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In Preparation for Mission Trip, Couple Sell Their Worldly Possessions

Downers Grove residents Jeff Wasilevich and Deborah Rissing lighten their load before leaving for Lake Titicaca.

While most of our neighbors are intent on saving, buying and in general, accumulating stuff, Downers Grove residents Jeff Wasilevich and Deborah Rissing have been steadily paring down.

For the past year, the couple has been sorting, storing, donating and selling off most of their worldly possessions in preparation for their upcoming adventure.  In April, Wasilevich and Rissing will begin an 18-month mission to Lake Titicaca in the southern Peru and western Bolivia region of South America.

“One of the things we’ve learned is that the more stuff you have, the more it weighs you down," Wasilevich said. "It just ties you, holds you to the spot you’re at. You have to get rid of all that stuff in order to go somewhere.”

Having always been interested in doing service work, the couple started considering the possibility of embarking on a long-term project about a year ago. At that time they were facing empty-nest status as the youngest of their five children from previous marriages started college.

“We realized that we certainly didn’t need a four-bedroom house in the suburbs.  We started thinking about downsizing,” said Rissing. “And we started thinking that if we don’t need a four-bedroom house in the suburbs, do we need the jobs and the salaries to support the mortgage for the four-bedroom house?” 

The couple started to think about leaving their careers; hers as an administrator at University of Illinois in Chicago, Wasilevich’s as a specialist in home improvement. “We thought if we dared walk away from our jobs, that would free us up with a lot of time at a point in our lives when we have enough energy and good enough health, where we can go out and do some meaningful work the way we’ve always wanted to,” Rissing said.

At about that same time, they researched possible missions and attended an intensive training program for people wanting to work in mid- to long-range service work. “We came away from that experience thinking, 'Oh yeah, this is where we belong, this is what we want to do,'” said Rissing.

A trainer at the event told them about a mission site in Latin America for which she felt they would be well-suited. The site is the Lake Titicaca Border Mission which was launched in 2009, and which Wasilevich and Rissing ultimately decided to host and coordinate.

Rissing said that the area is inhabited primarily by subsistence farmers who live on approximately $2 per day. They have limited access to clean water, electricity, hygiene and health care. The objectives of the mission have been determined by the people of the region, the Methodist bishops of Peru and Bolivia, and representatives from First United Methodist Church of Boise, Idaho, who recently completed their mission there.

The primary goals are to build the church to serve as a community center for the area, help develop sustainable economic and agricultural enterprises, and improve access to health and dental care.

The couple is undertaking the assignment without salaries, stipends, a housing allowance or housing. Consequently, they have set a fundraising goal of $65,000, which they hope will cover their living expenses, as well as support the work they’ll be doing. To date, they have raised approximately $28,000 and will continue to seek donations and sponsorships throughout the term of their mission.

In the past week, the couple opened their home at 5431 Brookbank Road for a fundraising estate sale. Their goal is to sell, auction and lease the possessions they have not placed in storage. The hardest part was having to place their two dogs, who they said they’ll miss tremendously. But ridding themselves of their material items has been a relief. 

“We’re pulling everything out of everywhere and stacking it around," Wasilevich said. "We thought we had a pretty lifestyle and, all of the sudden, we saw we had all of this stuff. I thought this was ridiculous, I never again want to have this much stuff surrounding me.”

“We realized how much stuff we had and how many blessings we have,” said Rissing.

Wasilevich and Rissing will continue to seek donations to support their mission. They also are hoping to encourage individuals and teams to consider short-term work with them. For further information visit www.misionfronteras.com. Ironically, the region to which they’re traveling has 4G, so the couple will have Internet and cell phone access. They will update their website regularly and I’m hoping we’ll be able to write updates in Patch about their adventure.

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