Missionaries opt for actions over words Arundel teens 'witness' by work

June 30, 1993|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Staff Writer

County teen-agers on Christian mission trips around the world this summer have one thing to look forward to: Sweat.

Unlike the images of westerners striding arrogantly into impoverished countries to proselytize, today's young people go primarily to work, says Brente Wolfe, a college student who left this week for a building project in Mexico.

Teams from Anne Arundel County are cleaning up Russian orphanages, painting decrepit structures on an Indian reservation in Arizona and laboring in China -- just a few among dozens of short-term mission projects.

While many churches also hope to share their Christian faith with those they meet, verbal evangelism isn't the primary goal, says Mr. Wolfe, who has gone to the same town through the same program three times before.

"Because we're not Mexican, they watch us. Our Christian witnessing is done through our actions and attitudes, by the way we treat others -- as opposed to handing out religious literature," the 19-year-old says.

Mostly, though, he says, his "witnessing" is done through his

skill with a bag of sand, mixing cement by hand.

He and 13 others from the Severna Park Evangelical Presbyterian Church are visiting a small village outside Mexico City for two weeks, where they are volunteering construction skills for a Mexican church. Mr. Wolfe's brother Bryan, 17, also is on the trip.

"We mostly mix cement the whole time. They don't have mixers; it's all by shovel," Mr. Wolfe explained last week. "And we dig a lot to build walls. We also take down condemned buildings -- brick by brick so they can reuse the bricks."

Bill Beans, a church coordina


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tor of the trip, said the group had to raise about $11,000, about half of which came from the church.

"The program -- Mission to the World -- is one of the best things the church does," he said. "I've experienced personal growth on the trip, and the kids too. Last year I saw kids from very affluent backgrounds, well-to-do areas like Severna Park, go to Mexico not knowing what to expect, being taken completely out of their comfort zones, and then growing."

"Foreign" cultures are not the only areas targeted by short-term missions. Teams from a variety of religious denominations head for needy areas on home ground.

For example, a 15-person team from Granite Baptist Church in Glen Burnie has spent the past two weeks painting and doing maintenance work on an Apache reservation in San Carlos, Ariz. The group also held small Bible clubs for the children.

Others go farther afield. Jeremy Murray, a 17-year-old from Glen Burnie, recently returned from spending two months in Russia.

The young man lived on a ship and went ashore every day, doing maintenance work in orphanages and working with the children. He went to Russia with the Advanced Training Institute of America, a Christian organization comprised of students who have been home-schooled.

Kiev Tang, a 19-year-old Severna Park High School graduate, is leaving this month for China and Hong Kong to spend six weeks teaching English through a missions program called Summer of Sharing.

The Baltimore Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church USA, as well as her church, Woods Memorial Presbyterian in Severna Park, gave Ms. Tang the $2,700 she needed for the trip. "I want to help people less fortunate," says Ms. Tang, whose family emigrated from Cambodia in 1984.

"I come from a very poor country. It was never a good life," she says. As a child, she routinely watched the Khmer Rouge tie a person's hands

behind their back with a sewing thread. "If you [moved and] broke the thread, they [would blow] your head off," she recalls.

Some people would have become embittered by the experience. Ms. Tang was motivated to action, such as teaching English to Chinese instructors.

"There are so many things wrong in the world," she says. "If you can help solve some of it, why not try?"

Mr. Wolfe says the program gave him the vision for his life's work. He wants to start nonprofit outdoor programs, similar to Outward Bound, for Mexican teen-agers. "I've seen how little the kids in Mexico have

compared with kids here," he says.

The team lives with Mexican nationals, absorbing the culture -- and the poverty. "I fell in love with the people, but I was hit hard by things like the Mexicans themselves, having to worry about getting sick from the water," says Mr. Wolfe.

One year, the foreman on the work site, who was not a religious man, needed expensive leg surgery. The team paid for the operation. "The man couldn't understand why someone would do that for him," Mr. Wolfe says. "We told him it was because of Christ's love -- something we could show by action, more than talk. That's why we go."

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