October 15, 2008 EditionAlso in this issue...
Rich experiences lay solid
Jessica Wheeless, a senior at Walnut Ridge High School, attends morning classes at Williams Baptist College.
Jessica Wheeless is a senior at Walnut Ridge High School, but that designation only begins to define this unconventional student. Wheeless, the 17-year-old daughter of Gene and Charlotte Wheeless of Powhatan, spends her mornings as a student at Williams Baptist College and her afternoons in classes at WRHS.
This past summer, she went for the second time to Peru for a two-week Christian mission trip. Her experiences coincide with her desire to continue to attend Williams upon high school graduation and major in religion with an emphasis on missions.
Besides her parents, Jessica's religious faith and her involvement in 4-H have been major influences in her life. "Everything has been completely my decision. My parents have always encouraged me to be very independent," she said. Her parents have also been active in 4-H, alongside Jessica, by serving as adult leaders.
She said that she has never been nervous or shy and has trouble imagining how it would feel to be either. "I think God blessed me with the ability to be outgoing.
"People and speaking are what I really like," Jessica said. "I love people."
Through 4-H, Jessica has been able to develop her leadership skills. She has attended 4-H events in such places as Kansas City and a National Tech Conference in Nebraska. She serves as a 4-H State Ambassador, is a 4-H State Record Book winner and is president of the county 4-H Tech Team.
"Four-H takes up a ton of my time," she said, but adds, "Four-H has really taught me how to be a leader."
Jessica also attends First Baptist Church in Walnut Ridge, where she is active in the youth program led by Paul Fisher, youth pastor.
Due to her busy 4-H schedule, Jessica spent one school year taking classes online through the Arkansas Virtual High School. When she graduates from WRHS in May, she will only lack a few credits to be classified as a college sophomore.
"I love English. I love to read, and I love to write," Jessica said. She began earning college credits as a high school junior and has taken such courses as English Composition and World Literature at Williams.
When she was 10, Jessica read a book about a girl whose parents were missionaries in Peru. That book fueled her desire to visit Peru, and she seized that opportunity when she learned of a mission trip sponsored by Focus on the Family's magazine "Brio and Beyond" for teenage girls.
Jessica's first mission trip to Lima, Peru, was in 2006, when she was 14 years old. For Jessica, the first experience was "culture shock." She explained that while the people to whom they ministered were extremely poor, they have no self-pity. "They're just really open about their lives and their situations. They're not ashamed of any of that."
Her second trip to Peru was this past summer, from June 30 to July 14. "The second trip was a very personal experience for me," Jessica said. "The worship services (held nightly) meant more to me." These nightly services were called "Fired Up And Going Nuts Every Minute" or "FUAGNEM."
Jessica was one of 700 teen missionaries, ages 13 to 18, on the trip. They divided into 30-member teams and spent most of their time in the rural Highlands of Peru. They would spend a whole day in a little community and would go from door-to-door inviting the villagers to join them in a central area of town. There, they would do the villagers' laundry, wash their hair and witness about Jesus Christ through skits, in which Jessica played a mime.
"Bathing and washing their clothes is not something they get to do often," Jessica said of the Peruvians they encountered. Spanish is the native language, and one of the highlights for her trip in 2008 was when a translator she met in 2006 came to visit her. While the kids were easy to talk to, the missionaries needed a translator to communicate with the adults.
The trip was not without some harrowing experiences. Jessica said her life was endangered twice: once by a big dog and another time by scorpions. Their last day of ministry was particularly memorable because they visited one of the poorest areas. Jessica said they pooled their money to purchase basic grocery staples for the people.
Without a doubt, these mission experiences have helped shape Jessica in a positive way. Her experiences, combined with her leadership skills and her natural ability to connect with others, will serve her well as she continues to prepare for the future.
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