Dannei Enciso, a 17-year-old student at Milo Adventist Academy, had high hopes of traveling to Panama to join a group of Seventh-day Adventist teens in expanding a school campus.
But the summer mission trip with Maranatha Volunteers International didn’t work out.
Disappointed, Dannei determined that she would still make a difference. She prayed to God, “Give me the opportunity to go on a mission trip and have a good experience.”
Several months later, as Dannei prepared to stay on campus to work all summer, she learned that Maranatha was coming to Milo — and that all summer student workers would join the volunteer team.
“That was an answer for my prayer!” Dannei said.
Maranatha, a supporting ministry of the Adventist Church, is known for sharing construction skills at mission projects around the world. But the organization debuted one of its programs in North America this summer, and the chosen site was Milo Adventist Academy in southern Oregon.
The school requested assistance from Maranatha to help with campus repairs and upgrades to existing buildings, as well as to build four new cabins at Camp Umpqua, the youth camp on the school’s remote property.
“Milo has been in existence for about 60 years, so there’s a lot of buildings that are tired,” said principal Randy Thornton.
Maranatha responded by mobilizing two groups of volunteers, teens and retirees. The first team represented Maranatha’s Ultimate Workout, an annual outing just for teens. The project has been drawing teen volunteers to live, serve, and worship in sometimes difficult overseas environments for the past 25 years. A group of Ultimate Workout volunteers traveled to Panama from July 22 to Aug. 3.
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“Milo was the perfect place for us to launch this first UW [Ultimate Workout] on American soil,” said David Lopez, volunteer projects director for Maranatha. “One of the things that really stood out was how supportive the school was to having young people work on their campus.”
He said more Ultimate Workout projects would be held in the United States.
One of the teens most excited about Ultimate Workout’s arrival on the Milo campus was Dannei. She and other students in the school’s summer work program moved from the dorms into tents at Camp Umpqua, where they joined teen volunteers who arrived from as far away as Pennsylvania, New York, and The Bahamas.
The 90 Ultimate Workout participants lived simply in the early summer, using the camp lodge for meals and worship twice a day. Their temporary home in the forest clearing proved a peaceful and sometimes extraordinary place for reflection, especially for volunteers who had never experienced a similar setting.
Although spiritual development is a primary goal of Ultimate Workout, work also plays a central role in that transformation, said Shane Anderson, the Milo project’s work coordinator from Spokane, Washington. He encouraged volunteers to see work as an act of worship, to find purpose in their work, and to see Jesus in their daily activities.
Tylar Childers, a volunteer from Oakland, Oregon, took the message to heart. He joined a small team in demolishing and rebuilding an old, rotting deck for a staff family’s 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 grew worried that the deck might not get completed. So on the last workday of the project, the teens labored long past quitting time to make the deck safe.
But Tylar said he 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. He’s just been engraved in my brain,” Tylar said. “This Ultimate Workout experience has just opened Him to my heart instead of just my brain.”
A second wave of Maranatha volunteers, mostly retirees, arrived several weeks later to revamp and expand the campus. Maranatha’s adult volunteers regularly assist schools and churches within North America in addition to their full calendar of international building projects.
“I love Milo Academy. You know, it’s a special, special place,” said volunteer Fred Fox, a graduate from Milo’s class of 1962 who helped build the campus’ 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 campus again.
His wife, Susie, also from the class of 1962, said she was pleased to give back to a school that gave her fond memories, lifelong friends, and her husband.
“Seventh-day Adventist education has been really important to me,” she said. “I wouldn’t be an Adventist without it.”
Fred Fox agreed. “It's a mission field,” he said of the academy. “The kids who come here, lots of them, really don't have any idea what Christianity is all about. It’s a golden opportunity at an impressionable age to have a lifetime influence on these kids.”
The two groups of volunteers left the academy campus noticeably refreshed when at the end of the summer. But the more lasting impact may have been left on the hearts of the teen volunteers.
Remember Tylar? He had studied 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 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 a church family that he said he had been craving his whole life.