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 as many as 145 million orphaned and abandoned children face and present opportunities for people to get engaged in serving them.
Praise God…1,52o orphans and other children living in rags or less are receiving a school uniform!!! The school uniforms are required for the children to be allowed to attend school.
In addition to 1,520 school uniforms being donated and the jobs created for parents in these impoverished communities to sew the uniforms, as much as $15,000 has been raised to provide food, shelter, and care for orphans!
Please donate at least one school uniform ($20). When you sponsor a school uniform, you support three things: a uniform for a child, job creation in impoverished communities, and orphan care!
Nashville through Illinois!
This journey has been an incredible exercise in faith…and I praise God for it. When I made the decision to do this walk in March, 2011, there was no set plan, much less any resources. Unbelievably, God provided a deep peace that the needs that truly needed to be provided…would be. My hope was to be able to do this walk in community with at least one other guy. Being a graduate student, money for food, gas, a support vehicle, clothes, etc. would need to be provided. The route, places the stay, and the logistics would need to fall into place.
God has provided in so many beautiful ways! LegacyChamp.com came on board as our sponsor and provided a way for people to raise awareness by walking, running or biking wherever they are. Many of the other needs came together as well! However, one friend had two leg surgeries in November, another friend had emergency stomach surgery in December, and yet another friend’s parents (probably wisely!) strongly advised him to not take the needed time off of school to take part in something with so many questions still remaining. So…I found that this journey would have a bit more of a solitary nature to it! This meant that the only partner I was blessed to have for the first 20 days of the journey was a black backpack! God provided friends and family throughout Florida to come out and join the journey with me for a few miles or an entire day. My friend, Amanda came out for a month to walk, make me eat more vegetables, and drive the support vehicle from Gainesville, Florida to Atlanta.
By the time I hit Nashville though, I had spent a ton of time alone. The Sunday before I left Nashville, I visited a large church. I connected with a staff member the week before and I was excited about spending some time worshiping together. However, the staff member had a ton going on, so I ended up chillin solo:) Have you ever been lonely, when you are not alone? I was surrounded by hundreds of people…again…people I did not know. Afterwards, I went to Cracker Barrel to rock some fried okra solo and it hit me…”Man…I am really lonely!” It was the first time in the entire journey that I felt completely alone. My first instinct was to call my girlfriend, or one of the incredible men I am blessed to have as close friends and accountability partners. The verse Isaiah 40:31 “but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” came to mind. I walked out to the van, grabbed my Bible, and spent the hour reading and praying and yet again, God met me in a difficult place and provided a depth of comfort and assurance that I was never even alone.
On my last day in Nashville, I was fortunate enough to share with many of the students at Wilson Central High School. In particular, I was able to spend time with some of the FFA members at the school talking about what it means to lead and serve others. Our time together was certainly a blessing! At the end of the day, a wonderful reporter, Ms. Courtenay DeHoff, came out to do a two-part feature for Rural-TV! – Part one – Rural TV. That evening, I was fortunate enough to Robert’s Western World, which is the self-proclaimed “Undisputed home of traditional country music!” to hear some classic country. Here is a lil’ taste!: …and yes, I really do actually like this kind of music:) – Robert’s Western World
Northern Tennessee failed to disappoint! Rolling hills, lush green pastures, and clear streams were staples. I basically walked, prayed, talked with my friends and family, and listened to a a couple more sermons series by a pastor in Seattle, Mark Driscoll. I also listened to a bit of War and Peace. One of my favorite sermon series was on prayer. I know when I first really began taking my faith seriously, I had tons of questions about prayer. Even now that I have been walking (ba dum ching!) with Christ for several years now I still have tons of questions about something so beautiful, so simple, so complex as prayer. To check out some of Pastor Driscoll’s sermons click here.
Just south of Atlanta, I was fortunate enough to spend a couple days in Indiana, visiting my wonderful, hilarious, beautiful, sweet, talented, servant-hearted, inner-city 3rd grade teaching, Christ-following girlfriend Bethany at her family’s home in Indiana. After resting for a couple days, I came back to the walk well-rested and perhaps stronger than ever. I began running more and more of my miles (up to eight miles a day) and my body felt great. Nine miles south of the Kentucky border, however, a hail storm was on the way! My buddy Blake was supposed to meet me at the Kentucky border and I was not only about the get pelted with hail, I was running late. So…even though my body was exhausted, I decided to run…and I was feeling good! The skies opened up and dumped a freezing cold rain with a little bit of hail – which is never good! The blacktop, scorching hot from the sun beating down on it all afternoon, sent an incredible fog 15-20 feet into air! I felt like I was running through fog-shrouded mountains in Costa Rica!:) My right foot began to hurt…but I just kept getting it! In the process, several of the joints in my right foot, already exhausted and tender, became inflamed. This led to every single step in between Tennessee and Saint Louis hurting! I ended up having to go see a podiatrist (the smug dude in the lab coat – why he needed a lab coat to look at my feet I have no clue:) and ditching yet another pair of the shoes Brooks Running so graciously donated!
Clarksville is one of the two cities I have passed through (Kansas City being the other) that borders two states. The best part about Clarksville was being able to stay with some of the soldiers at Fort Campbell Army base! My friend Blake shared stories from his deployment and what it was like to serve on the base here in U.S. It was incredible to learn more about the challenges our soldiers face in their attempts to serve us and the cause of freedom. I also stayed with my friend Todd and his soldier roommates which was an absolute blessing. The soldiers even hooked me up with a couple shirts to represent the soldiers who are representing us:)
The first half of Kentucky involved a lot of hitchhiking back to the van at the end of the day and occasionally flagging down police officers so I did not have to walk 16-18 miles back to the van or continue to get into the cars of random people! Just south of Hopkinsville, I hopped in the bed of a beat-up extended cab compact Nissan truck. The two gentlemen in the front seat yelled out of the window for me to climb in the back of the cab. When I said I was good in the back, one of the guys got out of the truck. He was one tough looking dude and the obviously homemade tattoo running vertically from his elbow to his wrist simply read, “HATE.” In a cold, raspy voice he uttered, “Naugh…come on and get in the truck with us.” I paused, thought for just a moment, and said, “You know, its actually really nice out today…um…I think I’ll just walk.” Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do!
As I continued on into Kentucky, I was blessed to meet some incredible people. I was blessed to share at a couple schools and a couple other groups. My favorite group was the special needs students in Dawson Springs! I hitchhiked back to the van with their teacher and her husband the previous day. We absolutely hit off and by the time they dropped me off at the van, they had already donated five school uniforms! The next afternoon, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend time hanging out her fabulous students!
My last few days were spent with Audie Cherry and his family. Audie is a terrific young man who set me up with numerous places to stay and share throughout Kentucky. Audie served as a state FFA officer in Kentucky and seems to know half the state. Dinner was on the table as soon as I arrived. This was not just any dinner though! Audie’s wonderful 14 year old sister Ali not only actually gigged the frogs we ate ate that night, she made the red velvet cake we ate for dessert from scratch too!! Seriously?? Who does that? Then, Ali went to her district track meet the next morning tore it up against high school girls! Wow! After heading to church the following morning, I walked through the rain (oh how I miss those days!) while talking to my homeys Kit and Quip!
That afternoon, I met up with Ryan Stoyer at a roadside cafe. I met Ryan a couple months earlier while speaking to his Christian fellowship in Marietta, GA. Ryan told me that same night he was going to join me on the walk at some point. True to his word, Ryan found ten days in his schedule, posted on Facebook that he was trying to get to Kentucky, and found a ride with a girl he had only met one time before! That same day, Ryan and I walked through some of the most beautiful countryside I will seen the entire time. Finally, after walking 19 miles, Ryan and I walked across the Ohio River and into the state of Illinois. Being a Southern Boy, walking out of the South and into the Midwest was a bit insane! The families throughout the South I was blessed to meet and stay with, the churches and youth I was able to share and pray with, the swamps, the cities, the foothills, and the friends…the South was and is a beautiful place! I praise God for the opportunities to witness so many people choosing to serve children in need!
Between the walk and school, things have been incredibly busy! Just two nights ago, I was fortunate enough to submit two research papers for a research conference with two wonderful teams of research partners. I am continuing to work on (and would love your prayers about:) my PhD work, but my schedule has opened up a bit. My hope is to be able to catch up on the blog significantly in the next week!