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11 months, 11 nations, 1 life-changing mission for Utahn

Sarah’s journey » Pastor’s daughter travels the globe helping to change lives and ends up changing her own as well.

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Money and training » The cost for the country-hopping Christian mission is a little more than $15,000, so Sarah Imperiale held fundraisers, sold wristbands and collected generous contributions from family, friends and congregants.

The first test? Training camp in Gainesville, Ga., in fall 2012.

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Young people were divided into teams and then put through exercises designed to prepare them for circumstances they might encounter.

One day, for example, they were told that as they were flying from Africa to Thailand, half the missionaries lost their luggage for two days. Each team had to figure out how to share goods so that all members had what they needed — clothes, toothbrushes, other items.

The next hypothetical put them on a bus, crossing country lines only to discover a closed border. They would have to bunk on the bus.

"It was the most uncomfortable night for me," Imperiale says. "Three or four people sleeping on a single seat and others in the aisle."

Every afternoon and evening, religious speakers shared their faith and the group worshipped together.

"I was really nervous, didn’t know what I was doing there," she says. "I wondered if I was churchy enough. I do doubt things a lot, ask a lot of hard questions and don’t just take what the Bible says and just do it."

Before long, though, she felt comfortable with her own level of religiosity.

"They were looking for people who knew Jesus and wanted to show people his love," Imperiale says. "That’s what I am all about."

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At last, on Jan. 5, 2013, the Utah pastor put his daughter on a plane, and thought, "OK, here we go."

First stop: Ecuador, where Sarah and her team lived in a gated oasis, a safe place where kids could come after school to play, listen to stories and make friends.

Next up was Peru, where they lived in an orphanage that was being built from the inside out. Imperiale’s group ended up staying there for two months, instead of just one.

In April, after a quick stopover in Bolivia, it was on to Romania, where they lived on a campsite, grooming the grounds for summer.

"We did a lot of gardening," she says.

Month five found them in Ukraine, working in an eyeglass clinic and helping folks get their spectacles.

South Africa "was the craziest month," she says. "Two teams — 14 girls — lived on a guava farm and did pretty much anything and everything: picked miles of guavas, worked in baby-rescue homes and tended babies ready to be adopted."

They also labored in "squatter villages," where anyone can erect a shelter and if it’s there for 24 hours, it can’t be torn down, Imperiale says. Thus, these townships "just grow by themselves for the poorest people in the country."

In such places, the young missionaries didn’t try to "fix" the town, she says, just listened to the stories of pain that emerged from them.

"We talked to prostitutes working the streets," she says. "It was pretty hard."

In July, the group headed to Mozambique, where team members lived in tents.

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