Illinois to Saint Louis!

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…1,638 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 1,638 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!

Illinois to Saint Louis!

This 11 day stretch was one of the most difficult and beautiful so far.  Multiple joints in my right foot were still inflamed leading to pain with every step!  My allergies produced so much congestion that it felt like I might have had a growing ball of twine in my sinuses.  Also, almost getting smacked by the tail end of a massive coal truck, unknowingly chillin with an attempted murderer (not going to elaborate on that one:), and a trip to a hospital because of bronchitis added interesting elements as well!  However, lifting weights with coal miners in an extremely dilapidated building, having a walking partner (for more than a day) for the first time since Atlanta, listening to and praying through a sermon series on Genesis, and staying with wonderful families made this portion pretty unforgettable.

Southern Illinois is beautiful.  The rolling hills were a continuation of the Bluegrass State.  The only problem was, there were massive coal trucks flying by all day long.  One driver, clearly not paying attention to the idiot (me:) walking down the side of a rural highway in the middle of nowhere, jerked the wheel the moment he saw me.  While I appreciated the gesture, this caused the back end of his semi trailer load of coal to whip around in my direction, with the tires literally screeching as they slid towards me.  Knowing there was no way I could run 50 feet to the side before it smacked me like a Titalist on a golf range, I immediately thought of Keanu Reeves in the Matrix.  I imagined myself doing a much reduced version of the limbo-like move Keanu employed in dodging bullets in order to allow the trailer to pass over me.  Let’s be honest that would have been as awesome as it was unrealistic:)  Thankfully, at the last moment, the trailer straightened out and I neither got smacked by the trailer, nor ruptured any discs in my back trying to get my Matrix on.

If you read the previous post, you know that my friend Ryan came out for nine days to join the journey! Ryan is a stud and a bit of an explorer.  Most days, Ryan and I would do some walking in the beginning or the end of the day.  The rest of the day, Ryan would go explore some park, reserve, or conservation area.  It was refreshing having a partner to walk and chat with.  One of our favorite towns was Thompsonville, IL.  The First Baptist Church was kind enough to get us a hotel room, treat us to dinner, and just flat out show us beautiful hospitality.  Also, I was fortunate enough to interview one of the teachers at the high school for a nationwide study I am leading on how teachers can and do serve as transformational leaders in their classrooms.  It was sooo rich to hear the teacher’s and their students’ perspectives on how the teacher leads students in this wonderful rural school of barely 100 students!

Check out this quick video from a wonderful crew of children who are serving children in need in beautiful ways!!

We were fortunate enough to share at several schools and churches along the way.  One of the highlights was a stop in Marissa, IL.  We were fortunate enough to stay with the Schmierbach family.  Several students from the high school came over to hang out for a couple hours that Friday night and a couple of the dudes walked several miles the following day.  Plus, I had the privilege of preaching that Sunday morning.  It is such a blessing to be able to share the realities facing millions of children in our world and the tangible, simple, beautiful ways we can literally change the trajectory of the lives of children in need by making small decisions on our part.  The desire to serve orphaned and abandoned children has so much depth in my heart, not because I am a good person…and not because I’m an unselfish person – I am neither.  My deep passion to serve children comes from the developing understanding that my Heavenly Father came into my life and adopted me…calling me an equal heir with Christ.  This beautiful picture of adoption impacts every area of my life.

After preaching, I left Marissa fully aware that a rainstorm was on the way.  In addition to the rain, I quickly began to feel drops that were a bit more substantive.  Before I knew it, I was in the middle of a hail storm in the middle of a cornfield!  It was weird though…it seemed like every fifth or so nasty little chunk of ice flying my way punched me in the lips!…which hurt like crazy.  After failing to hitch a ride with the first forty cars or so, the guitar player from the church that I preached at that morning was kind enough to rescue me!

The next few miles were special for many reasons, but one of those was that my very sweet mother joined me for a couple days.  We had an absolute blast hanging out!  Besides hail storms and a funky right foot, one of the main obstacles between me and Saint Louis was the town of East Saint Louis, IL.  My main man Jacob Barreth, who lives in Haiti (um…not an overly safe part of the world:) by the way, texted me from Haiti and begged me to spend the two extra days it would take me to walking around East Saint Louis so I would not get shot, stabbed, etc:)  Thankfully though, my walk through East Saint Louis was wonderful.  It was my first day walking in above 100 degree temps all day long, and heat rashes (I’ll spare you the pics:) broke out on probably 1/5 of my body…which is never desirable…nor necessarily safe. Besides the oppressive heat, East Saint Louis was wonderful.  Several people expressed curiosity about what I was doing walking through there by myself, but I met some wonderful people.  I was even blessed to attend church the following morning and share a bit about our efforts to serve children.  I understand the value of being cautious and wise, but I literally pray for an understanding of the proper balance between wisdom and not allowing our lives to be driven by fear.  The people of East Saint Louis were as kind as any people I have met the entire journey and I feel blessed to have met and shared with some of them!

After a ton of walking NORTH, walking into Saint Louis meant more than just an opportunity to walk through another one of our nation’s incredible cities, it meant I was finally able to walk WEST!  The route I chose allows me to hit ten of the largest cities in the U.S., but the route is almost 1,100 miles longer than just walking Jacksonville to Los Angeles…so finally heading directly west was rather exciting!!  Walking across the mighty Mississippi was almost surreal!  First of all, I felt like I was about to pass out, and the tricky thing about walking across major rivers is that the bridges are typically not all that flat:)  More importantly, I could not help but think about the blessings that God has poured into my life, the people that are choosing to serve children through The Global Orphan Project, and that so much of the Western half of our nation was settled by walkers and wagon riders through this same city…which I think is pretty amazing!

What’s up Saint Louie????

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Nashville through Illinois!

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!

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Thank God for Crazy People – Blog posted by the GO Project

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…1,259 children are receiving the school uniform they are required to have to attend school!!

In addition to 1,259 school uniforms being donated and the jobs created for parents in these impoverished communities to sew the uniforms, as much as $12,000 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!

Donate Please

Thank God for Crazy People – Blog posted by the GO Project

Barrett Keene seems like a sharp guy. 30 years old. Clean cut. Bright. Personable. Successfully moving through his PhD program at Cornell. Then you hear about how Barrett is spending a year of his life walking across America for orphans. A ’94 Dodge van serves as his command and control center. What?! How crazy is that?

Barrett walked into the KC area this week. If you ask Barrett, he’d share that what he’s doing is not as crazy as pretending orphans don’t exist or don’t matter. He’d tell you that many children living in our community and around the world are vulnerable, at risk, and that walking across the country for them is not nearly as crazy as doing nothing.

In the book, Kisses from Katie, Beth Clark states that, “People who really want to make a difference are not determined to revolutionize the world all at once; they’re satisfied with small changes. Over time, though, the small changes add up. Sometimes they even transform cities and nations, and yes, the world. ”

In return for the 1,5000+ miles he has walked so far, Barrett has raised enough support to give school uniforms to almost 1,000 children. Would you walk 1.5 miles so that one child in need would have the opportunity to go to school? That doesn’t sound so crazy, does it? Would you do it one hundred times? One thousand times? How about 3,475 times? Barrett is and with no guarantees. Close to 1,000 children helped so far. Who knows how many others will be inspired to get a little crazy themselves? Here’s the question: are you crazy enough to get involved? Spread the word about Barrett’s walk gowalkamerica.org.

Thank God for people like Barrett…people who are crazy enough to try to change the world…one child at a time.

Barrett is now on his way to Denver, then Salt Lake City, Sacramento, and finally San Francisco. If you are along (or near) Barrett’s path, feel free to reach out to him. He is always looking for friends along the way and opportunities to share with others. You can connect with Barrett on Facebook HERE>>

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New Video sponsored by LegacyChamp

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!

Donate PleasePlease 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!

This is a brief version of the video below:

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Hotlanta to Nashvegas and the Big Oak ranch in between!

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!

Donate PleasePlease 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!

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iydMUTj52ro&feature=youtu.be

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!

Barrett

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Cordele to Hotlanta!!

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…685 children are receiving the school uniform they are required to have to attend school!!

Through the gift of these uniforms, as much as $6,800 has been raised to provide food, shelter, and care for orphans!  Also, jobs are created for parents in impoverished communities to sew the uniforms!

Donate PleasePlease 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!

Cordele to Hotlanta!

After a wonderful couple of nights with the Holder family in Cordele, things got pretty tough as I attempted to head north.  During one of my longest days, I stopped to rest and grab a snack at a convenience store.  After chomping down on some nasty convenience store pizza and pounding a Gatorade, I promptly walked away from my wallet…which was resting nicely on the curb in front of the store!  By the time I made it back to the store, my wallet was nowhere to be found. To make matters worse, someone had rung up over $400 of charges at the Dollar General, a Pizza Hut, a beauty supply store, and the mall.  So…that is unfortunate!  Thankfully, our partners at Arms Around the World, were kind enough to help handle the paperwork and legwork to get everything taken care of!  Being without a wallet made things a bit interesting…to say the least! Thankfully, my friend Amanda still had a week to hang out before she had to head back to Kansas.  If Amanda was not there, I have no idea what I would have done as driving is usually quite difficult without a driver’s license!

One of my favorite aspects of the walk has been seeing all of the homes along the side of the road.  Some of the homes are stately and some of the homes are in extremely rough shape, but noticing the creativity in the design and how people accessorize their home is what I find most interesting.  The details concerning the front porches, the old trucks and cars (which are amazingly plentiful in rural Georgia towns), batting cages, and landscaping is so much more noticeable when walking.  For instance, the house to the right took full advantage of the their resources by designing a small half-pipe in the carport and placing the basketball hoop in the tree…nice:)

Upon arriving in Perry, our first stop was at the local Police Department! These incredible officers not only expressed their genuine desire to help raise awareness of the realities facing children throughout the world, but they also provided us with free places to stay at a local hotel.  After a night at the beautiful Camp John Hope, courtesy of Mr. Norman Gay, I walked into Roberta to crash a couple nights with the wonderful family of Darryl and April Baxley.  I was fortunate enough to do an interview with a local Macon news station that morning.  That night, Mr. Baxley was kind enough to organize a dinner with people from throughout the community.  It was such a blessing to meet such incredible people and to hear of their own experiences serving children in need, both in and outside of the U.S.  The horrible reality is, there is so much pain in our world.  The beautiful reality is, God desires to use us despite our own infirmities and selfishness to address and fight against the multitude of sources of injustice and pain. Because the focus of the walk is on sharing about and serving children in need, many of the conversations I have with the people I meet center around our efforts and opportunities to serve.  It is incredibly humbling to hear so many diverse perspectives, experiences, and goals in serving children.  We ended up staying a couple nights, but the highlight of the stay was walking almost four miles with some pretty fabulous elementary and middle school students.  We had an absolute blast!  Meet Audrey, Sydney, and Yuki, some of the walkers in the video!

After a couple rainy days (which I really do not mind too much if I can keep the water out of my shoes), I arrived in the picturesque town of Culloden.  As I was walking into town, a cop car drove up rather aggressively with his lights flashing.  Someone called the police because they said I looked suspicious.  I would like to think this is more indicative of our nation’s obsession with driving everywhere we go instead of walking or biking than my shady, rough looking appearance.  I guess it did not help that I had recently allowed my friend Amanda to give me a mohawk…maybe I was being profiled…who knows?!:)  The officer demanded identification, which was unfortunate considering the fact that I had recently left my wallet outside a Cordele convenience store.  The officer clearly did not believe my story, or that I was walking across the country for orphans.  Also, a search for “Barrett Keene” in their system (used to search for warrants) did not produce any results, so the officer thought I was not lying about my name too!  The officer said he was going to have to detain me! I found myself being pretty pumped about this because A. I have never gone to jail, and B. I was exhausted and could really use an excuse to take a break!  The officer informed me we were just going to wait there.  So, I just sat on his hood for about 20 minutes until they were able to find (and clear!) my name in their system before his supervisor would believe I did not need to be arrested!  The officer ended up being a wonderful guy and is even following the walk on Facebook.

That night, we met, attended a “Bull Bash” rodeo, and crashed with Corey, Christian and their wonderful children!  My friends Abby and Carol were kind enough to contact their friends along the route to ask if we could have a place to stay.  It amazes me how wonderful people throughout Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee have been to open their homes!  The farther I get from Florida, the less people I know, so let me know if you have family or friend that might be crazy enough to let me crash on their couch or floor for a night or two.  The next morning, we went to church, where I was humbled to be able to share about our efforts to serve orphans and share the incredible work of the Global Orphan Project.  After a tasty meal of southern fried catfish and mac n’ cheese, it was time to get back on the road.

This Sunday stroll through the tiny town of Milner was one of my favorite days on the road.  I was blessed to meet a group of humble, hilarious guys who were kind enough to let me get in a little basketball and I was able to walk along the most beautiful road I have traveled down yet! Also, one of the, most beautiful aspects of this walk is the immense space I have to reflect, listen, pray, and reflect deeply.  One of the sermon series I have listened to has really stood out so far.  The series, titled, “The Rebel’s Guide to Joy,” address topics such as conflict, temptation, humility, suffering, death, and loneliness.  There were a couple aspects of the talks I found a bit funky, but overall, having the opportunity to learn, think and pray about such daunting, challenging, beautiful topics has created a mini-journey within my journey.  I would recommend checking this series out.  Perhaps my favorite thing to do while walking is to pause whatever I am listening to and to spend serious time reflecting on that point, question, or challenge.  I have been blessed to listen to sermon series with titles such as “Praying like Jesus”, “Generous”, and “Doctrine.”

Here are a couple pics from the road I loved so much north of Milner:

The next stop on the journey was staying with the Brown family in Griffin, Ga.  My friend Amanda is a pretty big couchsurfer.  By “couchsurfer” I mean there are a ton of people who are willing to open their homes to random travelers and travelers who are open to staying in the homes of random people!:)  A stud of a young man, Mr. Will Brown and his wonderful parents opened their home to us for a couple nights.  This family brings Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 as they welcome travelers into their homes through couchsurfing.com.  They do so with purpose…to serve and to love others.  After receiving some excellent directions from Will, I headed north through an area that was surprising rural and relaxing, even though we were so close to Atlanta.

The last town I will mention in this update is Hotlanta!  One of the highlights of the day was randomly walking by my friend Shaun’s work and being able to stop in to surprise her.  Walking through the communities of College Park and East Point was pretty incredible as well.  Besides a random lady asking me in a progressively louder and louder voice, “Where’s your briefcase? Where’s your briefcase at? Where’s your briefcase?!?”…about ten times, the day was quite nice.  After walking more the 38 miles in two days, limping into downtown Atlanta was one of the most rewarding and painful stretches of the trip so far!  I was fortunate enough to be able to share at a house church, a Christian student group from Georgia Tech, and spend some time with your of my closest friends growing up…Mr. Jono Hehn.  I am pretty excited to write the next update to share the incredible experience of visiting The Big Oak Boy’s Ranch over in Alabama.  Something I have never actually told anyone before is that every single time I think about the word Alabama, I cannot help but want to shout it like Forrest Gump did when telling his favorite lady she needed to come back home:)

Have a wonderful day! Please let me know how I can be praying for you.

God bless,

Barrett

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Gainesville to Central Georgia!

Donate PleaseOn January 28th, Barrett Keene, a PhD Student at Cornell University, began 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…618 children are receiving the school uniform they are required to have to attend school!!

Through the gift of these uniforms, as much as $6,100 has been raised to provide food, shelter, and care for orphans!  Also, jobs are created for parents in impoverished communities to sew the uniforms!

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!

Join the 350,000 Mile Challenge and get started on your own “walk” to serve children today!

Gainesville to Atlanta!!

Being in Gainesville is always a bit surreal to me since this is the home of my alma mater, the University of Florida!!!!  UF is the place I started attending football games every year with my father when I was 12!  It is the home of Florida FFA, the organization I volunteered for full-time for a year right out of high school.  It is the place I attended classes, made choices about my career and my relationship with God, made and strengthened friendships I am blessed with ’til this day, and have dozens of hilarious and special memories from my time as an undergrad at the University of Florida (foaming fountains, wrapping dudes up in Saran wrap and leaving them on random doorsteps, roof top parties at the 919, etc.).  Also, being in Gainesville meant I was able to spend time and nights with some of my best friends, Tate Mikell and Elio and Christy Chiarelli!

UF was on Spring Break so there was not a ton going on, but some wonderful friends came out to walk with me north from Gainesville, including a couple friends who walked all 18.6 miles that day!  One of the highlights of this day was my friend Amanda’s arrival from Kansas.  Amanda has spent the past three weeks with me, taking part in the journey, walking with me much of the time, and driving the support vehicle!  She is a wonderful friend and an incredibly flexible, servant-hearted rockstar overall!

Amanda and I ended up spending five nights at the home of Charlotte, Duke, and Case Emerson.  Charlotte has been a friend of mine since I was 12 years old and volunteered to organize places to share and stay from Ocala to Valdosta, GA…a stretch of more than 100 miles.  “Quita” had me speaking at several schools, and even worked it out for me to bring the Sunday message at her beautiful church! We spoke about several pieces of scripture, including the following beautiful words of Christ in Matthew 25:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

After a week filled with sharing at several schools and a 4-H group, walking with friends and high school students in awareness walks around school tracks, walking with incredible friends like LaCresia, Heather, Shawn, Adrienne, Brian, Anita and Ila, and speaking at three churches in a week, we made it to the Georgia line!  Making it to the Georgia line felt wonderful!  Between snaking through my home state, taking time to handle my writing from Cornell, and being blessed with so many wonderful friends who opened their schools, churches and organizations for me to share actually getting out of Florida took a bit longer than expected.  I will forever treasure this experience walking through my home state and feel blessed and proud to be a Florida Boy!

Southern Georgia was filled with BBQ, gracious, wonderful people either opening their homes or supplying a hotel room to crash, relax, and get some work done!  We arrived in Tifton that weekend with the blessed opportunity to stay with two of my mentors and close friends, Uncle Paul and Aunt Shari Willis.  They are not technically family, but several of my closest friends and I refer to them in this manner out of respect for how wonderful they are and wonderful they are to us!  We ended up spending five more nights with the Willis’ speaking at Journey Church in Tifton, speaking to students at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, and eating monkey bread!  After spending time with the Willis’, we were fortunate enough to stay with the Holder family in Cordele.  I literally grew up with Aaron and Michael Holder and it was a blessing to spend time catching up and singing the songs we used to sing in church as scrawny, awkward teenagers.

At this point, I was over 600 miles into this wild and crazy journey!  God had opened doors to share with almost 15,000 people directly and opened doors to share through several media organizations about the realities facing orphans and our opportunities to serve them!  Each of these opportunities is beautiful and make the literal pounding of the walk worthwhile.  By this point in the journey however, my body felt increasingly like the tendons and ligaments in my legs and hips had been replaced with a series of trampoline springs who seemed to grow ever tighter with each day!  In perfect timing, I was fortunate enough (on multiple levels) to take a brief, three-day pause to travel to visit the family of my beautiful, talented, kind, encouraging, and hilarious girlfriend who loves God and people in a beautiful way…Ms. Bethany Nichols! Honestly, this time of rest and time with her and her wonderful family provided an opportunity to relax and literally, physically unwind!

After returning from Indiana, my body had never felt stronger.  Recently, I even began incorporating more running into my daily routine.  Depending on the day, I might run as much as six miles!  I praise God for this opportunity and for the simple, beautiful presence of health.  This verse come to mind quite often, almost especially when the going gets tough:

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. (Isaiah 40:31 )

I hope they are an encouragement to you as well!

Next week…Hotlanta!!

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