It was so hot and steep the little 4-year-old couldn't climb up the back side of Stone Mountain anymore. So Eric Thurau let the homeless girl climb up on his back and he piggybacked her most of the way up the 825-foot trail.
He had given his bottle of water to a friend and was sweating and struggling with each step. The little girl had her hands around his neck, nearly choking him.
"I didn't think he would make it," David Bails said of the teen. "I said, "You ask the Lord for strength to do this.' We prayed and he got a burst of energy."
When he got to the top, Thurau gently put the girl down and broke into tears and hugged Bails.
"That was one of the peak moments of the trip," said Bails, a maintenance worker.
The trip was a one-week mission to the Atlanta area taken in June by 21 youths and six adult chaperones, including Bails and Thurau, from Christ the King Lutheran Church in Largo.
The teens belong to an organization called SPAM, Students Proclaiming A Mission.
Their journey was organized by Pete LeBorious, director of Christian Education, who is on vacation and could not be reached for comment.
After arriving in Peachtree City in three vans, the group spent a week building an outdoor chapel at St. Paul Lutheran School, boxing 8,000 pounds of food at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, and working with homeless children who live in a transitional shelter called Nicolas House.
They found the children who live there are climbing a mountain of their own every day.
The two-story house where they stay is run down. At least 10 families trying to get off the streets live in its aging rooms. It was quite a shock for teens used to living in middle-class houses in Seminole and Largo.
"The house was big and it was really old," said Breena Bails, 15. "People would open doors and you'd hear babies screaming. It wasn't nice. They didn't have barely anything."
They all felt sorry for the kids who lived there.
"In the community bathroom, they had nothing, just slivers of soap," said Lisa Leiser, a chaperone. "And nothing to dry their hands on."
So they took the children to the zoo, to Stone Mountain and to Centennial Park to run and play in its fountains.
"I (was paired) with a little kid, Avery, about 3," said Jason Leiser, 17, Lisa Leiser's son. "I was pushing him around on a bike. (He) said it was the funnest week of his life."
Breena said that if the group had not taken the children on day trips, "they had to go to camp at a rec center all day. They said they hated it. They had nothing to do there."
At the end of each day, the group returned to St. Paul Lutheran School, where they participated in Bible devotions and prayed with their prayer partners until midnight. At 6:30 a.m., they got up from their air mattresses spread out on the classroom floors and heated breakfast on a single-burner hot plate and a gas grill.
Some members of the group went to work building the outdoor chapel.
"We built benches, cut wood, dug out trees and hauled mulch," said Krissy Habib, a chaperone and mother of Mandis, a SPAM member. "It was great."
On the last day in Atlanta, the group went back to Nicolas House and surprised the children with ice cream.
"They cried," said Breena.
_ Eileen Schulte can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or schultesptimes.com.
Krissy Habib, left, a chaperone, and her daughter Mandis, 15, spent a week last month in Atlanta with a group from their church, Christ the King Lutheran Church in Largo. "We built benches, cut wood, dug out trees and hauled mulch," said Krissy Habib. "It was great."
The 21 teens from the Largo and Seminole area gathered at the outdoor chapel they built in Peachtree City, Ga. The teens belong to an organization called SPAM, Students Proclaiming A Mission.