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 that as many as 145 million orphaned and abandoned children face and present opportunities for people to get engaged in serving them.
Praise God…1,683 orphans and other children living in rags or less are receiving a school uniform through The Global Orphan Project!!! The school uniforms are required for the children to be allowed to attend school.
In addition to 1,683 school uniforms being donated and the jobs being created for parents in the same impoverished communities to sew the uniforms together, as much as $16,000 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!
St. Louis to Kansas City!
After attending church back across the river in East Saint Louis, Illinois, I walked close to 18 miles to the northwestern corner of Saint Louis. After crashing on the couch of my wonderfully encouraging and hilarious friend, Eileen, I walked to O’Fallon, MO. My host family in O’Fallon was the wonderful Wild family! I was fortunate enough to meet Randy and Tiffany Wild in Haiti on a trip to visit and spend time with orphans through The Global Orphan Project! Randy and Tiffany are role models in my life. Their love for God, children, and each other is beautiful. Not only was I fortunate to spend time with Randy and Tiffany, but another friend I was blessed to meet in Haiti, Wes Comfort, was staying with the Wild’s as well!
To make the situation EVEN more wonderful, the young lady I am very blessed to be able to call my girlfriend, Ms. Bethany Nichols, flew in from Indiana flew in to spend a few days walking and chilling with us! Being apart is obviously challenging, but God has blessed me to share this time with a young woman that is passionate about Him and His children. Bethany has been so incredibly patient, encouraging, supportive, and selfless during this time, and I could not be more fortunate.
That night we are able to have dinner with several wonderful folks who are involved in serving orphaned and abandoned children through and with the Global Orphan Project. It was a blessing to see and learn from the experiences and perspectives of so many that are dedicating so much of their lives to serve and impact the lives of children in need.
One of the most tremendous blessings of this journey has been spending time with wonderful people along the way. One such person is a good friend of mine from school, Micheal Sugihara! Mike joined the journey for more than six of the HOTTEST, most intense weeks of the entire journey. Mike has been kind enough to share his perspective on the next leg of the journey!
Hello there! My name is Michael Sugihara and I am an undergraduate student at Cornell University from Skokie, IL, entering my senior year and studying Policy Analysis and Management. I had the joy of walking with Barrett this summer! I met Barrett through our Christian organization, Cru, my freshman year and have loved continuing to develop our friendship and brotherhood over the past three years. When Barrett first approached me a year ago about walking with him across America, I have to admit, I thought it was very crazy! However, I did strongly feel God calling me to serve him in a remarkable way, to be open to risks and challenges, and find that He is truly trustworthy and sovereign. So, I was willing to give it some time, thought, and prayer. Through my experiences with orphanages in Guatemala, God has been cultivating in my heart a specific passion over the past three years to be involved with serving children. I have been so encouraged by the work of The Global Orphan Project around the world and their holistic, gospel-centered approach to orphan care and love working to support their efforts to be involved with how God is working around the world!
In the end, when it worked out for me to join my brother for at least this summer, I was indeed nervous, a bit uncomfortable, but totally stoked! God has already used the time walking to stretch and mold me in unique ways, allowing me to appreciate suffering, provision, and relationships in a new way. The summer has been an incredible experience of learning through audio books, sermons, discussions, and just time – time with God, people, and the road! Go Walk America has been an adventure, while also an opportunity to serve and connect others with opportunities to serve. God is so good and the awesome reality is that you don’t have to be walking across the country to take part in the adventure that is life with Jesus :) The following posts are excerpts from my blog (michaelsugihara.wordpress.com) about our adventures this June and July.
Some Initial Thoughts
For me (and Barrett), as much as this summer was about serving others, God totally used it to completely break me down, mold my heart, and refine my mind in so many ways. Personally, I know how hard it is for me to give up and surrender to God the comforts, treasures, and if I’m honest, idols that I have stored up here on this earth just like the rich young ruler in Matthew 19. Even so, that is what I desire: to be a vessel for the gospel, and to be used in whatever way God may have, a calling much more worthy than I could ever achieve on my own. This is definitely one of my prayers for these coming weeks [with Barrett] that I may be flexible, fluid, and filled with the Spirit for whatever God may see fit. Flexible, fluid, and filled. 3 F’s. Haha, a funny thing for a Cornell student to aspire for and yet, very fitting for the kind of cross-cultural life Jesus has called us as Christians to. I have to admit that even as I am excited for the upcoming adventure, there is some nervousness and I definitely know there will be challenges. Three challenges in particular come to mind: the challenge of a lack of control, the challenge of being comfortable with new people and experiences, and the challenge of battling my own human inadequacies.
And yet, I am so excited by the ways that I know I can grow and for opportunities to do so. “’Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
The Start of the Journey (June 10th)
Such a joy to see my bro, Barrett Keene driving up to my house! We drove south and stayed the night in Bloomington, Illinois with a wonderful friend named Maci. One thing that I am so thankful for and found out right away is the amazing care and hospitality that so many people are willing to offer – it is truly an inspiration to me for sure. After Bloomington, we continued south to St. Louis, Missouri. We made a quick stop for lunch at an unbelievable BBQ place called Pappy’s and then traveled west to pick up back with the walking. After talking wtih Barrett over a year about doing something like this to raise awareness about orphans, it still takes me a second to realize that I am actually taking part in such a crazy, yet awesome quest. Even in rural Missouri, we were still able to meet and share with a number of folks what we were doing – basically trying to connect people to this cause and reality, plant a seed and see how God may grow it. After walking, we then drove to Wentzville, MO to stay with Miranda and Dustin, a fantastic couple that Barrett had met through FFA. The walking was a little more intense on day 2, but I was able to take it easy a bit. We had such a great time hanging out at a local country store for lunch, and were able to share with the folks that were there and just had a blast getting to know someone new.
After walking, we got back in the car and headed south, driving over 7 hours to Little Rock, Arkansas. Barrett was asked to speak at a 4-H Team Leader Conference. We were able to share about Go Walk America, the Global Orphan Project, and connect these students to the immense struggles of the million of orphans in this world and specifically how GO Threads is working to combat this reality. After the talk, we jumped back in the car and drove another 5 or so hours to Cleveland, Mississippi, to visit our bro, James Bor, for a few hours at his location for Teach For America institute. [James is was also a Cornell student in Cru] It was such a great time to catch up and reconnect over delicious, though slightly salty catfish. We spent the night at his dorm in Delta State University and had a chance to meet a number of his fellow TFA’ers and share with them about the walk and the work of the GO Project. Definitely some awesome people there and such a beautiful thing to see all these young men and women serving in this way. Oh yeah, and we slept three dudes (Barrett, James, and I) on two twin mattresses…yeah, I’ll just say it was cozy. :)
At one point, James decided to try a trick. It dd not work out so well. This brief video shares just a slice of how awesome and hilarious James is and how undesirable our sleeping conditions really were!
We woke up at 5:15 am with James and his roommate David, hugged and said goodbye. On the road bright and early with the sun rising over the rice fields of the Delta, we read from the bible and praised our almighty God. We found our way to Memphis, Tennessee, to visit my cousin Rachel, who is doing a teaching program there, similar to TFA, but founded as a Christian organization in Memphis. We were able to also share with the group of over 30 students that she was with and they, like us and other TFA, are all about serving children in need and that is truly beautiful. We then headed back north to St. Louis, MO, to pick up our beautiful home for the summer, a 1994 Dodge Van! Swapping out the Volvo (sad to see it go…) with the van, we were set to start out once again.
As night neared, we drove over to Columbia, MO, to stay the night with Jeff and Brandi and their family who Barrett actually met in Haiti with the Global Orphan Project. I am still floored by the immense hospitality that we have been shown, even in just this past week and the awesome expression of Christ’s love for us through all these incredible people. Jeff and Brandi have actually been to Haiti a number of times through the Global Orphan Project vision trips and are very passionate about the work that is being done and lives that are being changed.
Also, I really enjoy food (as you may come to know) and these days have also been a time of many food firsts: Sonic’s cherry limade, Chick-fil-A’s chicken nuggets (ahhh soooo good!) and cookies and cream milkshake, St. Louis BBQ, Memphis sausage biscuits, and Mississippi catfish. We have had the beautiful opportunity to share about the reality of orphans and the work of the Global Orphan Project in a number of different places around the country.
Mid-month Travels (June 21st)
Traveling west of Columbia, Missouri this past Monday brought us to the completely gorgeous Katy Trail, an old railroad that was converted to a fantastic and shady (!) hiking and biking trail.We gleefully trekked earlier this week in the glorious shade of trees alongside caves, high sweeping cliffs and rock faces, and the Missouri River. It was actually along the path of the adventures of one Lewis and Clark, which was cool and just beautiful. The caves were so sweet, we got to see a couple of snakes (one even about 5 or 6 feet long!), and most of all, no cars to worry about! It was just a solid time of singing, chatting, listening, reading, and relishing creation. We stopped along the trail in the city of Rocheport, MO and met the owner Larry and worker Jordan, two really nice and cool dudes who gave us free fruity snacks. As we were eating, we struck up a conversation with a mother and her son who just finished up biking for the day. The kid was 11 years old and we were able to briefly share about Go Walk America, the GO Project and what we were doing. About five minutes after they had left, the son (Drake), strolls back in with a check for $500 and asks, “Where should we write this out to?” What!!!??! $500. 25 uniforms. Jobs. $250 for food, shelter, and orphan care around the world. This money isn’t just making uniforms and clothes, it’s completely transforming lives. It is so incredible, amazing, and superbly humbling to have the privilege to witness the connection of people’s hearts and passions with opportunities to serve. More than anything else, I am so thankful that this is all so much not about me, but it’s God who is doing the work and nothing else.
After filling up two water bottles a piece at lunch, the afternoon wore on hot and bright. It was super toasty outside, hovering around 98 degrees, full sunlight and staunch humidity. Even so, it was perfectly okay, until about 5 miles out from the nearest house, we ran out of water. Ouch. All four of our bottles were empty and we could not see any house, gas station, whatever in sight! Well, there was nothing that we could do, so we partied on, basking in the glorious heat. I have to admit, I was very thirsty: the sun was taking it out of me, but there was nothing else to do, but keep going and then finally around the last corner we walked into a gas station on the edge of Boonville, MO. Water never tasted so good! This got me thinking: the Bible, in John 4 and 7, speaks of the reality that there is a living water found in Jesus that provides so much more than just quenching our physical thirst. This water provides life – eternal life – in the Spirit, and salvation through the Gospel. Once you drink of it, you will never thirst for life ever again. How awesome is that?! It could potentially really put a damper in Gatorade’s old slogan “Quench your thirst.” I would say it’s kind of hard to compete with Jesus’ “Quench your thirst…FOREVER.” But really, it is so cool for me that when I was thirsty, yet still drowning in my sin, Jesus came and found me. “All who are thirsty , All who are weak, Come to the fountain, Dip your heart in the stream of life.”
Moving Forward (July 2nd)
In order to share with business leaders, 4-H, and FFA, We traveled to Plant City, Florida, Barrett’s hometown, which was super sweet and fantastic. I had the immense pleasure of being able to stay with his parents and to meet a good deal of his family who are such incredible and awesome people. I saw my first gators, had my first delicious homemade fried cornbread, and Fred’s southern kitchen buffet…soooo good! I experienced my first Florida tropical storm, Debby, and fed my first cows not living at a petting zoo. Also, attended my first FFA event, as Barrett was able to speak and share about leadership and Go Walk America at the Florida FFA State Convention in Orlando, FL. Flying back into Kansas City, Missouri, we traveled back east a bit to continue on the Katy Trail. While staying in Sedalia, MO, and had a chance to meet such a wonderful family with two fantastic kids. The kids (10-year-old Drake and 12-year-old Sage) joined us for a full 16-mile day of walking! Such studs because not only did they walk those 16 miles, but also they came back for more the very next day! This really has truly been one of the biggest blessings of the walk: being able to hang out and share with kids. There is nothing sweeter that I see than kids serving and loving kids.
Moving forward, we spent a good amount of time both in Lee’s Summit, MO and in Kansas City, MO. I had the chance to meet one of Barrett’s best buds, Jake and stay in Lee’s Summit. Jake is working for The Global Orphan Project, and actually spent the last 17 months or so in Haiti helping with the organizations operations in the country. It was so good just chatting with Jake about being sensitive to God’s direction in our lives, our responses, and how we can best trust and live faithfully in light of God’s sovereignty. Also, it was very encouraging and inspiring to be able to hear his story and how he personally got involved with serving orphans in Haiti. We continued west of Lee’s Summit, and had the opportunity to attend church to hear Jake’s brother-in-law (Jeff) speak for the first time in Kingsville, MO. It was such a joy to hear all about what God is doing in Jeff’s life and how Jesus has moved in him to this point. We started walking again post church lunch (which consisted of really good roast beef over a bed of white bread and mashed potatoes and gravy!) with Jake, his brother Ben, and a high school student named Shawn. After walking about 3 miles, we ended up at a gas station and met a young man named Ben, who must have been about mid 20′s. His story was that he had been hitch-hiking across the country from San Francisco and was heading towards South Carolina, for a new start and a new life. Having been disowned by his family, who he referred to as “alcoholics and drug addicts” in Upstate New York (Syracuse) and things not working out with his girlfriend in Indiana, he found himself in Cali, and now heading back East after having some troubles in San Francisco. So, we ended up taking him in the beast of the van that we rock on the daily to a gas station near I-70, hoping to find someone to help him out. While, we weren’t able to find anyone, we instead ran into this old gentleman named Larry. Larry had seen the decals on the van (which describe what Go Walk America is and why we are doing this – for orphans) and wanted to buy us gas. As he smoked on his cigar in his huge white Denali SUV, he went on about how crazy it was what we were doing and in the heat [SIDE NOTE, it is so super smoking hot in Missouri right now, literally every day is at or above 100 degrees cool…lots and lots of agua] and then gave us $100 for uniforms for orphans! God is AWESOME and so good and gracious to us all the time.
Ben was actually a Christian as well. I asked him as we shared some McDonald’s chocolate dipped ice cream cones (sooooo good, like DQ) how he came to know Jesus. He shared that the one thing that he thanked his mom for is introducing him to Jesus and that when he was younger that he asked Jesus to be his Savior and Lord. That was fantastic to me and I mentioned that God is sovereign and in control and I will be praying for a such a peace and provision for him in his travels. Ben then responded by saying that yes, he knew that God was sovereign and good. With the knowledge of his very challenging past and struggles, I asked, “Why would you say that?” He answered me, “Simply because I’m alive.” Wow, that struck me. Would I say the same thing? How do I respond when God doesn’t answer my prayers in the ways that I want? To Ben, because he lives, his Saviour lives. God delivers us in our need and our poverty when we call out in humility and brokeness. Seeing how God worked out all of the details of this day is just one of the many stories, and many blessings so far this summer. God is definitely doing a work in my heart and others in connecting us to the reality of orphans and children in need due to no fault of their own. And connecting us to the reality that an all-powerful, holy, and infinite God calls us “children” in our need, our depravity, and our hopelessness due to all fault of our own. He served us, so that we can serve him and others…incredible.
God is so good and I am constantly amazed each morning when my legs still decide to move. While I am definitely getting in better shape every day, there is also this consistent lingering soreness. People will often ask, “are your feet sore??” And our answer will be, “Yes…well in reality, our whole body is sore haha.” It’s just how it is and what happens when you walk 16+ miles every day. And when you have seven consecutive days of 100+ degree weather. Yeah, that’s hot no matter where you live :)
As we moved into Kansas City, we were able to spend an afternoon with folks at the GO Project in Parkville, MO, which was such a blessing! It was a huge privilege for me to meet the people that are involved with the work that I am supporting and to be able to faces to names and in the end just a very encouraging time. Some really cool, funny, and smart people who love Jesus and desire to serve orphans with their lives. I made the following comment to a member of leadership in the organization, “I believe the work that the organization is doing is awesome!” He responded, “Well, it’s not our work; it’s God’s work. So simple, so humbling, and so true. God is doing awesome and incredible work in and around the world, and he has provided us with the blessed opportunity to tag along for the ride.
So, we then had the great pleasure of spending our Fourth of July in downtown Kansas City, chilling with Jake and friends and watching fireworks from their seventh story loft (which was so sick by the way – it had exposed brick, a raised kitchen, high ceilings…). Overall, just really loved my time in KC (a very nice city!), we got to enjoy the fountains (KC – “City of Fountains”), the MLB All-Star Game banners, and such a blessing staying with a Godly couple in Jake and Melody and meeting the rest of the family and others. Such hospitality, care, and kindness!
As you know, I’ve been walking this past month with Barrett Keene, who amongst many things current PhD student at Cornell, Plant City boy, FFA all-star, and one crazy fun guy. When I think about all of the blessings that God has provided on this walk, one of them certainly has been time with Barrett. When you spend 24 hours, 7 days a week with a dude for a month, you get to know them pretty well and vice versa. We share about the Global Orphan Project and orphan care together and connect with people. We eat and drink together. We pick up on habits and tendencies of each other. We chat about everything from food, to relationships, to career direction, to God, to triathlons (which I hope to train for one next spring!). We discuss the sermons and books we’ve been listening to, things on their mind, and questions/ideas about whatever. We seek wisdom and guidance and relish in the satisfaction of our new insulated water bottles (which in this heat are nothing short of magical!). We read the Bible together, pray together, and encourage each other in struggles, while challenging the other to continue to desire growth. We share in the triumphs of a tough day done, and also share in the disappointment of realizing we were totally walking the wrong way. Sometimes, we just walk together in silence as we listen to music, pray, or just think. We do push ups, joke a lot, and laugh even more. We live life together. It’s just good!
For me, there is unmistakably a connection between the Go Walk America and my relationship (or my walk) with God. And just how I’ve been living life with Barrett, God desires the same in my relationship with him. God wants me to be hanging out with him 24/7, 365, chatting and discussing news, happenings, and things I’ve experienced. He wants to dig into His Word together with me, talk about what it means, and have me seek wisdom and guidance in Him. As a Christian, I am literally God’s walking buddy, and how cool is that? Yet even as I embrace this reality, how often do I actually experience this kind of community and life in my relationship with him? Do I eat and drink with him? Do I really know the God walking beside me, because unlike Barrett (who still knows me well), God knows EVERYTHING about me! The more I walk with God, the more I realize how much greater, holy, and righteous he is. The more I walk with God, the more I realize how sinful, hopeless, and helpless I am without him. Therefore, no matter how wealthy or privileged I may be in comparison to the orphans we are walking to support, we both possess the very same need for a Savior. Through Go Walk America and the Global Orphan Project, we can ourselves and encourage others to take part in helping to meet not only the physical needs of orphans, but though Jesus, quench the deeper spiritual need as well. Personally, I think that is awesome and well worth walking for :)
I can’t wait for what’s next: Bring on Kansas!