Assistant Managing Editor
WILBRAHAM Wilbraham teen Michael Azevedo returned on Aug. 13 from a summer-long mission in Chennai, India.
Originally destined for Indonesia and an area that was hit hardest by the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami, the team had to change plans due to a terrorist attack and subsequent closing of the U.S. Embassy there. Azevedo joined hundreds of other teens from around the world for a summer with Teen Missions International, a Christian mission (for more information go to www.teenmissions.org).
Just before the teens left training camp in Florida in June, Americans were warned that travel to Indonesia would be dangerous, so the teens instead were welcomed to Chennai where they helped rebuild a church which was destroyed by the same tsunami that hit Indonesia on the opposite shores of the Indian Ocean.
Michael's mother, Lianne Azevedo, told The Reminder last week that her son would be returning that weekend, after spending a week in Malaysia for debreifing.
Azevedo explained that, since things didn't go quite according to plans, her summer was spent doing a little more worrying about Michael than she had originally expected.
"All of a sudden we needed new visas ... but Michael handled [the sudden change in plans] with grace and dignity," she said.
However, she said the area he was ultimately assigned to had virtually no infrastructure left after the tsunami no electricity, no phone lines, no postal service. It took two weeks just to find out the teens had arrived safely at their location.
"It was really hard for us," she explained. "We got letters when he was at the training camp [in Florida], and I had gone down there to visit him before he left."
She explained that parents were originally planning on hearing from their children periodically through letters.
"But, because they went right down to the coast, there was nothing," she added.
Eventually, the Teen Missions team leader located a working fax machine and was able to fax home periodic updates which were posted on teenmissions.org. There, parents could read about their children's activities and the conditions in Chennai. There were even, eventually, a few photos available.
In a posting dated July 25, parents were able to read:
"Due to frequent power outages and difficult internet connections, this update comes a bit late. The team has been having a wonderful time here; the heat has been constantly matched by the breeze. Today the block is being laid for the foundation of the church building, and then the pillars for the roof will be poured. "The team has been working hard to finish all that we can. We recently had the opportunity to visit another local church which had a TMI [Teen Missions International] India team lay its new foundation. Our brothers and sisters in Christ there were very generous and shared chai with us after the service. Following that we stopped at St Peter's in the same area - it is a more than two hundred year-old church and is very beautiful.
"We have been so abundantly blessed during our time here, to be with these people who are recovering from so much and yet are still joyful. The team also took the opportunity to visit the burial site of many of the tsunami victims, and prayed for those who are still rebuilding their lives here. "As our work in this area is drawing to a close, we are preparing to train up to Vijayawada in the next couple days to help with some work there before leaving India. We thank you for your prayers."
Through similar information posted on the web site, Azevedo said she was able to find out that, not only had the teens arrived safely in Chennai, but that they were warmly welcomed by the residents there and were even treated to indoor sleeping quarters, as opposed to the tents they had expected.
The lodge they stayed in, she explained, was next to an orphanage that was set up for children whose parents were killed in the tsunami. The web site reports that many of the teens' evenings were spent playing with the children, despite their language barriers.
Azevedo said she and Michael's family will let him readjust to life in the U.S. before his homecoming party, which is planned for Aug. 21.