ministry team, teaching pastors more about the Bible and how it applies to their lives. He said the pastors are so hungry for the Bible that they will walk 10 or 12 miles to get to the conferences, cook on the ground, and sleep on grass mats.
"They say, 'we're here for the long haul, so give us all you've got,'" Jim said.
During their trips, the Rileys also join others in helping native people with practical needs, such as obtaining clean water, planting crops, healthy living and more.
"In some villages, people still live the way they did 2,000 years ago. We teach them how to build greenhouses and sow crops year round.
"Most villages have only one water source and we see little kids carrying antifreeze jugs to fill them full and take back to their hut. There is no plumbing, no running water, no electricity.
"We see little kids herding cattle down the street to water and bring them home, and that's all they do their whole lives," he said.
Despite the poverty in the areas the ministry team visits, the people highly value education.
"Kids walk three, four, or five miles all year to school. They all wear uniforms, and all of the schools teach English," he said. They were astonished at how well behaved the children are, despite some classes having as many as 50 students.
Rita has gathered as many school supplies - markers, pen, foam art, scissors, and rulers - as she can pack and haul for this trip.
On her previous trip, after she found children were sharpening their pencils with double edged razor blades, she rounded up 1,000 plastic pencil sharpeners for the kids and hand-cranked larger sharpeners for teachers.
The children, and the thousands of orphans, are where Rita's heart lies.
One orphanage they visited in Uganda houses 900 children. There is no running water, no electricity, and no toilets, just a hole in the ground for sanitation.
Rita described respectful children who danced for them, sang songs, and spoke to them in English and Swahili.
"I want to bring every one of them home," she said. "One four-year-old girl followed us everywhere. Someone had dropped her off the week before. We prayed for every one of the kids individually, and they all wanted to be hugged. It's unbelievable."
One year, the Rileys' church bought 400 pairs of shoes to give to the children. The team has raised money to purchase a milk cow and chickens, and bring a water line three miles so a village could have running water.
This trip, they will visit a village on a medical mission to treat the residents for ringworm, fleas and lice.
"We have a minister friend who lives in Africa six months out of the year, and he asked us to go," Jim said.
The team also has been able to see some real transformations in children's lives when medical care is made available to them.
"One little six-year-old girl had a hernia, and could not have normal bowel function. We took the mother and the child 60 miles to Kisumu, and to Nairobi for surgery. They fixed her bowels and urinary tract, and she's a normal little girl now. The whole thing cost $1,400 American dollars. A little bit of money goes a long way," Rita said.
A friend of the Rileys' ministry has helped them purchase plane tickets for their trips, and they travel out of the tourist season to save money. Their church members and others donate for supplies, hotels, meals, and other needs.
Jim Riley said he feels this may be his last trip to Africa.
"I'm going to give it all I've got," he said.
Contact the Rileys at Jimmy Riley Ministries, Inc., 8580 Stirrup Way, Prescott Valley, AZ 86314.