Sue Schoonbeek and Maurice Newberg with school leaver Grace James-Lomas and the rest of the group that will be heading to Japan for tsunami relief work on Thursday.
Sue Schoonbeek and Maurice Newberg with school leaver Grace James-Lomas and the rest of the group that will be heading to Japan for tsunami relief work on Thursday. Sarah Harvey

Teen shuns Schoolies for mission

SWAPPING the festivities of Surfers Paradise to help victims of the Japan tsunami was an easy decision for Grace James-Lomas.

The 17-year-old high school graduate will head to Japan on Thursday with 19 other volunteers from Springfield Christian Family Church to do whatever it takes to get the people's lives back on track.

Ms James-Lomas said Schoolies on the Gold Coast had never appealed to her.

"You hear stories of people who get all excited about going to Schoolies and end up spending lots of money and not having a good time," she said.

"I've always wanted to do a mission trip and some of the friendships I've made through church are more stable."

Springfield Christian Family's Sue Schoonbeek said the group would head to Sendai, on the north-east coast of Japan, for two weeks.

"We'll do anything we're asked to do," Ms Schoonbeek said.

"We're probably going in a bit blind but we're willing to do whatever it takes to help."

The group raised the funds for the trip with the support of their church and the community.

"The thing is they've got the resources now but they just need the manpower," she said.

Pastor John Van Bennekom's wife Deb will also be jetting off on Thursday.

"After the tsunami hit I put my hands on a world map and prayed for Japan," Mrs Van Bennekom said.

"We then hosted six kids from Sendai to help them through their loss. You build strong personal relationships and it didn't take us long to build a team of 20.

"More than 300,000 Japanese people are still homeless because of the disaster and the Sendai evacuation centre still has 1500 people in it all these months on."

Mrs Van Bennekom said while she was in Japan she would help re-establish one of the few Christian churches in the country.

"Their church was totally obliterated," she said. "They're the ones who run the evacuation centre and we'll do anything to help them."



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