The silence emanating from the room was eerie. As I walked in between the rows of baby cribs at an orphanage just north of Rio de Janiero, 18 small children lay virtually motionless in their cribs. No volunteers had visited in the past week, and the staff had neither enough time nor hands to provide the affection the children desired and required. My heart plummeted into my stomach as child after child appeared to be more like emotionless, unresponsive dolls than children. Two beautiful, tiny hands poked up above the wall of one of the cribs in the far left corner. I walked over and scooped up a lovely little girl named Jennifer. As time passed however, Jennifer was not the one being held; rather, she was now the one holding me with such a tight grasp that I could barely breathe. Tears began streaming down my face as the words, "This is not okay" played over and over in my head.
After spending a couple weeks playing with and caring for these children, I returned to Cornell University to finish my fourth year in a PhD program focusing on leadership within education. At the forefront of my mind remained the horrific reality that millions of powerless orphaned and abandoned children are suffering in unthinkable conditions. Knowing these children had no more responsibility for the horrendous realities in their lives than I did for the incredible blessings in my life led me to re-evaluate my ambitions and priorities.
Two months later, while flying home to the warmth of Florida for spring break, I was praying about how I might be able to do one last study for my dissertation that while also connecting people with opportunities to serve children in need. Then it hit me. There was a way, albeit an outrageous way, to do both!
Driven by my relationship with Christ and verses such as James 1:27 ("Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world"), I set the most challenging goal of my life.
On January 28, equipped with a backpack, laptop, cellphone, some Brooks running gear and a few energy bars, I started walking north from Miami on a 3,475-mile journey to San Francisco to raise awareness and support for orphans.
The purpose of the walk is to raise awareness and support for the millions of orphaned and abandoned children in our world by partnering with an incredible organization, The Global Orphan Project. The GO Project makes it possible to impact the trajectory of the lives of children and communities in tangible ways by providing school uniforms for orphans in Uganda and Haiti. Without these uniforms, the children in these communities are not allowed attend school. The dividing line between being able to earn and education or being locked out of school and into poverty can literally be a school uniform. We can help blameless children be free of this ludicrous truth.
Sponsoring a school uniform actually supports three things: a uniform for a child, job creation in impoverished communities, and funds to provide food, shelter and care for orphans in 16 countries! So far, more than 1,700 orphans and other children living in rags are receiving a school uniform. In addition to school uniforms being donated and jobs being created for parents in the same impoverished communities to sew the uniforms together, as much as $17,000 has been raised to provide food, shelter, and care for orphans!
I absolutely love the GO Project's proactive, preventative approach to serving children in need through school uniforms because it funds orphan care through addressing two deep, systemic reasons why millions of children are facing these tragic conditions: educational inequality and the pervasive unemployment throughout our most impoverished communities.
So far, I have walked through Miami, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Nashville, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver and eastern Utah. Blisters, pains, mountains, illnesses, almost getting smacked by several cars and intense temperatures have made this journey perhaps the most challenging thing I have ever done. However, incredible blessings have shaped this adventure into one of the most beautiful times in my life as well. LegacyChamp.com came on board to sponsor the expenses for the walk and offer the 350,000 Mile Challenge, an opportunity for people to get active in regards to fitness and caring for orphans. My friend Dusty bought me a van for a support vehicle. My incredible friends have rotated through to walk with me and drive the support vehicle. One of the greatest obstacles was figuring out where and how I would sleep during my slow migration across the nation. Incredibly, families and churches have opened their homes and sanctuaries every single one of the more than 220 nights so far! I have the tremendously peaceful opportunity to listen to and reflect deeply on novels like War and Peace and Pride and Prejudice and lectures on prayer, joy, temptation, and theology for six hours every day. Finally, I have witnessed the lives of dozens of people being transformed as they make their own decisions to begin serving orphaned and abandoned children in our country and our world.
With the western edge of the Rockies, the Utah and Nevada deserts, and the snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountains on the horizon, the last 1,000 miles will certainly be extremely challenging. A donation of two pennies per mile is $20 and will provide one school uniform for a child in need! When you sponsor a school uniform, you support three things: a uniform for a child, job creation in impoverished communities, and orphan care!
Go to GoWalkAmerica.org to follow the blog and connect and share through social media. Also, visit https://goproject.org/go-threads/ to learn more about how you can impact education, communities, and orphan care through the simple and beautiful donation of school uniforms.