The First 6 Months
We’re halfway there…livin’ on a prayer. Time is flying.
On a hot, slow afternoon here in the lush Malaysian jungle, the girls on my team sat around our common room having an impromptu discussion about our World Race experience so far. Wondering aloud about the last 6 months brought me to a place of self-reflection. A year ago this was all a crazy dream, and now I am halfway through this journey.
This is a scary point to be at in the Race. Part of me is celebrating that we have passed the halfway hump, and part of me is terrified of what that means. On a journey of learning who you are and what your purpose is on this earth, the pressure I put on myself to personally grow is tremendous, and now I have less time ahead of me than I do behind.
I wish I could put on paper my thoughts and feelings about right now, but I have stared at this screen repeatedly and gotten nowhere with the deep, meaningful stuff. With several people from home either leaving for the Race soon or considering doing so, let me just share some straightforward insight I feel like I have gained in the last six months about this thing.
So consider this a bit of a World Race advice piece to those leaving in July.
To start with, training camp is truly part of your WR experience. In a lot of ways, training camp puts you in some of the most stressful and intimidating situations you will experience in the whole WR journey, mainly because you don’t know anyone and everything is still so new. Although the entire week is incredibly bonding in a lot of ways, you probably still left realizing you hadn’t had intentional conversations with most of your squad mates, and deep down you are wondering how liked, accepted, and wanted you are with this new “family”. Maybe you loved the team you were put on; maybe you don’t feel like you clicked with any of them. Let go of that right now; you probably won’t have any real idea of how your team is going to function until at least week 2.
E squad women, after a bonding exercise at camp.
You probably heard a lot of words being thrown around that won’t carry a lot of meaning until you get on the Race…community, freedom, broken, vulnerable, intentional, surrender, preference, honor, identity, and healing, to name a few….but they will slowly start to make so much sense as your Race progresses. You watched inspiring videos and heard tearful testimonies and had emotional camp fires and awkward prophecy exercises, and at the end of it all you felt a mixture of apprehension and overwhelming excitement.
Understand this though: there is so much more to the World Race than anything you could possibly have experienced or learned at camp, even with the thoughtful attempts made to prepare you. Do not develop ideas and expectations about your squad mates or what your Race will look like based on that one week; this is 11 months of your life, and you will probably have major highs and major lows regardless. Try to take what you learned at training camp about tools for spiritual growth and freedom in Christ, and go into your Race with an open mind. Like I said, training camp is powerful and helpful, but don’t let your feelings about it determine your entire mindset going into the Race.
When the Race begins, you will hit the ground running.
Don’t be surprised if your brain is a whirlwind of overwhelmed and stressed out thoughts when you finally arrive at your ministry site after launch. I remember month 1, day 1 on the Race…things were beginning to surface as imperfect on my team, it was hot as all get out in El Salvador, our initial living conditions were not exactly desirable, and we had little ministry other than tons of preaching ahead of us. Immediately, I began to question my decision to do this for almost a whole year. But here I am, over halfway through, and I absolutely believe that going on this trip is one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Try to avoid letting yourself decide how you feel about your team as a whole or any single person on your team based on your first week, or even your first month. You may hear about other teams doing great while your team wants to rip each other’s hair out, or vice versa. To be honest with you, you will probably have to go through hard times with your team to hit the point of openness and vulnerability that is really necessary for personal and team growth. For some teams this happens week 1, and for others it isn’t until month 3. But as time passes and you work through issues in feedback, you will realize that you really are learning what it means to show unconditional love and grace to people, and to see people through Christ’s eyes.
Surrender your idea of what ministry is and should look like right away. On the World Race, you could be doing an unbelievably long list of random tasks at any given point, and your job is not to judge whether or not it is worthy of your time. Believe that you have been commissioned by God and entrusted to do whatever He puts in front of you with a smile on your face, and constantly remind yourself that a sense of emotional, personal satisfaction in your work is actually completely irrelevant. We are not called to feel good about our “final product” at the end of the month in any country; we are called to be faithful and obedient to being the piece He asked us to be in His bigger picture.
Community living will teach you and grow you more than anything on the World Race. Aside from a select few who have truly experienced it before, most people don’t realize how hard it is going to be to have 5 or 6 other people to consider before making every decision. Decide right away that you want to love, honor, and respect your team more than you want to have what you want when it comes to food, showers, beds, and off days, and you could be the one that sets the mode for your entire team when it comes to preferring one another. Anyone can put on a smile and try to show love for a few hours here in there in ministry; the truest growth comes from leaning on Jesus to help you love when your flesh is screaming with irritability at the people you are constantly around.
And the most important thing I can tell you going into the Race is this: your commitment to your walk with Christ must remain the focus. If you truly want to go deeper with God, to grow in intimacy with Him, to be transformed from the inside out, to become a man or woman of true honor, then you have to be proactive about seeking the Lord. Obviously it is up to God Himself to actually show you and grow you, but be willing, be disciplined, and recognize that you may have to be very intentional about getting alone with the Lord.
Just being on the Race itself will teach you a lot, but the quiet and intimate presence of God must be a priority. This is easier said than done in a year where you are constantly trying to put others before yourself. I can’t tell you how many times this year I have set out to go be alone with Jesus, only to have something come up that challenged me to put the needs or desires of a team mate or ministry host before my own, and I sometimes get to the end of the day and realize I haven’t spent any time alone with God. Over and over I have learned and re-learned the secret, as much as I don’t like it sometimes: get up early, sneak off somewhere quiet, and be with the Father.
The true power and possibility of this year lies in the work God does inside of you, so get on your knees every chance you get and surrender, trust, listen, and obey the Spirit. If you don’t already, learn to love worship, to be comfortable with the gifts of the Spirit, and to recognize the power and presence of God in every thing and in every place.
And remember to enjoy yourself. Listen to me, please: there is no point in pining away wishing for home all year long. Home will be there at the end. You signed up for a year of abandonment, of being away from home, of having hard, uncomfortable moments, of desiring God more than anything else. Let yourself feel your homesickness when it hits hard, but you will create a lot more memories and develop a lot deeper relationships if you live in the blessing of the present as much as possible.
Marvel at God’s creation.
Beautiful sunsets every night in Honduras.
Pray in the car, in bed, in the shower, during ministry, walking to the store, swimming, dancing…
Laugh hard and loud when things are funny…realize that laughter is the alternative to irritation when it comes to the nonstop miscommunications that land you in strange circumstances.
Cry openly and vulnerably when things are hard. People won’t judge you or mock you; they will usually just trust you more for being so open.
Celebrate when you get through something tough. Have hard, intentional conversations…don’t gossip.
Talk about Jesus in normal conversation…He is there, after all, why not include Him?
Get outside your comfort zone with your team; ask them about their best friends and families. Learn to pray over each other in all circumstances.
Go on fun adventures; some of the funnest moments happen when you walk out the front door of where you are staying. Scare yourself a little bit with your daring. Raft the Nile, bungee jump, volcano surf, ride elephants, jump off of waterfalls…you get the picture.
Chris and I riding an elephant in Thailand, and Nicole jumping off of a waterfall.
Seek people out in ministry, and pursue relationship with them each time you see them. Serve your ministry contacts every way you can think of.
Dance in the kitchen, in the rain, on mountaintops, on beaches, in hotels, in airports, and everywhere else.
When you need a day to stay back and rest, take it occasionally, but fight the desire to do it every time you have the urge.
Read the Bible more than you read anything else.
Eat the food with daring and appreciation, marveling at the flavors and combinations you would have never thought of.
Justin Marshall is an amazing photographer and fellow squad mate.
Women, you will probably gain some weight. Men, you will probably lose some muscle mass. Don’t lose sleep over it; workout when you can, but this year is about developing inner beauty, not having a great body. The gym will still be there when you get home. (I could really afford to take my own advice here.)
And finally, pray diligently that you will learn who you are in Christ. “Identity” is one of those words I heard repeatedly since training camp, but only recently have I prayed deeply into and realized the power within it.
Not sure if any of this advice is really helpful to any of you future racers, but it was kind of fun to write it. I can’t wait to read your blogs and see how your journey is going!