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!
Time to smell the Sunflowers
Leaving Missouri in our wake (we usually move at a blazing speed of about 3-3.5 mph), we booked it to Lawrence, Kansas (home of KU!), where we stayed for a couple of nights with the Dehoff’s, whose daughter had actually interviewed Barrett while he was in Nashville! Barrett had the chance to share at their church and speak to a number of families in the area. The house was a log house that they built themselves and it looked pretty sick We both came to the conclusion that we like Lawrence as a town for sure and it was cool to trek through the University of Kansas as well. Further moving west, we next indulged in a little time in the capital, Topeka, KS and had the joy of staying with such a chill dude named Mark. Barrett met Mark’s girlfriend Jackie through FFA, but we had no idea what a stud Mark was until we got there. While we stayed with him, we watched both the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game (my boy Chris Sale looked good…go White Sox!) with him and just had a great time hanging out. Also, while were in Topeka, we chowed down some delicious pancakes at Hanover’s Pancake House, and were able to experience “La Fiesta”! “La Fiesta” was a fundraiser for a local church in Topeka, that’s been happening for around 78 years basically to both preserve Mexican culture and also to further the work of the church. We had some pretty amazing tostadas, watermelon juice, and enchiladas…mhmm mhmm! As for walking, I’ve very much enjoyed eastern Kansas a lot, it is pretty gorgeous and really nothing like I expected. In particular, the Flint Hills are just spectacular with breath-taking views and just pure natural beauty. Definitely love me some wide open spaces, huge blue sky, and rolling hills!
Continuing on through the state, we next set up camp in Manhattan, KS, “The Little Apple” with my friend Michelle (from Cornell University woot woot!) and her family. It is always so cool to see folks from school outside of campus and never would I have thought that I would be in Manhattan! It was really a great time with her and her family! On one night, her dad rocked out three different kinds of meat on the grill: duck, steak, and pork…wow we were so spoiled. Topping it all off with some KC Masterpiece – simply a masterpiece if I may say so We spent time trying to get Barrett to play the Uke, getting some beats on Beatles Rock Band and some brilliant ping-pong playing haha, just a real refreshing time and great hospitality. Michelle’s sister, Rachel, also tried to educate us on the likes of Justin Bieber and One Direction…with limited success, haha. Rachel was also extremely confused about why we had not read “The Hunger Games.” So, she actually read the story to us when she came out to walk with us! Our next stop was the historic town of Abilene, KS, and it is a pretty sweet little place. The home of a number of museums, including the Dwight D. Eisenhower museum (he was born here!), a beautiful park, and most importantly, Amanda (who actually chilled with Barrett on the walk for a month earlier this spring!), it has been a blessing. Amanda is a fantastic chef and we’ve been treated to such tasty (and very healthy) dishes (and a banana/strawberry/coconut flower/almond butter smoothie!) over the past day or so! I also thought it was pretty fantastic to get to meet someone else that had walked with Barrett earlier this year and we had a blast discussing all of the nuances of the walk!
The people who I have had the privilege to meet all throughout this summer have been nothing short of awesome. Whether we are sharing with a TV/Radio station, at a church, the family we are staying with, or the many that we meet along the road, it has been a very rich experience. In many ways challenging for me to continue to rely on God for patience, energy, and confidence, but also very freeing as I see God come through again and again and simply provide. Just today, we met an incredible couple, John and Kelly, right around the time that we were running out of water. These folks have adopted five children (two from Bulgaria) and have eleven children total! The house was quite crazy, especially when you add in the four large dogs (like a couple German Shepherds and Labs) – yeah, it was a bit chaotic haha. We got to meet their six-year-old adopted daughter named Tavy who was partially blind and seemed to have some other mental deficiencies as well. She was so sweet, called us by name, helped me finish my Mountain Dew (which her mother had given me) and just wanted to hang out with us. To be able to share with this family about what we were doing was really cool, because orphans were something very close to their hearts as well. For us to be able to encourage them and to likewise be encouraged was so sweet, I loved it, and I was moved. Here was a family that was letting their actions show what was on their hearts: a desire to serve kids (another one of their adopted daughters had down syndrome) and love others. As the Book of Matthew discusses, this wild and beautiful family is a true example of loving and caring for the least of these. As we walked on, we also got to stop at a little league baseball game concession stand and they not only had Strawberry Gatorade, but also super moist, super tender BBQ pork sandwiches. God was watching out!
One (of the many) things that I have grown to appreciate more during my time this summer is agriculture – farming, ranching or whatever. This year in Kansas has followed the recent trend of being very dry, and in particular this year has also been very hot! I still remember just a couple of days ago, looking at the 10 day forecast and seeing high temperatures of “108, 106, 108, 108, 108…” that is unreal! Let’s just say, it’s not cold in Kansas. Anyways, a dry/hot season means one thing to an urbanite like myself, but something totally different for one who relies on the land and weather to do their jobs. It has been a real blessing actually to gain just a wealth of knowledge more than I knew before about how farms work, everything from swathing wheat to windmills for water, and little things like Angus cows are usually black and the process of “roping and dragging” calves (which sounds like a ton of cowboy fun!). I am now able to specify rice fields from soybeans, corn from milo, and alfalfa from grasses. Starting out with very little knowledge of agriculture at all, it has been such a fresh and new experience to walk through these states and see, hear, and touch it all first-hand. With everything from weather, regulations, and available income to tackle, the agricultural community in America is facing some pretty tough obstacles in these coming years. I feel as though I have garnered just a much greater appreciation of agriculture throughout my time. While there are still so many things that I do not know, I do know that I will not think about or see farming, ranching, whatever the same ever again. This is for sure something that I never thought or expected when I started out in St. Louis in June!
Go West Young Man
Before I proceed, I do need to mention that if you ever find yourself in Abilene, you have to make an appointment to dine at the Brookville Hotel, oh my goodness One of the best fried chicken spreads I have had, with mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed corn, biscuits and jam, slaw, and topped off with some vanilla ice cream – you know only the healthy foods! This past Sunday we had a chance to share at Emmanuel Church three different times, which just was a huge blessing and so beautiful to see God stir in the hearts of the congregation to pray, give, and serve in whatever way they felt impressed. I personally just really enjoyed sharing with the high school students during the Sunday School hour, about the walk and what we were doing, but then also just about how we each can serve and be sensitive to God’s voice and calling in our lives. High school is for sure a tough time of lots of changes, distractions, and pressures competing for your attention, and it is so important to in the midst of all to focus on God’s voice, his Word, his promises, and what he has already done for you. Very related, but randomly inserted, this week, I am simply loving a sermon series by Tullian Tchividjian called “Jesus + Nothing = Everything”. In this series, he is teaching through the book of Colossians and reminds us that “the secret of the gospel is that we become more spiritually mature when we focus less on what we can do for God and more on what he has already done for us.” In the end, we don’t strive better, but believe better, and more deeply understand this truth. This simple phrase is so simple, yet so amazingly awesome and freeing, in that we don’t have to worry about the acceptance of others or what people may think. So, anyways sharing with those students, many of them rising seniors in high school, was so encouraging and also challenging for me.
Another pretty interesting part of that Sunday was that we had the opportunity to share at a local retirement/nursing home in town. Personally, I do love just hanging out with older folks, there is just so much wisdom, thoughts, and experience all wrapped up. It was really a great privilege to be able to share about the walk, but then also just about how God uses the struggles, valleys, and challenges in our lives to refine us and build us up in perseverance. As we discussed the obstacles we have faced on the walk, we were led to also just share about the obstacles in life that we face, and how in Christ we flat out can conquer them all. Following the sharing, we had the chance to sing some hymns sans music, and when we sang the song, “Amazing Grace,” Don, sitting next to me, shouted out, “That’s my favorite!” The song presents such a real, and such a fantastic truth to grasp and dwell in and it was great to be able to sing these words with these folks. “It is by grace that we have been saved, through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)
After Abilene, our wonderful friend Amanda sent us off with a whole bunch of goodies, from homemade energy bars, to bags of trail mix, and her mother’s scrumptious peanut butter cupcakes, wow those were good! We continued west (nothing new haha) and headed into Salina, KS. It was pretty sweet; we had one lady join us on her bike for about 6-7 miles because we had parked our van at her sister’s home, and just had a chance to share with her and her sister’s family, which was good! Also in Salina, we had the great pleasure of staying with two wonderful families! First, we had a chance to stay in the home of the parents of a friend of the ex-roommate of the sister of Barrett’s best friend Jake (we actually stayed with this Jake in Kansas City, MO and Jake’s sister’s ex-roommate Emily in Columbia, MO)…kudos to you if you could follow that all! It is so awesome and crazy how God worked that all out to provide for us. We had such a blast hanging out with this family; the friend (Angela) and her husband Wade were also there with their two gorgeous kids, Kingsley (or King for short!) and Evangeline. We shared stories, had so many laughs, ate Dilly bars, traveled to nearby Coronado Heights (a really cool fort on top of a high lookout), and got to play numerous games with their children. Also, Wade (or Blade as we called him), joined us for over eight miles on Wednesday and it was a real blessing chatting and connecting with him during that time. The parents, Warren and Vickie, were just so loving and full of grace/service, and it was so nice to chat with them. I also had the chance to engage in aquacise for the first time (with some lovely ladies at the local YMCA), eat delicious sliders at Cozy’s and burgers/shakes at Bogey’s, all just good stuff in Salina! We then stayed with a past Kansas state FFA officer, Jordan, and her family, which was also a wonderful time. Haha, in all seriousness, I don’t think we’ve ever laughed so much during one meal! Barrett and I were completely exhausted and quite honestly, a bit delirious from walking all day in another day of 108 degree temperatures!
Yesterday, we had the opportunity to walk through the small town of Wilson, KS, and stop off at the Snack Shack, a popular little place in this area. I just have to say, after walking about 13 miles to that point, the strawberry shake I had was so good and full of deliciousness! Although, I do have to say that the strawberry shake I had in Plant City, FL (also known as the “Winter Strawberry Capital of America”) was still tops. Also, I had a chance last night to continue to add to my list of firsts by going to my first county fair, it was an experience! We stayed in Ellsworth, KS with such a wonderful couple, Mark and Lindsey, and had a chance to learn about a number of new things such as how to best transport water to thirsty cows and all about the cooking of the “Pioneer Woman”. Really cool people, and actually Lindsey is a current Ag teacher and was someone that Barrett knew from his days as an officer in FFA, which is so cool to see all these connections. And the beds…the beds were SO super comfortable; it was a struggle each day to just wake up! Today, we continued west, through Dorrance, KS and on to Russell, KS, where we are staying tonight with Jed (actually another Ag teacher!). We all went to go see the new Dark Night Rises movie tonight, which was rocking.
BREAKING NEWS for today, Kent “Gunslinger” Esslinger hailing from Mankato, MN, and a rising Cornell sophomore came out to join the walk for three weeks!! The guy is a stud and just a wonderful brother in Christ – I had the joy of having him in my Cru community group at Cornell this past year. Just a dude that loves Jesus and others and wanted to serve, which is so beautiful!
While we were walking on Thursday, the sheriff (or cop) of Ellsworth, KS pulled up along the side of road and called us over. Apparently, someone had phoned in that there were walkers who were “jumping out in front of cars!” And we were those walkers haha. Well, we clearly were not in fact “jumping out in front of cars” as we would both very much like to survive this journey, and sought to clarify for the boss man about what and why were doing what we were doing. He thought it was crazy, although he was willing to give me a ride back to the van so praise the Lord! On the way back to the van, we had a great time just chatting about his life and the area, and as I got out of the truck, he said, “ya’ll are crazy, stay safe.” With a smile, I made my way over to our beloved ’94 Dodge Van.
As I continued walking on that day, for some I just kept thinking about how crazy this whole summer has been so far. First, that we are walking 16+ miles everyday in scorching 106 degree Kansas sun. Then, that we have 5-7 hours everyday to think, pray, and process well…life really. Also, our support vehicle is a ’94 van with a gas gauge that flicks up and down, mirrors that move, a broken radio, gusts of wind that ride up your legs as you drive – and it is still driving! To top it off, we meet new people everyday and not only that, stay with people I’ve never met before each night in their homes and it’s so rich and wonderful. We stayed the past two nights at house that Google Maps couldn’t even find haha. At the same time, we don’t really know where we are staying more than a week ahead and that is totally normal and completely okay. I’ve been to five new states, a state FFA convention, a county fair, and had the chance to go water skiing – loved it. Basically this summer, Barrett and I have been two homeless dudes, with a car that should have stopped working years ago, and something to share about the glorious Gospel and it’s vital connection to the realities of children. In the end we lack in all of the areas that I tend towards: control, comfort, and plans (at least long-term). And yet at the same time, it has been a beautiful ride
Reflecting on my time, I’ll be the first to admit that there have definitely been days this summer where I have struggled. I’ve been tired, not just physically, but mentally. To be honest, there have been times that I have desired just to be at home, to be somewhere that I knew, with people that I felt at home with and around. In particular, with people that knew me and already accepted me. I thirsted for the control and comfort that I have craved and satisfied all these years. As I’ve been listening to this really awesome sermon series through Colossians, and many of the points that Pastor Tullian has brought up have really resonated with me. In particular, he mentions how a couple years back, he experienced a season that was just incredibly difficult and a major struggle for him (overall it was the toughest year ever for him!). His church (in Fort Lauderdale, Florida) was dealing with serious conflict and even discussing whether or not to fire him. It was bad!
He explained how all his life, he was used to being accepted or at least having people like him, and when that approval was taken away, he realized how much he had truly relied on others’ approval for identity and purpose. I thought that was so powerful and reached deep. In my life, I have struggled with this same challenge, even just in these past few weeks. I have told God, “I just want my life back, my life of ease and comfort.” But God’s response was, “NO. In reality, you don’t want your life back; you want your idols back. And I love you too much to give them to you. Life is found in me.” This hit me hard – because it was so true. I have learned that there is no substitute for the complete love and acceptance that I already have in Christ. As Pastor Tullian explained, “why do we settle for anything less, when we already have the best?” So, instead of control, comfort, and plans (my plans), I see God transforming my heart to desire faith in uncertainty, peace in discomfort, and shifting from my plans to God’s plans which are infinitely greater and higher.
It was such an immense blessing and privilege to join Barrett with Go Walk America. As the Global Orphan Project seeks to serve children and pursue the work of God around the world, lives are being changed and transformed in a mighty way. I am so immensely grateful to Jesus and Barrett for the opportunities that I had this summer – to grow, to love, to stretch, to learn, to listen, to speak, to serve, and to walk. This is one summer that I will certainly never forget! Please continue to support Go Walk America as Barrett continues, as well as the efforts of the Global Orphan Project.
Faith in Uncertainty – Peace in Discomfort – Trust in God’s Plans