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Local middle schooler raising funds for Teen Mission trip

Date: 5/17/2010

May 17, 2010

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Managing Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW - With summer vacation just a few weeks away, you can bet school kids everywhere are starting to think about what they'll be doing during their time off.

For 13-year-old Jonathan Afonso, the decision is easy.

A few months back this Birchland Park middle schooler - who admits to a love of soccer, wrestling, biking, swimming and ATVing - signed up to participate in a short-term Christian mission trip with Teen Missions International (TMI).

Once his fundraising is complete, Afonso will spend a portion of his summer in Saskatchewan, Canada, painting buildings and tiling a kitchen floor at a TMI outpost. He will also participate in youth ministry outreach and bible teaching at area churches in Outlook, Saskatchewan.

"I'm going to be helping people," Afonso said of his work on the trip. "I'm also going to know I helped someone with their spiritual growth."

Founded in 1970, TMI is an interdenominational mission organization whose purpose is to provide teens with an opportunity to experience mission work first-hand. The program includes pre-trip training at the organization's primitive boot camp on Merritt Island, Fla., mission trips to sites throughout the world and a post-mission debriefing and relaxation period in Cocoa Beach, Fla.

Each teen is responsible for raising funds to cover the cost of his or her trip.

Afonso's target goal to participate is $2,290. He has already sent out letters to family and friends asking for their support. In addition he told Reminder Publications his grandmother has hosted a benefit tag sale for his mission and with the permission of the East Longmeadow Rocky's ACE Hardware, he solicited donations in front of the store on May 15.

His fundraising must be completed and deposited with TMI by the time he arrives in Florida on June 24.

Afonso's mother, Yvonne, said she learned about TMI from her friend, Ann Demos, whose family members have been participating in the organization's mission trips for years. She said the thoroughness of the short-term program's training and debriefing, coupled with TMI's focus on showing young people the benefit of investing time and effort into helping others, are what piqued her interest.

"I introduced the whole idea [of Jonathan and my older son, Nathanael] going [on a mission trip] three times in three years," she said, adding that neither boy seemed interested until Jonathan looked into this year's Canada trip.

Afonso said he also considered participating in this summer's youth ministry trip to Alaska with his church, Bethany Assembly of God in Agawam, but opted for the longer experience that TMI offers.

He will be gone a total of five and a half weeks with TMI.

He added that he chose Canada for his first mission trip because it gave him the travel experience without taking him too far from home.

"There are a lot [of missions]," Afonso said. "They will be going to places like Africa or China, [which] would be awesome, but would be too much [for a first trip]."

Afonso will be travelling with a pre-teen group - all ages 11 to 13 - including two of the Demos children.

And though he admitted some of the experiences - such as doing his own laundry in a bucket with a bar of soap and sleeping in a tent during the initial training in Florida - seem a little daunting, he's looking forward to the chance to bolster his leadership skills and "be part of the solution."

Anyone interested in helping Afonso reach his fundraising goal can contribute online at by clicking on the donate tab and following the prompts. Be certain to include Jonathan Afonso's name in the box when prompted to enter a team member's name to ensure he receives credit.