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How to return home from the World Race

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
By Seth Barnes
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 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,


Comments (7)

  • Exactly two years later I still need to hear this… and you’re so right… it’s the people who know what you’re talking about that make this season okay. Having just spent the weekend with old teammates I’ve seen that we really did become family… we pick back up pretty quick even after not seeing each other for so long. But it’s so much better when you stay in community and work it out together… i think I’ll be passing this along 🙂

  • Lets all be honest. The 12 disciples wanted discipleship from Jesus, the anoited Man and God all in one. Malichi 4:5-6 says the hearts of the fathers will turn to the children and the hearts of the children will turn to the the fathers.

    This is what I can say to this generation. You have to seek after the annointing. You are in the desert right now just like the Isrealites and the devil wants you stuck in cities, fear of man, fear, rejection and so many more. This generation has to submit to authority and get under cover. This generation is rejected and fatherless. There are fears that say that you can do this on your own and the hurts that are in your heart will make you want to do it on your own but the Father is saying, submit to the authority that he has placed in your life and become a son or a daughter. This generation has to seek community together.

    So here is the honesty. We see Jesus in Andrew Shearman, we see Jesus in Gary Black, we see Jesus in Seth Barnes, we see Jesus in Michael Hindes. We want to get the annointing as sons and daughters to be annitiated. My first warning and caveat to all of our generation is this, none of those guys ARE Jesus. They are mere men walking and dying to themselves daily. They are getting closer and closer to the likeness of Jesus but if you can give them the grace that they will fail you or your authority will fail you, we as a generation will get to activation. We will never get to activation if we cannot become sons or duaghters in the natural, which means submitting ourselves to authority that can say no to us. If we cant become a son or daughter in the natural there is no way we can be one in the spiritual.

    Seth you are right on. Anyone reading this that is a racer and experiencing hard times, I will not lie to you, more will come. This is what God is taking us through right now. We have all said yes to a call, yes to a life, yes to a refinement and the fire hurts but we need to rest as a generation together and recieve what he is doing. The isrealites wanted to run back to Egypt, I beg you not to do that. If you want to talk to someone, please call me and we can chat 6789977918, I have lived it 2 years in a row and now have been back for over a year. My wife and I are in this for life and we will never stop living for what God has called us all to.

  • amen! seth, i’ve heard you give this teaching on the phases more than once, and i continue to come back to it for the grace & accountability is provides. surrounded in a culture that wants everything 5 minutes ago and cries out “what’s in it for me,” we HAVE to embrace the process…rest in the seasons…and keep praying big prayers.

    as the phenomenon becomes a movement, it is critical that we remain steadfast & true to what god has ignited within us…and the authority we have to unleash holy passion all over this world. to be jesus exactly where we are. whether we’re right where he’s called us or working toward the vision he’s given us, we don’t get to let up. “from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (luke 12:48)

    i have never experienced a season like these past 4 months in my life. i’ve seen the end of myself more than i care to have done so, and many days i feel like i’m fumbling. at the same time, i’ve experienced incredible intimacy with god, he’s answering big & small prayers, he’s using me IN SPITE of myself, and i’m humbled. sometimes it feels awkward & lonely…but they are fleshly feelings. it’s what it feels like to die to ourselves to let more of HIM flow into & thru us. this is what we are called to, and we are doing it together.

  • I’m not a world racer but I’m still relating completely to what you’re saying. It’s strange. I lived in Swaziland for two years as a missionary in the 80’s and though I went thru some difficulties when I transitioned back, I didn’t find myself nearly as upset or wrecked by American culture as I am this time around…and this time I only went back for less than two weeks with Children’s HopeChest.

    Maybe because Swaziland wasn’t in the dire situation back in the 80’s that it is now? Maybe my heart wasn’t as tender then as it is now? I don’t know. All I know is that nearly one year later I am STILL feeling like an alien back in what is supposed to be my home and desperately grabbing on to community however and wherever I can find it.

    If there are any world racers in the mid-Mississippi area who need a kindred spirit to connect with, feel free to send them my way.

  • Yes coming home is hard. Much harder than I anticipated. And although I have gone through a few low points I have still been learning a ton. And God has been good through it all. Life and faith have become less focused on strictly the wild and exotic settings and more on obedience, contentment, joy in all settings and seasons, while seeking the Lord with all my might when it looks crazy to do so in America. I agree that community is excellent and much needed. I would also challenge the desire to fall into community out of fear of the rest of the world. It can be easy to cloister off in seclusion because it most certainly is more comfortable. The challenge is to balance surrounding yourselves with like minded individuals allowing for good growth, and going forth and being a presence that is not afraid to look different and instituting change. Just a few thoughts. I do miss seeing the great Seth Barnes in all his mustached glory!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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