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Minooka girl delays college for missionary work

Minooka girl delays college to undertake missionary work

Courtney Peterson takes a break from helping to install a septic system to hug a village child during her 2013 mission trip to Uganda.
Courtney Peterson takes a break from helping to install a septic system to hug a village child during her 2013 mission trip to Uganda.

MINOOKA – Brother, can you spare some dimes, enough to total $2,150?

If Courtney Peterson, 18, of Minooka doesn’t raise that amount by Monday, she won’t be able to spend nine months ministering to the people in the Philippines, Swaziland and Nicaragua.

It’s part of The World Race, an extended mission trip to 11 countries in 11 months to serve the poor, according to Courtney has signed up for the September 2014 Gap Year program for young adults age 18 to 22, a modified program with fewer countries and less time away. She plans to blog about her experiences until she returns in May 2015.

Since the beginning of 2014, Courtney has raised $12,487, a combination of her own funds and money people have donated to her. In addition to the $2,150, Courtney also needs another $1,000 – for airfare as well as immunizations, since her health insurance won’t cover them, she said.

Although Courtney is racing against time, she is not worried or anxious.

“If the Lord is calling me to do something, he will provide for it – on his time, not my time,” Courtney said.

Courtney’s love for mission work goes back to childhood. She always had wanted to go to Africa, she said, just to see for herself that the television commercials showing children living in extreme poverty were really true.

But when Courtney finally did experience mission trips – through Joliet Catholic Academy, when Courtney was a student – both were on native soil. For the first, Courtney worked at an Ohio farm that ministered to newly released juvenile offenders. The second was in Indiana, at a place that helped women affected by domestic abuse, she said.

But Courtney still wanted to serve the African poor, so she messaged a former JCA student through Facebook whom Courtney knew had participated in one such mission trip. That student, Courtney said, recommended the organization that has arranged her trip.

Courtney raised the $5,000 required for that mission trip through requesting donations from family and friends. She attended a training camp in Florida the last week of June 2013 and then spent a month in Uganda before returning for a debriefing session and then home, she said.

Unlike many teens who generally attend such a trip with their school or church youth group, Courtney went without knowing anyone on her team. She, along with four leaders and the other two dozen teens, worked at building a septic tank in a village in Uganda.

While there, they slept in tents inside a three-wall structure, took bucket showers and washed their clothes in buckets, too, and ate a combination of packaged food they brought along with local chickens and eggs.

The proliferation of cellphones in that village amazed Courtney – everyone they encountered had one, she said. Despite strict safety precautions, the team did battle a gastrointestinal bug, she said.

“Our water filter broke and we didn’t realize it, so we were all drinking dirty water,” Courtney said. “Being sick with a squatty potty is not good. But unless you’re throwing up, you have to work.”

Still, even that couldn’t curb Courtney’s desire for more missionary experiences (“I get sick at home, too,” she said). Courtney, whose career goal is to be an international missionary doctor, realized when researching colleges and finding none appealing to her that God was calling her to a different educational timeline.

While researching different gap year ideas, Courtney found The World Race. Although she did receive the blessing and support of both her parents – Chris Peterson of Minooka and Eric Peterson of Shorewood – Courtney said she would participate even if she did not have it.

However, to prove her sincerity and dedication, Courtney said she assembled a presentation for her father, outlining the trip’s details and her reasons for pursuing it. He responded by contributing some of her college fund and admiring the extremely driven young woman she has grown to be, he said.

“She is already doing everything she can to accomplish her goals at 18,” Eric said. “As a woman, she’ll be able to accomplish anything she wants in life.”

Chris wavered between feeling proud of her daughter – she bought $1,500 in supplies for the upcoming mission trip – and fearful for her safety. When Courtney was in Uganda last year, she was close enough to the South Sudan border to hear guns shooting. Chris said.

Still, Chris said, the entire experience enhanced Courtney’s naturally kind and caring nature.

“She saw malnutrition and starvation. It opened up her eyes to experience unlike anything she had experienced,” Chris said. “It gave her a greater appreciation of things and made her want to help people more.”


Donate to Courtney’s cause at

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