Maranatha Volunteers International is well-known for sharing construction skills in mission projects around the world. But this summer, it debuted one of its unique programs for the first time in North America. And it happened right here in the Northwest, at Milo Adventist Academy.
This was a busy summer at Milo Adventist Academy. Two very distinct groups of missionary volunteers converged on the campus to renovate, rebuild and add on to the remote school campus in Days Creek, Oregon. “Milo has been in existence for about 60 years, so there’s a lot of buildings that are tired,” says Randy Thornton, principal. The school requested assistance from Maranatha Volunteers International to help with campus repairs and upgrades to the existing buildings, as well as build four new cabins at Camp Umpqua, the youth camp on the Milo property.
Maranatha responded to the need at Milo by mobilizing two groups of volunteers to assist. The first team was Maranatha’s Ultimate Workout (UW), an annual service project just for teenagers. The UW project takes place every summer, but it is usually overseas. The project has been drawing teen volunteers into extreme environments to live, serve and worship for the past 25 years. It provides an opportunity for teens to rediscover themselves and their connection with God, far from the expectations they leave at home.
Maranatha chose Milo as the site for the first Ultimate Workout to be held in North America. “Milo was the perfect place for us to launch this first UW on American soil. One of the things that really stood out was how supportive the school was to having young people work on their campus,” says David Lopez, Maranatha Volunteers International volunteer projects director. “It was a great project and really opened the doors for us to do more UW teen projects in the United States.”
One of the teenagers most excited about UW’s arrival to campus was Milo senior Dannei Enciso. Dannei had high hopes of attending Milo’s spring break mission project to Panama in March but was unable to go. “I really want to make a difference. I probably can do it at home, but I want to … feel like I’m doing something,” says Dannei. “So I asked God, ‘Give me the opportunity to go on a mission trip and have a good experience,’” she remembers.
Just a few months later, as Dannei was preparing to stay on campus and work all summer, she found out that Maranatha was coming to Milo and that all the summer workers would be joining the volunteer team. “That was an answer for my prayer!” she says.
Dannei and other Milo students in the summer work program moved from the dorms into tents at Milo's Camp Umpqua to join the other volunteers when they arrived. The 90-plus Ultimate Workout participants lived simply, using the camp lodge for meals and worship twice a day. Their temporary home in the forest clearing was a peaceful place for reflection, especially for some of the volunteers who had never experienced a similar environment. Teen volunteers attended from as far as Pennsylvania, New York and even the Bahamas.
An Act of Worship
Though spiritual development is a primary goal of Ultimate Workout, work plays a central role in that transformation. Shane Anderson, of Spokane, Washington, was the work coordinator on the teen project. He encouraged volunteers to see work as an act of worship, to connect with why they were working and to see Jesus in their daily activities.
Tylar Childers, a volunteer from Oakland, Oregon, really fell in love with the work and the sense of meaning he found. Tylar joined a small team in demolishing and rebuilding a rotting old deck for a staff home. Each day the team prayed with the resident dean, Kim Person, and her family. Each day they watched her and her baby wave through the living room window. It didn’t take long for Tylar to find purpose in helping the family. By the end of the week, he insisted they had to finish the deck, upset at the thought of leaving it undone. On the last workday of the project, the teens worked long past quitting time to make the deck safe for the family and their guests.
But Tylar experienced something even deeper than the satisfaction of a job well done. He met God. “All my life I’ve never felt Him in my heart,” says Tylar. “He’s just been engraved in my brain. And this Ultimate Workout experience has just opened Him to my heart instead of just my brain.”
Why Work for Free?
“I love Milo Academy. You know, it’s a special, special place,” says Fred Fox, Maranatha volunteer and Milo alumnus, class of 1962. Fred and his wife, Susie, joined the second wave of Maranatha volunteers, mostly retirees this time, to revamp and expand the Milo campus in August. Maranatha regularly assists schools and churches within North America in addition to their full calendar of international building projects.
This particular project felt like a meaningful way for Fred to reconnect with his alma mater. “We cleared our busy schedule so we could participate,” he says. Fred helped build Milo’s iconic covered bridge as part of Milo’s work-study program when he was a student. After 53 years away, he was excited to be back working on the Milo campus once again.
Susie is also a class of 1962 alumna. She was happy to join the Maranatha project and thank Milo for fond memories, lifelong friends and even her husband, Fred. “Seventh-day Adventist education has been really important to me. I wouldn’t be an Adventist without it,” says Susie.
The two groups did a lot of renovations to staff housing, deep cleaned and painted the two dormitories, worked on landscaping, and built cabins at Camp Umpqua. The campus is noticeably refreshed because of volunteers willing to make a mission impact without flying overseas.
But the real reason to serve speaks to many, even those who aren’t Milo alumni — the effect of Adventist education.
“I think that it's a very important element of the church. It's a mission field,” says Fred of the Adventist school system. “The kids that come here, lots of them, really don't have any idea what Christianity is all about. And it's a golden opportunity at an impressionable age to have a lifetime influence on these kids.”
Fred is right.
“Milo means family to me,” says 17-year-old Dannei. “I came to Milo, and I realized that there are people that care about me — that actually care. And they brought me closer to God. I realized that God is always with me, no matter what happens in my life.”
That is worth working for.
And remember Tylar? He has been in public school all his life. But after two weeks working on the Milo campus, he wanted to stay.
Sitting in the expansive lawn between the cafeteria and the dorms, Tylar announced, completely unsolicited, “Milo is just like a family, a family unit. And I’d actually like to be a part of that.”
Two months later, Tylar showed up for school at Milo — his first day as part of the family he’s been craving his whole life. It's a miracle made possible by these special Maranatha missions to an Adventist academy in need.