The members of a Maine-based church mission went to Nepal six weeks ago to help residents of the developing country build a better life. Their journey has taken on a much more urgent and potentially life-saving purpose in the wake of Saturday’s deadly earthquake.

Josh Lebel, director of 360 Maine – the faith-based organization that sponsored the trip in conjunction with the New Life Church of Biddeford and Youth With A Mission, an international nonprofit Christian organization – said Monday he has kicked off an online effort to raise enough money to rent trucks in the devastated region and fill them with food, water, tents, blankets and survival gear.

If it can raise enough money on the social media website GoFundMe, the Biddeford group will deliver the supplies to a district near the epicenter of the magnitude-7.8 quake, which reportedly killed more than 4,000 people.

When Saturday’s earthquake struck, the 360 Maine mission members were staying in Pokhara, a remote mountain village. Though they felt the quake, Pokhara’s residents escaped with far less damage than Gorkha, a sprawling Nepalese district that Lebel said has been cut off from relief efforts because roads leading into it from Kathmandu, the capital and largest city, have been blocked by landslides.

Lebel said the 360 Maine mission, which may be extended beyond its original May 9 finish, has an opportunity to be among the first to deliver aid to the isolated district, which has more than 270,000 residents. Thousands of homes and schools in Gorkha were destroyed.

“Our team is safe. That was my main concern, but right now 100 percent of the (humanitarian) aid and support is going to Kathmandu and not much of that is coming out,” Lebel said Monday. “We have a very strategic opportunity here to access and bring supplies to Gorkha.”

As of Monday night, 360 Maine had raised more than $1,400 for the relief effort. Lebel said his goal is to raise $20,000.

According to its website, 360 Maine is a “discipleship training school that provides an opportunity for young adults to set aside a season of their life to seek the Lord and his will for their life.” Students spend most of the year after graduating from high school interning with a local pastor before traveling overseas.

Ben Hichens of South Berwick and Julia Howard of Plaistow, New Hampshire, are members of the group in Nepal. The remaining team members include: Cassidy Gaver of Olympia, Washington, Caitlyn Bennett of Cleburne, Texas, and Hannah VanDuzee of Hamlin, New York.

The 360 Maine program is a gap-year program for recent high school graduates that is designed to prepare them for college and help them figure out what they want to do with their lives. The nine-month program ends with a mission to Nepal, where the graduates participate in community projects such as building stone walls to protect livestock and constructing water filtration systems.

On this mission, the students were accompanied by Garett Collins and Emily Rupp, members of the 360 Maine staff. Lebel had been with the team but returned to Maine on Friday – the day before the earthquake struck.

“It has been a mixed bag of emotions for me,” said Lebel, who has been conducting missions to Nepal for the last three years. “I have friends over there who I haven’t heard from.”

Hichens, 19, is a 2014 graduate of the Seacoast Christian School in South Berwick, where his parents, Calvin and Ivy Hichens, live.

Calvin Hichens said he hasn’t seen a lot of his son over the last nine months because Ben lives in Biddeford during the school year and left for Nepal in March. But he was relieved to hear from Lebel, who called early Saturday morning to tell him that his son and the rest of the group were safe following the earthquake.

“(Ben) sent us an email this morning letting us know he was doing fine,” Hichens said Monday night.

Hichens said his son is excited about being able to help the victims of the earthquake.

“He went over there for other reasons, but I have to believe that God had other plans for him,” Hichens said.

Rachel and John Howard’s daughter, Julia, has sent three emails assuring her parents that she is safe.

She is a recent graduate of Timberlane Regional High School in Plaistow. When she left to go to Nepal, her mother said her 19-year-old daughter was trying to figure out what God had planned for her life. She said the earthquake seems to have transformed her daughter and her companions’ way of thinking.

“I think they are beginning to recognize that they are in the right place at the right time,” Rachel Howard said. “Rather than thinking about how do we get out of here, they are thinking how can we help these people out.”

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