Valley Dispatch Photo by Heidi Smith
Dracut High School student Michaela Chadwell displays her church group T-shirt while talking about her upcoming mission to Madagascar.

DRACUT — For two weeks, she will run obstacle courses, sleep in a tent, deny herself frivolous foods and learn the customs of a foreign land. Then she will travel to a mission in Madagascar where she will spread Christianity and teach English to children for a month.

Sixteen-year-old Michaela Chadwell, a junior at Dracut High School, will prepare for her first missionary trip during a boot-camp style training program on Merit Island, Fla., beginning on June 20. She will leave the comfortable familiarity of her hometown and join 30 others for training before heading to her missionary post in Madagascar, an island in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa.

“It’s going to be a great experience for me to learn about another culture and teach them what I know, too,” said Chadwell.

During training, the teenagers will become acquainted with the realistic conditions of the missions by running obstacle courses, sleeping in tents, learning to shower using gallon buckets and adapting to a new diet. They will be forced to let go of everyday comforts and adjust to primitive camp life in a tropical climate.

“It’s good for us to be in somewhat good shape because we’ll be working outside on some minor construction projects in the heat,” said Chadwell. “We also won’t be eating the types of foods we have here; no ice in drinks, no sweets. So during training we won’t be allowed those foods either.”

Classes in Bible, drama, basic construction, evangelism, spiritual and practical survival skills, and music are also required.

“We’ll take music classes, puppet classes, drama; that way when we take breaks from work, we’ll be able to entertain some of the kids in the village,” said Chadwell.

She is traveling with a group from Teen Missions International, an interdenominational evangelical organization that provides short-term mission experiences to teens with the goal of providing firsthand international experience. She learned about the program a year ago through her youth pastor’s wife at Crossroads Baptist Church in Pelham, who has gone on several missions.

Chadwell said she found herself through religion four years ago when she and her family became members at Crossroads. Since joining the church, she says she has discovered a passion for helping others and a love for children.

“I just want to show other people the joy that I’ve found,” said Chadwell. “I want to help people. We are so rich in this country; I think I can give up a summer to spend on this island to teach some of the children about what I know.”

Besides teaching English to children, the teens will visit churches and work to improve existing missionary posts. They will also have the opportunity to visit a Malagasy boot camp and spend time with local teenagers. The official languages in Madagascar are Malagasy and French, but many speak or have the desire to learn English and North American customs, according to Chadwell.

“The kids in Madagascar will be on their summer break, but there’s a lot of interest in learning English from the North Americans, so there will be a lot of kids around.”

Teen Missions monitor the locations of teams before departure, and is in communication with the missionaries that the teams will be working with. In the event of any political unrest, natural disaster, or other safety issues, the teams are redirected to a different project or another site.

“I was nervous about the safety at first, but I’ve been reading a lot about it, and I know they are very careful about making sure we are in a safe situation,” said Chadwell.

She will spend the next few weeks raising the $5,000 needed to cover the cost of the trip. On April 28, she will hold a carwash at the Mobil gas station on Lakeview Avenue in Dracut from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tax-deductible donations can also be mailed to Crossroads Baptist Church, 43 Atwood Road, Pelham N.H.

Have a story idea? Contact Heidi Smith at 978-970-4653 or e-mail at hsmith@thevalleydispatch.com.