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How to return home from the World Race

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Here’s a letter I wrote our returning World Racers.   Although I write it to them, because their year abroad looks more like Jesus’ model of discipleship than anything I’ve ever seen or been a part of, I want to share this letter with a wider audience.    World Racers take…
By Seth Barnes
Here’s a letter I wrote our returning World Racers.
img resizeAlthough I write it to them, because their year abroad looks more like Jesus’ model of discipleship than anything I’ve ever seen or been a part of, I want to share this letter with a wider audience. 
World Racers take almost nothing with them, and wherever they go, the kingdom of God breaks out. People are healed, orphans are loved, prostitutes see a way out, and the gospel is preached.
Along the way, God redefines them, not as consumers, but as his beloved kids and ministers. And then comes the hardest part of the year: returning home. We’re still trying to crack the code on doing it well.

Dear World Racers,

Welcome back. Already you’re seeing how hard this returning home thing can be and I empathize. Both Talia and Seth Jr. struggled when they came back. The World Race is a growing phenomenon on its way to becoming a movement.  It’s a year-long rite of initiation into the kingdom. It’s a pilgrimage of the soul, a calling out to greatness. But we’ve got to do a better job at helping you to reintegrate and transition when it’s over. Michael told me how hard it’s already been for some of you.

You’ve seen how it disabuses people of the lies that crippled and constrained them.  You and others before you have returned home having glimpsed a counter-cultural reality:

“It’s not all about me.” (the lie: narcissism)
“I don’t need to buy stuff to be happy.” (the lie: consumerism)
“I find myself in community.” (the lie: individualism)
“I can make a difference.” (the lie: apathy)
The shorthand for this reality is something Jesus calls “the kingdom.”

But there’s a big difference between having glimpsed the kingdom and figuring out how to live in it.  The problem is that while you may have changed, your world and all the relationships in it didn’t.  You may have looked behind the curtain to see that the Great and Powerful Oz is just a little man pulling levers, but everyone else may still be caught up in the illusion.  You may have been wrecked for the ordinary, but that doesn’t make you a radical, it just makes you weird – an oddball in The Truman Show.

So you’ve been initiated, but to what?  The problem you face is that while you’ve made it through the Initiation Phase, as near as we can tell, you’ve still got two more steps in the process before you can really feel at home in your own skin wherever you are.

Jesus took three years with his disciples and they had to go through the same process and the same three phases (with each phase taking roughly a year to complete). Following initiation, you’ve got what might be termed an Apprenticeship Phase and after that comes something that looks like a long-term call – it’s a Stewardship Phase.  So here you are:

1. Initiation phase
2. Apprenticeship phase
3. Stewardship phase

The question is, how then do you navigate this second phase?  How do you change the world when your world so evidently doesn’t want to change?

If the World Race teaches you anything, it teaches you that you need community.  You need to be around people who get you and give you the space and encouragement you need to become the best version of you.  If your re-entry is only a return to roots and relationships, if the lessons of community life remain in your rear view mirror, then my experience shows you can expect a slow attrition of life followed by a season of cynicism.

When Jesus left his disciples, they didn’t disperse.  They stayed together and prayed.  In the hotbed of community, revolution was born.  In the atmosphere of prayer, the fires of kingdom passion were stoked.  Returning Racers need to look to one another to stoke the fires within them.  Having been activated to a life of possibility, they need to hear the “amen” of brothers and sisters who have chose the narrow path of life in the kingdom.

The Apprenticeship Phase is a practical season where the high, holy poetry of the soul picks up a dish rag and is confronted with messy spirituality.  We’re not allowed to build booths on the Mount of Transfiguration.  We have to return to a land where checkbooks need balancing and cars need oil changes. 

It’s a jolting transition to move back into a place where people inwardly sneer at your stories of walking on water.  The life of faith and dependence is so very hard to live in a land that celebrates independence.

You need daily debriefs from friends to make it through the Apprenticeship Phase.  You need a sounding board to move beyond the combustion chamber of your thought life.

You may find yourself thinking, “In Malawi the brothers had so little, but loved so much.  Here I don’t even get greeted after being away from church for a year.  What should I think? How do I do this?” And it’s then only someone who has been through the fire with you will do.

Naturally every re-entry is going to look different.  You need to hug your family and report back to your friends and supporters.  Beyond that, you need a free place to stay while you figure out next steps.  A month or two in your old stomping grounds is a great part of your re-entry experience, but it makes a poor Apprenticeship Phase strategy. 

If you’ve just had your world rocked and are flying high, what you’ll need next is a landing zone.  What does a landing zone look like?  Honestly we’re still figuring it out. We’ve got experiments in Michigan, Georgia, Colorado and Spain.  We know it’s not a place you can camp.  But you should be able to assimilate the lessons of initiation that you learned on the race.  Landing zones done right should get you refueled and help move you to a third phase – Stewardship.

As you consider your new life, let me encourage you – don’t do it on your own. We were meant to do this radical life in the kingdom together. Whatever else we do as we seek God’s direction, let’s not leave anyone behind.

Your partner in this race,


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