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When God Said, ‘Scale The World Race For a Movement’

I was on a morning run in Swaziland in 2007. I have a practice of praying as I run. And sometimes I hear what I sense is the voice of God whispering. Sometimes his voice is so clear and compelling that it is unmistakable, but often it is just a whisper. Why does he do this? My best guess i…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I was on a morning run in Swaziland in 2007. I have a practice of praying as I run. And sometimes I hear what I sense is the voice of God whispering. Sometimes his voice is so clear and compelling that it is unmistakable, but often it is just a whisper.

Why does he do this? My best guess is that he wants us to fully inhabit our lives. He wants us to walk in freedom, pausing when we need to talk to him about tough decisions. He doesn’t want us functioning as automatons, but to live as his sons and daughters. At the same time, he tells us to ask for wisdom and he wants to share his dreams.

The World Race was a dream God shared with my friend Anna Marie Franken before he shared it with me in 2004. She told me about her idea of taking people around the world in a year when we worked together in Swaziland. I dismissed it initially – “too much of a sightseeing thing,” I said.

But when I met Anna Marie in the Capetown airport a year later and we talked about it, the idea exploded in my spirit. I had this incredible sense of possibility around it and a sense that I had to do that dream right away. In fact, I began working on it as soon as I got home.

And on that morning run in what is now called Eswatini, talking to him about that dream, I heard his voice whispering to me, “Scale this for a movement.”

14 years later I realize that I needed so much more information. I could have been more curious, less prone to action. I could have asked, “What is a movement?” Is it something that has its own internal momentum, something that is owned by a large, organic group of people doing something together?

Or I could have asked, “How do I scale this one-year journey with 50 people to something that many others can join?” Or, “What does the word “scale” mean in scope and speed?”

But I’m an action-forward guy. I didn’t ask those questions. I had what I figured were marching orders. I interpreted “scale this for a movement” as “grow it big and grow it fast!”

And we did. We added staff. We recruited alumni to come work with us. We organized and we built infrastructure. We built a risk management team. We added more staff. And eventually, it caught up with us.

At first, the World Race felt like a movement as young people were thrust into situations where they needed God. We were trying to model Jesus’s approach in Matthew 10 where he sends his disciples out to minister on their own.

Right off the bat, we trusted our first three teams in 2006 to lean into God’s provision to go around the world in a year.

We gave them each $3000 and said, “Go from Brownsville, TX all the way to Palenque, Mexico where you’ll meet your contact and do ministry for a month.”

And, off they went! They each bought a used van and drove it south. It was the early days of blogging. Jessica Sisson and Kim Kinsley were a couple of the racers who described the journey. In so doing, they took us, their readers, along with them.

I remember Kim’s report from the village of Teapa. Torrential rains flooded the village. But that didn’t stop Kim and Jessica – the next morning, they were able to borrow kid’s bikes to get around.

It was so unexpected. So oddly thrilling to watch them at a distance encountering obstacles that required that they lean into God in new ways. And as we read their stories, we were transported along with them to a place where God was enough no matter what happened.

But 14 years later, as I reflect on scaling for a movement, I see that God was not saying “grow it big and grow it fast!” He had something else in mind.

As I look at Jesus’s process with his disciples, it was actually a slow, small start. Three years with just 12 people. Lots of failure. In the end as Jesus was dying on the cross, his disciples had abandoned him – he had apparently failed to establish the kingdom. It just took them a long time to begin to see what Jesus had in mind and change their behavior.

And so, it’s taken time, but I’ve learned a few things. And I’m not done. I’m leaning into what God is doing that may yet become a movement. For example, in 2006, the Lord spoke to me about helping women to find a safe place where they could share about the abuse and shame they’d experienced and hidden.

It became a ministry called “Beauty For Ashes.” It is small, but it has such an impact on participants. All I can do is be a cheerleader and watch the women lead. It is growing and its leaders are patient and take the time to go at God’s pace. Maybe that’s the movement that God wants to scale.

In the meantime, we’ve been retooling the World Race. There’s a program for Gap Year students. We focus on sustainability and local relationships. It too profoundly touches the lives of its participants.

We’re committed to learning from past mistakes. Maybe that’s what God had in mind all along.

He knows me. He built me to move fast. Maybe he knew that we’d fall down, dust ourselves off, and get back up. Maybe this was part of his notion of “scaling” all along.

I don’t know – I’m getting to be an old man now. I’ve not arrived and I’m still leaning in and listening. I hear him saying, “you’re not done.” Maybe that’s enough.

Comments (35)

  • Seth, thanks for your transparent humility…it has been quite a ride…the ups are exciting.but the downs are pretty hard to take…. not sure hey we always miss the fact that in our modern ideas and minds…Jesus would be a complete and total failure…. he was always concerned about that one….and when things starting getting too big…he took a nap…went for a walk…looking forward to see what comes next…

  • Yes, Seth! I believe your last words are profound. He is telling you, “you aren’t done”. I believe that is enough…..He will be speaking to you and to all of us, how to steward and continue this great dream of HIS.

  • Yes, Seth, as long as we have breath, the finish line is ahead. Your faith bathed in humility inspires and invites others to keeping pressing in by grace through faith. Thank you.

  • Many thanks to you and Anna Marie for hearing the Lord’s voice with the The World Race all those years ago. I can tell you, that without fail, even 15 year’s later, God is still using my WR experience in so many aspects of my life almost every single day. I couldn’t imagine where I’d be without it. Keep up the good work! I’m already talking to my kids about the Gap year program when they become of age. I love the work AIM is doing!

    • You were there! You saw it happening in real time, Sarah. It makes me happy to know that God is still using your WR experience in your life. I’ll look for your kids on Gap Year!

  • It’s great that you’re seeking snd listening for possible changes. Personally, as a inner city mission ministry leader, I’d rather have two long term interns six months or more than 10 Mission students for just one month. That puts so much work on the ministry they are their to help such as looking for or providing housing and training what they’re all about it also gives very little time to build trust with the people they are there to serve. But on the other hand I’m sure for the racers going to so many countries must be pretty stretching , eye opening and possibly awesome. It certainly expands their world. So it comes down to what is the mission you are after. What is the fruit you hope to see? I’m Very much about stopping for the ONE.Not big numbers and not going short term to so many places . But that’s just my focus. You will certainly hear the Lord for this next season for the World Race. You’ve done some amazing things with that ministry. But seasons change. Looking forward to seeing what’s next.

  • Thank you for persevering and modeling to the rest of us what it looks like to lean in and listen. It’s a difficult practice, especially in today’s world where we’re surrounded by so much noise

  • Thanks for being along on the ride, Dave. I have loved partnering with you. You have given so much and I’ve seen so much fruit come off your life!

  • Thanks, son. I’ve loved our adventures together over the years. And it is such a gratifying thing to see you leading so well. You are a blessing to many.

  • Sue – so good to hear from you! You know sometimes I’ll walk downtown Gainesville and Connie will stop me to introduce me to some past Ambassador alumnus who is doing great things now. Your fruit lives on!

    Thanks for the encouragement. Yes – I’m definitely well-seasoned!

  • thanks for sharing, you’ve impacted so many lives. you know a tree by its fruit. you’re not old! your greatest days are ahead. still pray for yall

  • This is good Seth!
    God knows you, He built you, and You hear Him saying “you’re not done”. Amen & Amen!

    I pray for those who will follow your lead to continue to learn a few more things while listening and leaning into what God is doing. As you continue to demonstrate your commitment to partner with him, many remain committed to partner with you.. We can trust him to direct or redirect and adjust your steps in the movement to fulfil his plan…that is enough.

  • I still talk about the World Race all the time (original squad A 2007!) and how it shaped me into who I am now. Even though it was full of twists and unexpected turns at the time, it was still one of the most formative experiences of my life. Thanks for saying Yes.

  • Loved being part of building the infrastructure! And so blessed to still follow the ongoing adventures of so many alumni on social media. Part of the movement is watching how they interwove this adventure and calling into their lives. Thanks for the years of walking alongside as families in ministry. Miss you and your clan ??

    • It has been a fun ride. And you were essential in crafting it, Serena.

      We know a few things are still in true: Young people are desperate to know that there is a God and that he is good and that he cares about them. And they need a journey to find him.

  • It was always an privilege to have the students at our home. 2 years ago the planning was to have students staying with us for a long time. We received 50.000 books of Jesus Messiah to share at schools all over eSwatini. Corona happened and all the students left the country. The books however have gone all over eSwatini with the help of many organisations. Yet, the schools did not receive the books. We are receiving another 50.000 books and will definitely take them to the schools. If world racers want to come they are more than welcome. Thanks Seth for being a friend and a great blessing to us.

  • Thanks, Michelle. The best is yet to come. This is just an interim report – a place marker for future generations to show them “it’s too early to give up.”

  • I am remembering ten years ago today- Landing on American soil after my own 11 months on the World Race. God used it as such a beautiful and formative experience in my life. I couldn’t be more grateful for all the work God has done through you Seth, and the impact you’ve had on mine and countless lives! Sending love to the whole family 🙂

  • I’ve always respected your combination of vision, risk, faith, empowerment and extreme humility. You’re one of the top leaders I’ve ever had the privilege to follow! Keep sharing all your lessons learned…they’re gold! Love you Seth!

  • Thanks, Vanessa. Your best years are ahead. I keep believing in the destiny I first saw in you on the WR – same as the WR itself. It’s 1 Cor. 13:12

  • Amen Sue! We are definitely not done yet. I think about all the lessons we’ve learned along the way – we’re just now ripe to really do something. 🙂

  • I recently read an article that said after extensive research they found the most productive years of life is between the age of 60 and 70. So we’re not old….we’re in our most productive season of life. I’m excited to see how God directs AIM. It’s been a blessing to be a part of Beauty for Ashes for the past 6 years and I hope for many more.

    Thank you for being who God created you to be…He may have built you to move fast, and I would say that the fruit has been evident even if there are things you’ve had to learn along the way. You’ve allowed so many to learn along with you. Blessings

  • Seth, to me you are a hero in the faith! I need more of your action-oriented mindset…but more so, I need some of the humility that jumps off what I’m reading on this screen. Thank you for challenging me and getting my eyes up since the day I first met you.

    • Nate – you’re gracious, I appreciate it. Yes, we need the body of Christ to get to the place where we are fully functioning. Hi to Moriah and blessings on your growing family this Thanksgiving!

  • I have a high school student in our youth group who is considering the WR Gap Year for 2023. . . so in browsing what’s up, I came upon this post.

    Thanks for the behind the scenes look at the evolution of AIM.

    Whether (as you say) you listened well or not in those early days, you did START, which is everything.

    Sometimes, those with ideas from God ruminate on them, talk about them with others, and then nothing happens. I say, better to be covered with water, splashing and crying out than sitting on the shoreline, wondering what God has in mind. Of course, we learn a lot more about ourselves while splashing, don’t we?

    Once we push off the shoreline and move into deeper water, we encounter God’s workers at labor, and when we join in, we benefit from their perspiration, as they from ours.

    Life is better when lived fully and BEST when lived with our ears tuned to the spirit and our hands to his work.

    May God continue to bless you, Seth, and bless and inspire and challenge AIM.

    • Well said, Matt. And we learned so much about discipleship and scaling and Jesus’ methods. So, with this next go-around, we are so much better prepared!

      Thanks for the encouragement.

  • I agree with Sarah, The Lord showed me so many things during my time on The Race, and is still using those experiences to show the love and provision He has for me. I’m starting a woodworking company in hopes of mentoring high school and college aged guys, to offer them something like what I had on The Race and to teach them about the truths I’ve learned from God’s word.

    I thank God for you Seth as your ministry has made a huge impact on my life and my whole family.

  • Your last paragraph is what caught my heart….

    “I don’t know – I’m getting to be an old man now. I’ve not arrived and I’m still leaning in and listening. I hear him saying, “you’re not done.” Maybe that’s enough.”

    I’m a little bit older than you are and I think I like the word “seasoned” better than “old”. And I’m hoping that the seasoning He continues to do in my life means there’s still time for “new things” to occur and ways to use me, despite being older and more (hopefully) mature. With age, comes experience (we have a ton!) and wisdom from lessons learned.

    I agree…. we have not arrived… not by a long shot. May we never fully “arrive” until we “arrive” at our final destination!! So much more to gain from this life… and no, we are not done. That leaning in, the listening…. may we never stop, whatever the age/number the years land us on.

    I’m encouraged by what you’ve shared, Seth. I’m grateful to the Lord for the time He allowed me to have in GA – what I gained from what I got to learn and experience impacted my life in many ways.God has been faithful to me. May He continue to grow and to bless you, dear sir….

    Prayers of blessing on the ministry…..

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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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