Southeast Asia Prayer Center finds larger quarters in Oakmont for its worldwide mission
On his first visit to the United States, 22-year-old Toto has found he likes chicken and KitKats.
A native of Laos, Toto — a nickname he goes by — is in the middle of an internship with the Southeast Asia Prayer Center, a nonprofit mission based in Oakmont.
“It’s so cool here,” he said Tuesday.
He is the first international intern the center has had since moving to the quarters it bought on Fifth Avenue in April.
The two-story brick building is about three times the size of the center’s former rented space on Allegheny River Boulevard, its president Matthew Geppert said.
The building came with the furnishings of its former occupant, the International Assistance Group, which worked in Russian adoptions. Before that, it had been a Bell Telephone switching center.
The center was founded in 1991 by Geppert’s parents, Mark and Ellie Geppert, who are retired. He’s been its president since 1994.
With its roots in Pittsburgh, Geppert said the organization chose to stay in Oakmont despite invitations to move to locations in California, Asia, Hong Kong and Singapore.
The center has a local staff of 14 and about 330 overseas, Geppert said.
“We love this space. We love this town,” he said. “It’s great to be central in this town.”
The center seeks to serve in the areas of health, education, parenting and economic development. It operates in 25 nations in Southeast Asia, Central America, Africa and Europe.
Its projects include working with children with autism, locally and in China; small business development and teaching math, science and English to public school children in Cambodia; running prayer centers in the southern Himalayas; and helping children with leukemia in Mexico.
Each year, the center brings several interns to its Oakmont office for 90-day visits. Toto arrived in September and has been staying with a family in New Kensington.
He was chosen by his pastor and center leaders in Laos, according to Geppert.
“I came here to learn how to serve God and speak English better,” Toto said.
Toto is one of four interns at the center, the others being from the U.S. The center brings in 10 to 15 interns from overseas each year, Geppert said.
Jean Fleming, a center staff member, works with the interns and helps them with English. “For me, it’s really a blessing. I’m finding I’m learning a lot about myself,” she said. “It’s a wonderful experience to be working with people from different nations.”
A college graduate, Toto and his wife have a 5-month-old son, whom he has been staying in touch with online. They live in a village in the countryside outside the capital, Vientiane.
He’s been working on improving his English along with skills in accounting and leadership.
When he returns to Laos, Toto will have a full-time job teaching English and business skills in the center’s “Garden of Hope,” an educational center combatting poverty.
Toto said he wants to have a small business — a noodle store — for his family.
“I want to serve God in Laos,” he said.