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Waynesboro teens on a mission

May 26, 1999

Alexis KellerBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




WAYNESBORO, Pa. - High school junior Alexis Keller planned a typical teenage summer - swimming in the pool, watching baseball games, eating ice cream and mowing the lawn - until she was beckoned by the call of the Fiji Islands.

Keller, 17, is one of three Waynesboro Area Senior High School students who will spend their summer in Far East destinations doing missionary work.

Jodi Walizer, 18, leaves next month for Cebu in the Philippines and Crystal Dick, 15, goes to Australia.

The local teens will join others from the U.S. and Canada heading for destinations around the world on trips sponsored by Teen Missions International Inc. (TMI). The agency was founded in 1970 to recruit young people for summer mission work. So far, according to an agency brochure, more than 30,000 teens have been sent on missions. The goal is to challenge, train and discipline young people and expose them to the pressing needs of many parts of the world, the brochure said.

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Dick said her two older sisters and brother have spent summers on TMI missions in Russia, Jordan and Africa.

The teens raise their money for travel and living expenses, usually around $3,000, through donations from family, friends and church members. All three attend Fairview Avenue Brethren Church.

Keller said her first choice was Haiti. "I figured if I was going to go, I wanted the challenge of culture shock. I wanted to be stretched. I studied French in school and they speak French in Haiti."

She said she changed her mind when she learned she could go to Fiji instead, a Pacific island nation she said she knows little about. "I looked it up on the Internet," she said.

Keller said her assignment will be helping to build kitchens and bathrooms in a TMI youth camp.

Dick said her team will clear a forest and pour concrete for a new TMI youth camp in Tewatatin, Australia, a village 90 miles north of Brisbane.

Walizer's team will build a pavilion at a youth camp on Cebu then backpack into the mountains to do evangelistic work in remote villages. She said she chose the Philippines "because it sounded hard."

She gets a bonus - her trip includes three days of shopping in China on the way home. This is her second TMI mission. Two years ago, she spent the summer in Honduras, she said.

All three will be toughened up for their trip by two weeks of training at a TMI boot camp in Florida. Then it's a bus trip to the West Coast for flights to their final destinations, Keller said.

Keller's mother, Martha D. Keller, said she has some misgivings about her daughter's journey.

"I'm not really worried, but I am anxious," she said. "If she goes any further away, she'll be on her way back home. This will be a life-altering experience for her. She's going to unearth things about herself that she never realized."

Valorie Dick, Crystal's mother, said the experience has changed her three older children. "They became more mature, more thoughtful and more giving," she said. "They came back with an extra warmth and an ability to work through problems."

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