Soldier stationed in Baghdad takes on project to help refugees

In November, Ground Medic Manny Ceja called Rev. Stan Pesis at St. Paul's Lutheran Church and told him he needed shoes.

"What size?" questioned Pesis. "We'll get you whatever you need."

Ceja told Pesis the shoes weren't for him, but for the many refugees in Baghdad, Iraq - most of them children. Refugees he and fellow soldiers were in contact with most every day.

"This was an independent project of Manny's," said Nellie Revelle, parish secretary.

"This project began in late November. We asked the congregation to help him out by donating shoes and clothing and money for postage."

Ask and you shall receive

Word went out to the congregation. Pesis lined the church aisles with boxes, like a freight train, boxes which needed to be filled. At the same time, Parish Nurse Vicki Hamilton was collecting clothing and food for 15 needy families for the holidays.

Both requests were overwhelmingly filled.

"This congregation needs to be applauded," Revelle said. "The church members came through; they're very generous."

Ceja's wife, Chelene, on Feb. 12 gave birth to their first child, Anson. He was born at Carson-Tahoe Hospital while Manny listened by cell phone from Baghdad.

"Manny's always been doing things like this (helping others)," Chelene said. "He's very close with our pastor and his wife."

Chelene said it was no surprise to her at all to hear Manny was collecting shoes and clothing for the children.

"He's talking about doing some kind of church service for college when he gets back. Not necessarily as a pastor, but some kind of work along that line, like medical or counseling."

The Ceja's are graduates of Carson High School. Manny joined the Army out of high school, then was in the National Guard and recently went back to active duty with the U.S. Army. He has been in Iraq since mid-November.

Chelene said Manny safely arrived in Kuwait Wednesday, where he will be for about one week. From Kuwait he will return to Fort Hood, Texas. Chelene and Anson will be there for his homecoming, when Manny will see his son in person for the first time.

"He's only seen him on the computer," she said.

After a visit with family in Carson City, the Cejas' will return to Texas where they will make their home.

"We want to thank the church and everyone for the cards and gifts while Manny's been gone," Chelene said.

"All the support they've given us really helped while he's been gone."

The church will continue to send shoes and clothing overseas and welcomes monetary donations to help with postage.

"We don't have storage space at the church," Revelle said. "So please don't donate items. But we would love to get help with the cost of shipping."

Although Ceja has left Iraq, his project was taken over by Capt. Mark Leslie.

"Mark sent the church a letter telling us just how big the smiles were on the faces of the children," Revelle said.

"He said our gifts are greatly appreciated. That the people saw the American's compassion for them and a sincere wish for their lives to be better."

n Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at or 881-1223.

Postage due

What: You can help with postage for shipping shoes to refugees in Iraq

Where: Send checks to St. Paul's Lutheran Church, 1201 N. Saliman Road, Carson City, NV 89702

Note on check: Project Iraq

Call: 882-3020


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