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Wildfire mission spruces up Superior

A trio of Wisconsin teens, left to right, McKenna Kaszynski, 14, of Elmwood, Jaz Voss, 15, of De Pere, and Araya Carson, 15, of Elmwood, paint the curb outside Faith United Methodist Church in Superior, and each other last week. The girls were among 108 students from 17 different Wisconsin churches who took part in the 16th annual “Wildfire” mission trip to Superior. (Maria Lockwood /

More than 100 youngsters blazed through Superior tasks last week. They laughed, they worked, they dabbed each other with "Smurf blue" paint.

"We're here just to spread God's holiness like wildfire," said McKenna Kaszynski, 14, of Elmwood, Wis.

For 16 years, Faith United Methodist Church's annual "Wildfire" mission has brought teens from all over the state to Douglas County.

"The cool thing is we have enough work sites that they really feel they're making a difference in people's lives," said Pastor Joel Certa-Werner.

Superior worksites lined up to welcome the middle and high school students, providing places for them to clean, mow, garden, paint, even demolish. They included Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency, Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse, Superior-Douglas County Family YMCA's day camp in Lake Nebagamon, Harbor House Crisis Shelters and more.

"I think Superior is a generous community," Certa-Werner said. "They were quick to say 'yes' when I called."

Wildfire is a team effort all around. The youngsters stay at Concordia Lutheran Church, shower at the University of Wisconsin-Superior and work throughout the community.

In return, said Certa-Werner's wife and fellow pastor Barb, "We share the wealth."

During their five-day stay, teens threw discarded items out an apartment window, weeded a garden, mowed lawns, painted walls, even pulled up carpet and ripped out trim.

"It definitely gets you out of your comfort zone," said Araya Carson, 15, of Elmwood.

It's fun to meet new friends and work together, the youngster said, but it can be eye-opening.

"I've seen a lot of people in some seriously bad shape, and it makes me really sad ... they deserve better," Araya said.

"It's really cool because you hear people's stories and you just want to help them more," McKenna said.

Community Service Officer Amber Haumschild has traveled from Watertown to Superior three times to take part in Wildfire. She came with her daughter, her niece and, last week, her son Ralph, 12.

"It makes them humble," Haumschild said. "Yesterday we were cleaning out that apartment and they saw stuff from a kid. They started to wonder what happened, where did the kid go, is the kid safe, that kind of thing."

For members of Faith United Methodist Church, the annual mission is a chance to spread their faith.

"To love God isn't enough unless you love the people around you," Certa-Werner said. "We're part of a holiness movement. What matters is you strive to live it out."

He and his wife have seen youngsters come to work in Superior year after year. Some have come back as adults.

The mission makes an impact on those who visit and those who remain in Superior.

"You meet different people from different walks of life who share the same common interest, taking care of our community," said Faith United Methodist Church member Chuck Tenlen.