Local News

Sunday, Mar 30 2014 08:03 PM

Ex-missionaries find blessings at home

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Matt and Rachel Clayton, center, along with their children, Silas, Zachary and Chloe and numerous others that helped remodel their Habitat for Humanity home, pray before the keys to their new home are handed over to the Claytons on Sunday. The family had been missionaries to Papua New Guinea and returned to Bakersfield.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Former missionaries in Papua New Guinea, Matt and Rachel Clayton along with their children, Silas, Zachary and Chloe, get a look at their newly remodeled home after the keys were handed over to them by Habitat for Humanity Sunday.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Matt and Rachel Clayton along with their children, Silas, Zachary and Chloe receive the keys to their newly remodeled Habitat for Humanity home from Paula Brown with Bank of America and Jeff Vontz, president of the Golden Empire Habitat for Humanity, Sunday afternoon. The Clayton family had been missionaries to Papua New Guinea and returned to Bakersfield.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Matt and Rachel Clayton feel blessed along with their children, Silas, Zachary and Chloe, knowing they will now have a place for their family to call home after receiving the keys to their Habitat for Humanity home Sunday. The family had been missionaries to Papua New Guinea and returned to Bakersfield.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

For three years Matthew and Rachel Clayton lived in a "rustic," tin-roofed house on stilts in the remote jungles of Papua New Guinea.

Their three children played tag under the house, caught geckos and played with the boys and girls of the Uriay tribe while Rachel and Matt learned the tribe's language and used it to share their Christian faith.

But when they came back to Bakersfield in 2011, they found that nearly seven years of missionary training and three years of ministry in the jungles of a South Pacific island nation didn't translate into a future.

It took Habitat for Humanity Golden Empire to give the missionary family their own home for the first time since they left that tin-topped building on the far side of the Pacific Ocean.

Calling

Matt, from Bakersfield, met his Michigan-born bride-to-be as they both began a 41/2-year missionary training program with New Tribes Mission ministry.

They married and had three children -- Silas, 10, Zachary, 8, and daughter Chloe, 7, -- while they finished their training and gathered the support they needed to send them to Papua New Guinea.

The children were 4, 2 and 1 when they took a small Cessna into a tiny airstrip then rode in a canoe with an outboard motor more than two hours up rivers to reach the Wabaku village where they would live for three years.

They learned the native language and strove -- with the other members of their mission team -- to share the story of their faith.

"We're really proud of the work we did there," Matt said. "Our faith is actually much stronger than ever."

Bakersfield

But eventually the young family felt it was time to finish their work and come back to the United States.

They returned to Bakersfield, moved in with Matt's parents and started building a future.

What they learned was that people had a hard time seeing the value of what their mission had accomplished or the skills they had acquired in their service.

In their early 30s -- having given more than 12 of their years to their faith -- they had little more than high school degrees to offer in a developed economy.

Matt got a job at a local laboratory and went to Bakersfield College to study clinical lab science while Rachel cared for Silas, Zachary and Chloe.

After two years with Matt's parents the couple set themselves a one year deadline to find a place of their own.

As time passed and the cost of a home seemed out of reach, they worried Matt might be forced to give up his studies and career goals to work an extra job.

Their one year deadline would have been up today.

Helping hands

On Sunday, while a team of gray-shirted young men from Kern Youth Build and leaders from Habitat for Humanity Golden Empire looked on, Paula Brown from Bank of America handed Matt the keys to the family's new home.

"We see the fingerprint of your work in the house," Clayton told the small crowd gathered for the event. "We're just really, really thankful."

The home, on Millbrook south of Harris Road in southwest Bakersfield, is modest.

But the inside has been carefully restored by Habitat volunteers and the at-risk young men from Kern Youth Build.

There are three bedrooms, a small kitchen, a vaulted front room and a compact backyard ringed by mature rose bushes that, on Sunday, were in full bloom.

The home was donated to Habitat for Humanity by Bank of America, and Golden Empire matched the Claytons to the home. They will pay for the home, Matt Clayton said, but at an "incredibly low price."

"We're seeing God working in our lives," Rachel Clayton said.

Others see blessings in the Claytons' new home, too.

Jeff Vontz, president of the board of directors for Habitat of Humanity Golden Empire, said the home is the 58th the group has renovated or built here.

But it is also part of a boom in the work the group has been doing with five other foreclosed homes donated by Bank of America helping families into homes in 2013 and 2014.

"This has been a big year for us," he said.

Joe White from Kern Youth Build said the experience has been a gift to the young men ages 17 to 22 who worked on the home -- acquiring job and leadership skills -- and came out on Sunday to see it handed over.

As the Claytons toured the home, the young men pointed out the work they had done.

"They're acutely aware of what it means to have a home," White said.

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