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Ringgold man maps out his life's mission

August 23, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Zachary Neumann got a chance to teach this summer, but he may have learned a lot more than he taught.

Neumann spent three weeks in Kenya teaching Bible school to the children of Christian missionaries.

"I love kids. Kids are great," he said. "They're kind of a door to the future."

Travel is getting to be old hat for Neumann, who has done missionary work the past five summers on three different continents.

His first trip was to Ukraine in 1995 through Teen Missions International. He was drawn to the experience by the stories and pictures his sister brought back the year before from a hiking trip on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

He went to the Philippines in 1996, Oman on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula in 1997, and back to Ukraine in 1998.

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Neumann, who lives in Ringgold, said he quickly fell in love with spreading Christianity throughout the world.

"Mission work is like malaria. Once you get it, it stays with you forever," he said.

Religion has played an important role for Neumann, 18. He and his parents, Bruce and Rebekah Neumann; his brother, Josh; and his sister, Meghan, attend St. John's Episcopal Church in Hagerstown.

Neumann returned from Kenya earlier this month and left on Thursday for his first year of college. He has mapped out his entire life - a life that has been heavily influenced by his missionary work abroad.

Neumann will attend Asbury College, a small school in Wilmore, Ky. He said he discovered during a visit to the campus that it had everything he wanted, from small classes to the right major.

He said he plans to study elementary education and French. Education, so he can teach kindergarten for a few years, and French, so he can pursue his long-term dream - becoming a Bible translator and moving to West Africa, where French is the dominant language in many areas.

He said he would have to learn tribal languages as well.

Bible translators spend years - even decades - learning native languages in remote, isolated areas all over the world where words are only spoken, not written.

The idea, Neumann said, is to learn the vernacular in order to form a written language. Translators then teach the natives how to read and write and, finally, translate the Bible.

He said native religions often contain many of the same basic elements of Christianity.

"Most of them are very open to it," he said.

While Neumann and his siblings are bona fide world travelers, their mother, Rebekah, has never left the country. "I've been envious of their having such neat experiences," she said.

She said the thought of missionary work did not cross her mind until her daughter, Meghan, showed her a magazine ad for the Tanzania trip.

"In terms of life experiences, it's just been invaluable. You can't compare it to anything," she said. "It's given them a whole new outlook. ... What it really benefits is spiritual development."

Zachary Neumann said experiencing different customs and traditions has been the most interesting aspect of the trips.

"You get on a plane, and a couple of hours later, you're in a totally different place, a different culture," he said. "That was one of the neatest things."

Oman was Neumann's favorite country.

"I love the culture there. It's very, very neat," he said.

Neumann said he was intrigued by the clothes and food.

That's not to say that everything was perfect. Oman is a strict Muslim nation that demands devotion to Islam of its citizens.

Noncitizens may practice their religion in two cities, the capital of Mascat, and Salalah, where Neumann stayed. He said watching Christians in a Muslim country gave him a newfound appreciation for his own religion.

"It was neat to see their faith and how much they believed and how much they were willing to risk being Christians," he said. "It makes you wonder, would we be willing to do that?"

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