WESTBOROUGH, Mass. — Pastor John Taylor said he's always wanted to reach out to an African nation, but it wasn't until Mark Neil and his family joined Westborough's First Congregational Church that he found a way to organize that mission.
Neil was born and raised in what is now the Republic of Congo.
"I have always heard about the [Rwandan] church growing and their faith and my thought was we could learn from them," Taylor said. "This is really a mutual, reciprocal kind of mission."
Mark Neil's trip with two of his daughters, Emily and Kara, along with his sons, Kevin and Brian, in 2012, served as a trial run for the church. This year, the group is made up of 13 people, including Taylor, Mark's wife, Amy Neil, Kara, Brian, Kevin and Lindsay Neil who is just 6. Emily Neil will be unable to attend because she is at college.
"It just started out as Mark and the kids having a fun vacation and bringing along some things for friends and it's grown into this," Amy Neil said. "It's just a beautiful part of the world, and they were all really impressed with the warmth of all the people."
The humanitarian mission, which departs Feb. 15, will have several phases. The group plans to bring about 1,000 pounds of supplies to the village of Kibagora, Rwanda, which include reading glasses and school supplies.
Taylor said all of the supplies and equipment will be carried with them aboard the plane, along with crutches that will be transported across the border into the Congo.
Due to the unsafe conditions, the group will not cross the border, but friends of Mark Neil have volunteered to safely shuttle the supplies to their destinations.
"They need everything you can imagine," Taylor said "Health care and education are the two most impoverished things."
Taylor said he is unsure if the mission will become annual or every other year, but the goal is to foster a lasting bond across the continents.
He said the group will bring a mural made up of handprints of congregants' children, as well as a map that highlights where Westborough is.
The group also will volunteer at an orphanage and local school for the deaf.
Taylor will preach at Kibagora Methodist Church, at which he said he expects upwards of 1,000 people.
He said people walk miles to attend the service, which can last up to seven hours. He said he's expected to preach for up to two hours himself, with the help of a translator.
"I'll have to pull out some of the greatest hits," he said.
The trip and supplies are largely self-funded with the help of donations. Airfare will cost about $1,400 per person.
There will be a fundraiser to support the trip at 7:30 p.m. Friday, featuring comedian/magician Tommy James, at the church.