Pastor Stephen Racing For Africa


Pastor Stephen is on a mission. The three-year-old trotter, who is among the favourites to win August’s $1.5 million Hambletonian at Meadowlands Racetrack, is helping raise money to support the mission work of his namesake, the Rev. Stephen Heinzel-Nelson

, and the Allentown Presbyterian Church, in Africa.

Trainer Jimmy Takter, his wife Christina, and fellow owners John Fielding and Brittany Farms, have pledged to donate five per cent of Pastor Stephen’s earnings to benefit Villages in Partnership, an organization founded by the Rev. Heinzel-Nelson and his wife, Liz, to assist the people of Malawi. The fundraising effort is to be called, "Pastor Stephen Racing for Africa."

“We’ve been involved with our church now a good 20 years; it’s a lovely church in Allentown,” said Jimmy Takter. “That’s why I named this horse after Pastor Stephen, such a great guy, he’s done so much for my family and been a good friend. Our church, over the last two years, has been involved with Africa. Our pastor spent a whole year there. He sent me a documentary of what they accomplished down there. Mr. Fielding and George Segal and my wife decided to give a portion of his earnings to the church and this is going to be very nice.

“We’re really grateful to them for that,” said the Rev. Heinzel-Nelson, who is the pastor of Allentown Presbyterian Church in central New Jersey and a longtime friend of the Takter family. “Hopefully, we can connect to an audience that normally wouldn’t follow harness racing and get them interested in the industry, and also get them connected to what we’re doing in Africa. We were just delighted they would do this. We’re just going to see where it goes from here.”

The Rev. Heinzel-Nelson and his wife and family spent nearly the entire year of 2008 in Malawi, leaving on New Year’s Day and returning just prior to Christmas.

“We’ve always been very interested in mission,” the Rev. Heinzel-Nelson said. “We thought it might be a real exciting thing for us personally as well as the church as a whole. It was very vague at that time. But we really felt that Africa was the place of greatest need in the world.

“We met some people that had been to Africa, and then met some people that had been to Malawi, which we never even had heard about. It’s an English-speaking country, so that was a big plus for us. It has a lot of Presbyterian churches, so that was another big plus for us. We met people who had gone there or lived there, and all of them said it was a tremendous experience. We felt like that was where the Lord was leading us to go.

“It was an eye-opening year living in one of the poorest countries in the world.”

Villages in Partnership brings assistance on a multitude of levels, from building wells for clean water, to constructing schools and medical clinics, to initiating agricultural improvements and reforestation projects.

“They call it area development,” the Rev. Heinzel-Nelson said. “You can build a well, which is very important and a huge need, but if you only do that it doesn’t really affect people’s lives over the long haul because the other things that cause extreme poverty are all connected.”

Pastor Stephen’s contributions began with his second-place finish in the $500,000 Earl Beal Jr. Memorial on June 25 at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. Pastor Stephen earned $125,000 for his connections, so $6,250 will be donated to Villages in Partnership. The money is enough to construct two wells.

“Each one of our projects, from our perspective, is pretty cheap,” the Rev. Heinzel-Nelson said. “You can build a brand new well for $3,000. They dig the well and we provide the pump. That’s not a whole lot of money. The school, the block for two grades of school, we built for $15,000.”

For more information about Villages in Partnership, visit the organization’s Web site at

This story courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, visit

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