What started as a text conversation between friends Taylor Monday and Michael Tucker has blossomed into a mission making a difference in the world.
"We were texting one time and it was one of those, 'You know what would be really cool? If we could go to Africa.' I've always wanted to go to Africa, and that's kind of what started it — that simple text," said Monday.
"Since we shared that interest, he said, 'Well, let's make it happen, let's not just talk about it, let's make it a reality.' "
For the Casey County, Ky., teens, it just made sense. In 2013, they began fundraising for a trip to Uganda. Ultimately, they launched Mission Make A Difference — Mission MAD for short.
"We were kind of tired of the everyday routine of life and knew that our lives are about something more than ourselves," said Monday.
Adds Tucker, "We started by wanting to go on a mission trip to Africa, and that stemmed out to this, just making a difference in our everyday life, not only in Africa but here in the United States as well."
The two started Mission MAD and began fundraising in 2013 — knowing they wanted to make the trip to Bulike, Uganda, in summer 2014 through Uganda Counseling and Support Services.
The mission of the service is to go into a village every five years and make it self-sustaining, addressing water, medical care, education, economic development, counseling, and spiritual development.
Both teens loved the experience.
"It was amazing," said Monday. "Definitely eye-opening."
"It was different, but a good different," Tucker said.
They raised more than enough funds for their own trips and for projects that were ongoing there, such the new school building for sixth- and seventh-graders in Bulike.
"When we were over there, we got to paint the building. It's almost like that was our reward," said Monday. "It was neat to be able to put more work into what we had done."
"It was cool because we had the kids do it, too. We taught them how to do it," Tucker said.
When they returned, the two determined to continue doing more.
"We started seeing that there were a lot of supporters that liked what we were doing, so we decided to take that extra step and just a little bit more effort to make it an everyday thing," Tucker said.
That led to canned food drives and a coat drive. The teens and others gathered food for Thanksgiving meals for a soup kitchen. To raise money for Galilean Home Ministries and the Ugandan mission, supporters ran from Liberty to Danville, Ky., then cycled to Louisville.
"We just try to partner with nonprofit organizations that need help. We're basically a mission broker," Tucker said.
"When we started, we didn't know exactly what we wanted to do as an organization, we just knew we wanted to help," he said.
There are four to five people on the board for Mission MAD, which is in the process of becoming a 501c3 nonprofit.
The current campaign Mission MAD has undertaken is the Stock the Bus Bike Tour.
"We're raising personal hygiene products — soap, deodorant, shampoo, and towels — to help aid Love Beyond Walls, which is an organization in Atlanta," Tucker said. "They are making a mobile makeover unit — a bus — that has showers, a clothing closet, and a barber shop in it, and they're going to take it around to homeless communities in Atlanta."
"The whole incentive behind it is giving them a fresh start to be able to go get jobs," said Monday.
Tucker and another Casey resident and Mission MAD supporter, Guy Laman, are cycling the 330 miles from Liberty, Ky., to Atlanta. A support van full of supplies will follow behind, and the group should arrive in Atlanta March 14.
Monday won't be riding a bicycle with them but perhaps will be in the support van.
One of the big needs the group faces, Tucker said, is that of gas cards for the bus. They have been given Subway cards to help feed them on the road.
Currently, Monday is a senior at Casey County High School, with plans to go to Campbellsville (Ky.) University, while Tucker is a student at Somerset (Ky.) Community College. They said it isn't just the two of them doing the mission work; they have a good support base.
"We depend a lot on our supporters," Tucker said.
The two plan a return trip to Bulike, Uganda.
"I guess just because that was the first place we went, it took a special place in my heart," Monday said.
The group's mission statement, Tucker explained, is to feed, clothe, and educate those less fortunate by partnering with like-minded organizations.
Uganda Counseling and Support Services does all of those, he said. "We knew we could supply food, clothing, and education all at once and make a big difference over there to the people of Bulike, Uganda, and other villages around it."
Being so young gets the teens noticed by those they set out to help.
"Oh, wow, I thought you were older" is the immediate response, Monday said.
"Age does not reflect your ability ... to make a difference," she said, referencing the bible's 1 Timothy 4:12. "'Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young.'"
The heart of Mission MAD is being a reflection of God.
"Mission MAD is not only about helping people in the United States; it's not only in Uganda, also. It's about showing a universal love of God. We do these works whenever we host volunteer times or take volunteers to work at soup kitchens — we want to show God's love through our work and through our actions," Tucker said.
"We might not directly be saying 'God bless you,' or 'God has given us the ability,' but it's through our actions," Monday said. "Actions speak louder than words."
• Information from: The (Danville, Ky.) Advocate-Messenger, http://www.centralkynews.com/amnews