It was the work that Alexis Brownlee was meant, even called, to do.
The 20-year-old from Shawnee was short of a month into a trip to Romania, where she quickly picked up the local language and reveled in teaching English to orphans and other children.
Last weekend, she worked with other missionaries putting on street dramas and sharing the Christian Gospel that had always meant so much to her. She went to bed. She got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom when a seizure set in. She fell and died.
“It’s just tragic, but she was doing what she was always supposed to do,” said her father, attorney Timothy Brownlee of Shawnee. “She was doing exactly what she felt called to do in a way that very few people are brave or committed enough to do.”
His daughter, born Alexis Nichole Brownlee, graduated from Maranatha Academy in Shawnee in 2009. She closed out her years there with the school’s most prestigious honor, the Christian Character Award.
From there she went to Oral Roberts University, where she was on the verge of graduating with a major in mission work and a minor in Spanish. As with all students in her major, her training at Oral Roberts called for a mission trip.
That took her to Medias, Romania, where her father said she spent time teaching English and evangelizing.
“She didn’t know any Romanian before she left and she picked it up in just a couple weeks,” Tim Brownlee said. “She was doing the translating.”
Alexis had made many connections at Oral Roberts. The school expressed its sympathy to the family this week.
“Alexis was a great student who had a bright smile and was well loved on campus. The Oral Roberts University family is saddened by her loss but we have peace knowing that she is in heaven,” said university spokesman Jeremy Burton.
News of her death hit the staff, faculty and students of Maranatha Academy hard. The young woman was active during her time at the small school, said High School Principal Boyd Beck.
“One of the neat things is that Alexis really loved the Lord and she wanted to serve Him and it was a great trait that she had,” he said. “She really had a strong faith in Christ. We can only believe that she’s in the hands of the Lord.”
At Maranatha, Brownlee was quick to reach out to someone sitting alone, Beck said.
“She was one of those girls that included other people, really tried to reach out and involve other people,” Beck said.
There were few school activities she wouldn’t try. Beck said she was part of the scholar bowl team and the newspaper staff. She was co-captain of the bowling team and served as a class chaplain.
The incident last weekend was not her first seizure, but Tim Brownlee said she had been doing well in recent years. The work in Romania had been something of a dream come true, he said.
“She wanted to be a missionary,” he said, “and that was the call of her life.”
Alexis Brownlee is survived by her father and her mother, Donna; two sisters, Courtney, 18, and Brooke, 13, and a brother, Nicholas, 7.
A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. Sunday at Cross Points Church, 6824 Lackman Road, Shawnee.