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Jamaal Simmons went to Zambia to wash the feet of AIDS orphans. For nearly a month he slept in tents and bathed out of buckets. It was a humbling experience for the 19-year-old, but the hardships of Zambia were nothing compared to boot camp.

Welcome to Teen Missions International, which offers summer missionary training camps or "boot camps" as rigorous as the name implies. Here there are no s'mores by a cozy campfire. Instead, the camps aim to recreate third-world conditions for young missionaries-in-training, and every year some 700 young people gladly turn out. The teens give up such luxuries as electricity and running water before heading out into the world together to nurture orphans, build granaries, dig wells, and minister in such far-flung places as Tanzania, Mongolia, Indonesia, Belize, and Ukraine.

"Boot camp for me was the culture shock," said Simmons, of Salisbury, Maryland. His trip last summer to Zambia was his first trip out of the United States.

Here campers are stripped of virtually every teenage trapping. There are no cell phones, iPods, or laptops. No candy or soda. Not even electricity or running water. The culture here is entrenched in discipline. Campers sleep in tents and use buckets to bathe, launder clothing, and flush toilets. They bear the Floridian summer heat in long pants and hiking shoes to protect against snakes and bugs. Many wear pajama pants all day, since cotton pants breathe easier and dry quicker than jeans in the stifling heat. The air is thick with mosquitoes, heavy with humidity, and pungent from the smell of sweaty teenagers.

Yet from this stripped-down existence springs an innocent and unbridled passion for one of Christianity's most basic tenets: Jesus' directive that his followers ...

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In the Magazine

February 2008

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