Seniors to volunteer in Kenya

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Kelli Parnell and Erin Miller will volunteer at an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, this summer, and they want to do more than just help teach and clean.

They want to go share life with the children and orphanage staff.

"I'm so excited to just go and spend life with these people," Miller said. "To go and share my life, hear their stories. ... It's going to be incredible."

Parnell and Miller, graduating seniors at Steamboat Springs High School, are volunteering at the Thomas Barnardo House for a month. They leave June 6.

The girls knew they wanted to do a mission trip this summer, and Parnell's love for Africa helped them focus on opportunities there.

Parnell researched several possibilities, but this one was the only one that came together.

And it has come together perfectly, the girls said.

"It's been incredible. At times we were like, 'We're going to Africa. How's this going to work out?'" Miller said. "We've just been praying about it the whole time. It worked."

Parnell, who has traveled to Africa several times while her family was living in Europe, said she is fascinated by the continent.

"I have been in love with Africa since the first time I set foot there," Parnell said. "The people are so friendly, and they're so loveable, despite how little they have. The culture is so rich."

She has been on one mission trip before and knows the experience is an incredible one.

"It just opens your eyes when you do it," she said.

She is especially looking forward to working with children, which is her passion and has shaped her career goal of being a teacher.

Miller said she's ready to serve.

"I want to be able to do something (through which) I can really know I'm serving God in such an amazing way," Miller said. "Just to go over there and know I'm not doing any of it for myself."

Enthusiasm and excitement come through when Parnell and Miller describe their plans.

But that doesn't mean they aren't a little nervous.

Parnell said she is a bit concerned about their safety, how they'll fit in, and about the possibility of getting sick.

Miller worries about standing out with her blonde hair and blue eyes, as well as about encountering lots of bugs and having to fly.

The friends raised more than $5,000 for their plane tickets to Nairobi, and both said they have been amazed by how giving the Steamboat community and members of their church, Euzoa Bible Church, have been.

At first, when support didn't flood in, Parnell was concerned.

"I know I should have had more faith, but I was getting really worried," she said. "It's so awesome to see how supportive everybody is."

Miller said the experience of having to wait was a lesson in itself.

"(I learned) to completely trust God and rely on him to bring in the money," Miller said. "I don't need to rely on myself."

Any additional funds the girls raise will be donated to the orphanage for various needs. The girls also are bringing sheets and towels to leave with the orphanage. They also plan to leave all of the personal clothes that they bring.

Parnell and Miller have plans to attend college in the fall, but they are prepared to stay for an entire year if they feel like that's what God wants them to do, they said.

"I'm honestly leaving that possibility open," Parnell said. "It's just like an adventure."

Donations can be mailed to Kelli Parnell, 647 Anglers Court, Steamboat Springs, CO 80487, and to Erin Miller, P.O. Box 774421, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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