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Spokane Outreach helping build school in Tanzania

Chaplain Don Russell, in hat, breaking ground for a school building. Courtesy of Don Russell
 (Courtesy of Don Russell / The Spokesman-Review)
Chaplain Don Russell, in hat, breaking ground for a school building. Courtesy of Don Russell (Courtesy of Don Russell / The Spokesman-Review)

When Don Russell was 8 years old, he almost died from complications resulting from influenza. But he awoke from a coma while the family was preparing for his funeral. That miracle eventually led him to a life of Christian ministry and the founding of Spokane Outreach Center, a ministry with a local presence but national and international reach.

While working as a chaplain in the Geiger Correction Center, Russell began to see the dire need of the inmates seeking salvation. In 1996, he conceived the concept of an Internet ministry to reach inmates just released from prison, to continue to offer spiritual guidance, and to reduce recidivism. He would send a daily devotional to his small flock.

But word spread. Soon he found himself administrating to more than 3,000 subscribers through cyberspace. Requests for prayers came in from Africa and Asia, one in particular from pastor Job Mkama from Musoma, Tanzania, a village on the bank of Lake Victoria. Pastor Job had requested prayers and funds to build a village school to offer the children a chance for education. Over time, the two pastors got to know each other, and last January, Russell, along with a couple of local donors, went to Musoma and broke ground on a church and a schoolhouse.

Spokane Outreach Center, together with its generous donors, has been able to complete two out of the four classrooms planned. Every month, the center sends $900 to $1,500 to support the building efforts and to get the school ready for an official opening.

The school has enrolled 30 children, many of them orphans, and six subjects are taught by three teachers who earn modest salaries funded by the Outreach Center. The school has benches and desks made by villagers, but money is still needed for textbooks, pencils, uniforms and shoes for the orphans. Russell estimates $3,000 is needed to get the school fully functional.

Russell raises funds tirelessly through his local following, but the needs sometimes exceed the supply since the Outreach Center also supports similar efforts in Togo and India. Russell is confident that the money will somehow materialize. He said he believes in the generosity of the community and the power of God.

“We identify the ideal. In this case, it is to serve the ones in need,” he said. “But we work with reality. And we are not giving up because we have not reached that ideal yet.”