New Outreach Begins at Crystal Lake Parish
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
July 25, 2019
CRYSTAL LAKE—Father Akan Simon, parochial vicar at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, here, and several volunteers provided information and a way for parishioners to donate to a new project, “Building 4 God,” after all Masses the weekend of June 29-30.
That kickoff fundraising effort is being done in support of St. Joseph Church in Father Simon’s hometown of Umon-Okon in Nigeria. 
The existing church was founded in 1921 and is constructed primarily of mud-sand walls that disintegrate with time and with wood that is subject to termite infestations. The building now is not safe and secure and is too small for the growing faith community.
St. Joseph Church is one of seven churches in seven villages served by one pastor. Full-time lay catechists and evangelizers live and serve in each of these communities, and manage all activities at their respective churches.  Churches in Africa, say “Building 4 God” organizers, are “the center of life in a village.”
Desiring to become a missionary priest, Father Simon came from Nigeria to the Diocese of Rockford at the invitation of the late Bishop Arthur J. O’Neill. He was ordained a priest of the diocese by the late Bishop Thomas G. Doran on May 16, 1998. Since then, he has served five parishes as parochial vicar.
St. Joseph Church is part of the Diocese of Ikot Ekpene, under the leadership of Bishop Camillus Raymond Umoh, who visited St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Crystal Lake a few years ago. 
Pew collapse inspires project
Father Simon, during a visit in 2011 to his home village, was saying Mass at St. Joseph Church when a pew collapsed with a loud noise. 
After Mass, the president of the church said to him, “Our son, our church is falling apart. Since you live in the Church, please help us build our church.” 
In 2013, the priest returned to Umon-Okon for a sabbatical, in part to help the community build a new church. Ground was broken that November and about $400,000 has been raised and spent thus far. The church has a roof, concrete walls and steel roof trusses.
The goal of this current effort is to raise an additional $250,000 for Phase II. The money will bring the building to a functional completion, with flooring, doors and windows, pavement, electricity and plumbing, a generator, a well, painting and landscaping and basic furnishings.
The formal kickoff on June 29-30 at St. Thomas included banners in English and Spanish that explain the project, a bulletin insert, announcement of the project and volunteers handing out donation envelopes to parishioners.