Teen Has Zeal for Missions

Caleb Rittenour hails from a quiet corner of north Idaho. He is 16 years old, the middle sibling of five, all home-schooled by their mother. Caleb is a junior deacon at the Spirit Lake Church in Idaho, where he spoke recently about his second missionary trip to Thailand. Interviewed about his unusual choice of adventures, he had this to say.

What inspired you to do missionary work?

My dad served as a missionary, mainly to South America. I wanted to experience being in a different country from the time I was 14. With my parents' encouragement, I attended the Young Disciples Ministry www.youngdisciple.com summer camp in Inchelium, Wash. While participating in their summer camp, I heard about an opportunity to go to the island of Palawan in the Philippines through their Mission Experience program.

So, how did you get there and what was it like?

My church family and friends helped my trip to Palawan happen. Serving the Lord is definitely worth it. I was able to communicate by learning a few phrases during training as well as on the job. My month in the Philippines was really a starting point for me. In fact, I would like to go back there.

How did you find out about the possibility of going to Thailand?

A friend’s sister had gone to an Adventist school in Thailand. Last July, she was organizing a group to go back over there with her. I was invited to join.

Was it difficult to get there?

Our trip was scheduled for November, so I started seeking donations and support for my trip. I also earned money doing a summer job logging in the mountains. On my return from a weekend camping trip in September, I got the news that my trip to Thailand was canceled.

What happened?

A few of the school leaders in Thailand had cleared some land on the campus, not knowing that it was illegal to do so without a permit. They were in serious legal jeopardy, needing to pay a huge fine or face prison time. Our group donated our travel money, plus more donations from others, to help them pay their fine. The problem was resolved, and the fine was paid. I felt like my mission was accomplished — we were meant to raise that money to help those others in their hour of need. We were resigned to the fact that we were not going to be able to go to Thailand after all. But then the situation changed again. I got a call from the person who originally put the group together. She said there was a possibility that two people from the group could still go to the mission school in Thailand, but we had to raise the money for the airfare. It was not easy, but the Lord blessed this trip, and we set off on Nov. 18 for a four-month stay.

What did you find when you arrived?

The Sunshine Orchards campus is really remote, in the middle of a lime orchard nine hours north of Bangkok. The nearest village is 5 kilometers (3 miles), and a slightly bigger town is about a four-hour drive away. One family runs a children’s home and learning center on the campus. The other two families are teachers at the main school. They have approximately 376 students this year, some who live in dorms on campus and some who are day students. The children’s home has about a dozen kids. The students all have different backgrounds, and they mainly are Buddhist. Most of the students are young, but the oldest one is 27. Some are orphans, and some come from families who just could not raise them. Some have been rejected by their families for having become Christians.

The campus is split in two parts. The classrooms, chapel, kitchen/cafeteria, children’s home, girls’ dorm and a few of the teachers’ homes are in the lime orchard. Across the road, next to the river, is another classroom, some teacher’s homes, the new boys’ dorm and the new girls' dorm that is under construction.

Students pay no tuition as of last year. The school is supported by donations to Jesus for Asia and through a foundation in Japan. Some of the food for the children is supplied by the school’s garden because the village has very limited supplies. When necessary, some things are purchased at the nearest town. All meals are supplied to the students.

The students do not have a lot of textbooks. Teachers write out the lessons, and students copy them down in their notebooks. They have no library. After a work period in the afternoon, they like playing soccer, volleyball and something called cane ball.

A nurse and small clinic are on campus, and a hospital is not too far away. The principal has a car, and the other two missionary families have trucks. One of the trucks is so old that it is ready to die.

How is the Lord working at the school?

The missionaries’ main function is education. Part of attendance includes learning about Jesus. Each day starts and ends with a worship service, led by the principal and teachers. The students are required to attend, and most have their own Bibles.

All the students who live on campus attend Sabbath service at the Sunshine Orchards small chapel. A teacher gives the sermon, and one of the teachers is the translator because not all of the students speak English. Many students play the guitar, and that is the main source of music. I understand that about 24 students were baptized last year.

A few doctors have visited and taught at the school, teaching medical care for the students to use in their home villages.

What was your experience like?

I learned a little of the language very slowly. Even if you can’t speak the language, the way you act speaks louder than preaching. At first, I was given small maintenance projects on campus, and I also worked at mapping the lime orchards. I kept up with my own studies while I was there, because I’m in 10th grade of high school.

The morning worship service begins at 5:30 a.m. However, I heard students getting ready to attend as early as 4 a.m. They are eager to know the Lord.

The boys' dorm was finished while I was there, and they were just starting on a new girls' dorm. Also while I was there, they had their first graduation ceremony. I felt very privileged to attend.

One of school’s missionary families has returned to the U.S. I want to fly back to Thailand with them in October. I plan to visit other countries, too, if the Lord calls me. I’ve started my summer job again and will be raising money for this next trip.

Please pray for Caleb as he serves God and seeks souls for Him. To learn more about how you can donate to or become a part of Jesus for Asia, go to www.jesus4asia.org/wp/.

August 21, 2014 / Upper Columbia Conference