Barrett Keene, a PhD Student at Cornell University, is walking the 3,475 miles between Miami and San Francisco to raise awareness about the realities 145 million orphaned and abandoned children face and present opportunities for people to get engaged in serving them.
Praise God…911 children are receiving the school uniform they are required to have to attend school!!
Through the gift of these uniforms, as much as $9,000 has been raised to provide food, shelter, and care for orphans! Also, jobs are created for parents in impoverished communities to sew the uniforms!
Hotlanta to Nashvegas!
Since my mother was born in Columbus, GA and the Florida Gators are incredible and have gone to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta more than any other SEC team (Go Gators!), I have spent a decent amount of time in Georgia as far north as Atlanta. However, I honestly had no clue what to expect from Northern Georgia. The adventure started out with a BANG since I was able to stay with my cousins Lori and Jonathan Bair. Lori brought JB around soon after they started dating and we welcomed him into the family immediately because much like my beautiful, wonderful cousin Lori…he is a baller. Fortunately, the timing of my visit worked out for me to help (loosely applied:) Lori prepare for her baby gender reveal party (the insides of the cupcakes were both tasty and PINK!!). One of my favorite people in the world, Ms. Nitya Murthy came with me to the party with me. Nitya was my student when I was a teacher in Miami. It is such a blessing to still be in touch with so many of my students. Also, my cousin Jared and his incredibly sweet girlfriend, Kristen, drove a couple hours to hang out! Our mini family reunion was too cool. After worshiping Jesus on Easter morning, I was fortunate to be able to have Easter dinner with the parents of one of my closest friends, Mr. Jordan Wilbanks!
Not too far north of Atlanta, I stumbled into an interesting store. The man running the store was sitting in a rocking chair with an old felt hat and two pistols in an old-style western gunslinger leather holster (seriously) strapped around his hips. The only thing longer than his shiny pistol barrels was the gray beard dangling down almost to his belt. I figured if the dude running the shop was this interesting, the shop (as long as I behaved myself:) should be quite the find! Sadly, I was dismayed to find that much the material in the store was connected in some fashion to hate and racial prejudice, as evidenced by the picture of the KKK member at the top of the picture to the left. Since I grew up in a pretty country area in the South with loved ones on both sides of my family who were rather prejudiced, I get it on one level. I was subject to and controlled by racial prejudice until God used my lil’ sister Jaime and my best friend Chris Vitelli to break through my nasty heart to free me from the hate and idiocy that controlled my thought in regards to others. I remember riding in my big Chevy truck (that I wish I still owned:) and Jaime turning the radio to a station that wasn’t country. I remarked, “Get this crap off my radio.” Jaime, never one to be extremely reserved about saying what she feels needs to be said, calmly said, “Barrett, you know if you opened up, you would have a lot more to choose from.” We both knew she was not just speaking about the radio station. It was at that moment that God began changing my pitiful, sad, closed heart. In 11th grade, I committed my life to Christ. The most visible and undeniable change in my life was that God took my cold, closed heart…and did something I could not explain nor control. In 11th grade, I become the only white dude in the Latin Quarters Clubs, became an honorary member (no joke) of an actual gang of Mexican girls (I am not promoting gang activity:), and began actually pursuing friendships with the same incredible black guys I had held at a bit of distance in school and on the basketball court. I remember looking around at a birthday party and realizing I was the only non-black person at the party and feeling incredibly blessed to have been welcomed in by the same people and community my pitiful, sad heart had been closed to ever since I could remember.
Since then, God has opened doors to travel to, serve in, and experience a number of beautiful cultures. God continues to reveal how incredibly self-centered I am and our American culture truly is. This past summer while praising God through a song exclaiming, “O’ how He loves us,” it hit me that I had lived my entire life subconsciously assuming the “us” in this song was referring to me, my family, others in my church, and other people living in conditions similar to mine, etc. However, God loves US…all of us. The beautiful reality that each person is of identical value as an equal image-bearer of God is made grievous in nature every time we choose to live as if we are more important and of more value than others. In our efforts to serve orphans through the GO Project, you and I have the opportunity to provide a child with the uniform they need to attend school, create jobs for parents in some of the most impoverished communities in the world, AND fund orphan care for the miniscule price of another t-shirt or dinner out we do not need.
After a couple days of steady walking, my friend Zach was kind enough to drive over from Alabama and take me back to the Big Oak Boys Ranch. Wow…what an incredible place! The boys at the ranch are wonderful young men who have been dealt a tough hand. My friends Zach and Leanne moved to the ranch a couple years ago to serve as house parents. We played basketball, ate some delicious tater tot casserole, played basketball, hung out with the chickens and the baby pigs, and laughed…so much:) These guys are beautiful young men who have such obviously beautiful hearts, even through the challenges they have faced in their short lives. This wonderful time was a reminder that children all over the world, even right here in the richest country in the world, face challenges I could never imagine. Please take a moment to check out this very brief video in which Zach and Leanne share a bit of their story. Their passion for serving children is extremely inspirational to me. Watching this video, I cannot help but to consider the family I pray I will have and be fortunate enough to serve. The thought of having hearts this tender to where God guides my family and I in how we serve is, when I am completely honest, quite daunting. I am so thankful for the example Zach and Leanne have unintentionally set for me.
After speaking at the boys’ high school and doing our own awareness walk around the ranch, Mr. Jordan Wilbanks (WillyB!) himself came over to eat dinner and to take me down to Birmingham. The next night, Jordan and a number of other fabulous people organized a gathering on a Saturday night to learn and share about how we can serve orphaned and abandoned children! The picture to the right shows some of the 75 or so people who came out that night!
After speaking to a youth group on Sunday night, I was fortunate enough to speak to The Journey, a student ministry group at Kennesaw State University. It was a blast to share the ways God has provided before and during the journey (LegacyChamp coming on board as the sponsor!, Brooks donating the shoes and gear, tons of people so far opening their homes to me, etc.). Also, afterwards, I met a really cool dude named Ryan who ended up (more than one month later) coming out to join the journey, do some walking, and drive the support vehicle for nine days!
Now, as I mentioned in the last blog, I was very fortunate that my friend Amanda traveled from Kansas to join the journey for an entire month! The most obvious disadvantage of flying solo is that at the end of the day, I still have to get back to the van, which I leave parked at the place I stopped walking the day before. Since most of the people I stay with lead busy lives, when I am flying solo, I have to hitchhike back to the van. Obviously this is not preferred and rather dangerous, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. The country roads are usually not so tough. I am usually able to ride back the entire way with one driver. When I am walking through a town, it can be pretty tough! In this situation, you are pretty much guaranteed to have to hitch with at least two drivers. One day, I had to hitch with four different drivers. Praise God, I have only had positive experiences so far! Also, praise God, my friend Michael Sugihara will be joining me for almost two months until the beginning of August!!! While the whole not having to hitchhike deal is rather crucial, being able to have someone to pray, attend church, and laugh with is such an incredible blessing! I’m still in the market a partner or two from Mid-August through October:)
The rest of Northern Georgia was hilly and beautiful and the people were incredibly welcoming. I stayed with friends and friends of friends. It really is pretty fun to just show up at someone’s home when they have been gracious enough to host you even though you have never met! I cannot help but be so grateful and they often seem a bit tentative in trusting that a dude that is crazy enough to walk across the U.S. is also not too crazy:) I would personally like to claim I successfully toe this line:)
If you ever drive I-75 in between Atlanta and Nashville, please please please stop off at Red Top Mountain State Park. The park is located close to Cartersville. I had a little time to kill when I was in the area, so I decided to check it out. There were about 15 miles of trails in the park. While I was tempted to strike out on one of the longer trails, I knew my body was close to being maxed out. I took the shortest possible trail to walk to the lake. It was a beautiful park and if I ever move to Atlanta, I will be spending time there every chance I get.
Crossing over the border into Tennessee was a little interesting since the roads I walked took me into Tennessee, southwest back into Georgia, and back into Tennessee!! When you are driving this is really not a huge deal, but when you have WALKED through an entire (and quite large) state, the realization that you have to go back into the state is not a positive one! That being said, Georgia rocks.
The main highlight of passing through Chattanooga, TN was seeing and spending time with one roommates at the U of Florida and my wonderful friend, Matthew McFarlane!! Matt and his family own a hotel in Chattanooga, called the Chatt Inn. Look them up if you are passing through. Thanks to their hospitality, I stayed three nights at the hotel…for free!:) It was wonderful to see Matt, spend some time with his family, and meet the future Mrs. McFarlane!! This video provides some insight into the beautiful art and life this couple will create:)
Matt was actually kind enough to pick me up at the end of each day and drive me back to the support vehicle before I returned to my jacuzzi room:) One the final day, Matt picked me up after a 16 mile day or so. I was wearing one of my white, long-sleeved shirts from Brooks. I glanced down at my left arm, only to find an extremely large, furry, incredibly COLORFUL caterpillar (= poison! = Danger!). Without thinking, I screamed like a girl in the 3rd grade and flung my left arm across my body towards the open window in an effort to send the caterpillar flying out of the open window as we were driving down a curvy, country road through the woods. The caterpillar did not budge, but the iPhone in my left hand catapulted through the gaping window and into the dense forest vegetation alongside the road!! I promptly smashed the caterpillar. By the time all of this had occurred we were probably 75 feet down the road. Matthew and I proceeded to walk up and down the road and back into the bushes (probably 20 feet deep) because I really tossed it! Plus, we were driving 50 mph, so there was no way to know where the phone might be, or which tree it careened off of! Finally, we gave up and headed back to the truck. Matthew, being the wonderful friend he is, was consoling me and telling me how upset he was for me. About five miles down the road, Matt nonchalantly placed the phone on the center console. He had found the phone under leaves 15 feet from the road on his way back to truck!
Basically, in between Chattanooga and Nashville, there was a ton of walking on beautiful and hilly roads. By this time, my allergies had consumed me! I basically just walked down the road doing two things: blowing my nose and wondering how in the world I could manufacture this much nastiness:)! Not long after Chattanooga, I was fortunate enough to stay with Mr. Randy and Mrs. Juanita Davis! Mr. Randy and Mrs. Jaunita have known my girlfriend Bethany since she was a child. They were gracious enough to welcome me into their home and invite me to a women’s appreciation breakfast at the church Mr. Randy pastors the following morning. We had a wonderful time just chillin on the couch and hearing about their experiences traveling, working, and serving God in the churches they have been fortunate enough to lead. The following morning, Mr. Randy and I headed over to help prepare for the breakfast. There were more men than bacon strips to be cooked, so I was little help, but this provided the opportunity to chat with and learn from some incredible men!
Three days south of Nashville (about 45 minutes by car!!!), I stumbled upon something rather interesting! It was in the middle of nowhere. The building was completely covered with tin, there was heavy artillery fire coming from within the building, and there was no sign to be found. The building was filled with tough men, shooting at targets at the far end of the building with guns I had never seen before. I walked in to the hearty greeting of “Who are you??” by a rather rotund, bearded man with a mostly finished cigarette bouncing in the corner of his mouth as he spoke. An aside: I have never smoked, but if I did, I would work hard to perfect the skill of being able to keep my cigarette in while I speak. This skill is something I feel we undervalue as a society:) It seems to me that it would be quite difficult! Another, much much skinnier man (potentially a fellow walker who, like me, would benefit from front loading his calories to keep his weight on) with leathery skin joined into the already one-sided conversation by repeating the other man’s question, “Yeah, who are you??” I responded that I just wanted to check the place out. The skinny old man seem to not like me one bit, but the big man was much more agreeable. He showed me around the place and even let me hold his big, crazy yellow Caterpillar gun (ironic huh?) featured in my tremendous display of sneaky, hip-high (so no one would notice) photography with my cell phone.
At the end of the following day, I was hitch-hiking back to my car when two police officers pulled up and got out of their car. They asked, “What are you doing?” When I responded, “I am just hitching a ride back to my car” they promptly responded, “Are you serious? Hitchhiking is illegal.” I was genuinely unaware and shared that I was from out of state and I was just passing through. They asked a few more questions so I shared the walk. Obviously, they did not believe me, so I showed them one of the cards from LegacyChamp and the website. After they seemed to be sufficiently convinced, I asked, “Well, can I get a ride back to my car so I don’t have to break the law?” The younger officer chuckled, while the older officer glared at him coldly until the chuckling ceased. They decided to grant my request, providing my first ride in a cop car!
Nashville is great for many reasons: live music venues with talented musicians all over the place, a beautiful downtown area, John Ricketts, and my Aunt Patricia! I was fortunate enough to stay with Dr. John and his wonderful, beautiful family for a couple nights while I was south of town. John took me to church and even welcomed me to Tennessee State U to do a leadership webcast to share our efforts to serve orphans. Once I reached Nashvegas, I was back at home at my Aunt Pat’s house! My Aunt Pat has been an educator for more than 50 years, and I always love spending time learning from, and chillin with, and listening to live Old Country music with this incredible woman:)
I will be updating the blog later this week stories from northern Tennessee and Kentucky like the one about the coolest 14 year old girls in the world. She went out and killed the frogs for a frog leg dinner which was punctuated with the homemade red velvet cake she made for dessert the night before she ran a 16 minute two-miler at a race the next morning!!
Have a wonderful wonderful day. Please let me know how I can be praying for you!