Archive for Wednesday, March 8, 2006

THS teen heads to Africa for spring break

March 8, 2006

High school students find various ways to pass the time during spring break.

But Jennifer Wagner likely is the only Tonganoxie High School student who's traveling to Africa this month for spring break.

Jennifer, a THS junior, will leave Thursday for Africa, as part of the Oceans of Mercy program.

Jennifer, who is active in West Side Family Church in Shawnee, raised $3,000 to cover her expenses for the trip. About nine other teens from her church's youth group, as well as adult sponsors, also will be going on the Oceans of Mercy trip.

According to the Oceans of Mercy Web site, the organization is a non-denominational Christian association dedicated to meeting the needs of people regardless of their race, religion, gender, socio-economic status or physical disability. Oceans of Mercy was established in 2002 to respond to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa. The organization provides housing and primary education for orphans and other children, many of whose parents have died of AIDS.

In Africa, Jennifer and others in her group will build a playground at an orphanage.

This isn't the first time Jennifer, the daughter of Ron and Kari Wagner, has done missionary-type work.

"I've gone to Mexico twice, in 2003 and 2005," she said. "We built one house in 2003 and built two houses in 2005."

Jennifer, who also participates in basketball, cross country and track at Tonganoxie High School, said that in Mexico she admired the children for their positive attitudes. Even when they lived in poverty, they seemed cheerful, she said.

And Jennifer said she's been told to expect the same in Africa.

"There is a lot of poverty and a lot of death, but the kids are just awesome," Jennifer said. "They have no hope, and they're just thrilled (to have attention shown to them)."

Kari Wagner said she and her husband were supportive of their daughter's travel plans. The couple have two other children, Derrick, 19, and Kelsey, 13.

"We are really blessed and excited," Kari said. "We're just so thankful. It's a long way to go, but it's supposed to be one of the safest places to go in Africa, so that's encouraging."

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