By Linda Schmid

Levi Lilley was born into a helping family. His parents are missionaries and he lived in Venezuela from ages 3 to 10, then the family moved to Pennsylvania. They assisted a mission there including hosting a camp and his dad, a carpenter, proffered his maintenance skills. Levi had no interest in construction; he did, however, pick up on his parents’ examples of helping others.

Levi loved school; he always loved learning something new. “The curriculum in Venezuela seemed much tougher than back in Pennsylvania,” he said. “I think I learned a strong work ethic because of it.”

He met his wife Julia young, and the two of them dreamed that someday they would follow in Levi’s parents footsteps and become missionaries. The first step, they figured, was to attend Bible School. They went to school in Michigan, where Levi was born, and upon graduation they married.

Awarded an internship at the Bible School in Mobilization, Levi quickly realized it wasn’t for him. When the people in the maintenance department said they had some work to be done and offered him some hours, he took it. The guys he was working with were very encouraging, and it wasn’t long before he left the internship to work full time on the maintenance team. They were doing renovation work, so he got some good experience and a new interest in the trades..

The couple decided to move back to Pennsylvania to be near family. “We were unsure of what was next for us,” Levi said, “we were looking for direction.”

Back in Pennsylvania, Levi talked to some contractors at church, and he ended up working for them. He liked the work and he and his wife decided it made sense for him to get a degree in construction. By the time they came to this conclusion and Levi began looking for scholarships, they were gone. 

His dad had a great idea; apply for a mikeroweWORKS Foundation scholarship, he said. Levi was familiar with Mike Rowe from “Dirty Jobs,” and he decided to try. He applied and eventually, when he heard nothing, he figured he didn’t get it. When the bill came from the trade school, it was even more than he had expected it to be. About the time he figured he would have to wait a year to try and scrape together some funds for school, he received an email saying he got the scholarship … he could start classes!

Trade school was interesting; once again Levi found that he enjoyed learning. He was grateful to be there and serious about his education. The students were a good group, and the teachers were very good too, Levi said.

“One instructor in particular, Mr. Gresko, was so helpful and so encouraging,” Levi stated. “He would say things like ‘you guys are going to have to work on this bit so you can own your own businesses.’”

He was something of a mentor to Levi; he sponsored Levi for the scholarship as did some of his other construction contacts. 

Levi was so excited about this new direction. He graduated in 2020 and a friend from church asked him to come to his office and have a talk with him, which turned into a job. He said he has been blessed to have a boss, Todd Kepner at Lewis Lumber Products, who is encouraging and patient, pushing him to do better. Kepner taught him more about what it means to have a good work ethic, continually improving and becoming more productive. 

Levi Lilley and Todd Kepner,the mill manager at Lewis Lumber Products

“That kind of patience speaks to me,” Levi said. “It makes me want to be that guy.”

Lewis lumber supplies rough lumber to the cabinet industry as well as custom millwork. Prior to getting this position, Levi really hadn’t considered manufacturing as an option, but he likes it. There is a lot of skill involved in this work, and Levi enjoys that and he enjoys the people he works with.

There are many different skills to be learned, creating crown moulding, small trim, using the CNC knife grinder, and CAD work to name a few. Levi wanted to learn the work involved at every station. He loves the variety, and when he got the opportunity to open a station and learn the equipment the company purchased for priming, he got that going and then improved on it. 

Levi loves his work, but he has recently left LLP to do what he has always known he wants to do: mission work. He is going to Papua, New Guinea, and one of the wonderful things about it is that he will be taking the skills he has learned with him, because he will be on a team that is building houses in indigenous areas where he will be learning a new skill: building houses on stilts! 

The Lilley Family: Julia, Brooke, Levi and Clark.

Currently he is working, fund-raising for this mission and training, for he needs to learn about solar systems and off-the-grid technology, since most of the areas he will be serving function on solar power. 

On a final note, Levi advises that you will always have a job if you learn to do something in the trades. If you can, take wood shop or automotive, or something like that in high school. He bypassed that and still feels like it was an opportunity lost. 

 “When people give you negative feedback while you are learning, don’t take it personally,” Levi said. “Don’t worry about it. Try harder. Do better. Get it done.” RB

For more information about the mission, visit: