As mentioned previously, I spent the last week at AIM headquarters in Gainesville doing SearchLight. It was wild, and I’ve got some course corrections and new insights to share. Those will be for later.
It was also an incredible time for me to reconnect with the AIM community and catch up with some old companions from G Squad that I haven’t seen for 2.5 years! And with one Carly Farver, the catchup entailed our wandering into a debrief of sorts. We didn’t talk about our teams or our squadmates, or about what we did, where we went, or how we changed. Instead we simply beheld the Race as a whole, and stared in wonder.
The feelings of awe begin simply with a look at the main World Race homepage, and again seeing these familiar pictures: weathered, dirty feet over a rustic floor; a hundred energetic children, bouncing and worshiping in an anonymous African church; smiling Racers banded together against a bright pastel backdrop, which could be anyplace anywhere in Latin America. These vignettes, juxtaposed with artful care, immerse us again in this wonderful adventure that bound us up in its arms for a year. They evoke the energy and confusion and endless variety and strange emergent hope that shoots through this unique rite of passage that is now a part of us. They draw us back into its secrets and its untold, untellable stories.
To what can I compare the World Race?
To begin the Race I board a flight from Los Angeles to Manila, crossing the Pacific in 14 hours of elongated darkness. To my senses, it is late on a Saturday night in LA when I step into this long tunnel, populated by rows of seats and rimmed with windows into a black void. For some reason I sit in this tunnel for half a day, eat and drink intermittently, doze and awake in spurts to discover that I am still in the strange tunnel, the windows still revealing blackness. And then suddenly, somehow, we land in Manila, and it is Monday morning! As if waking up from a tepid dream, I step out of the tunnel and into new light, dazed and groggy and quite amazed.
The Race is somehow like that. It’s confusion and it’s discomfort, and it is full of inexplicable wonder.
What else is the Race like?
Some of the most amazing times are the re-gatherings of the squad at debriefs, when all of our disparate teams come together again and share stories, rest, worship, and regroup for the next leg of the journey. There is this undeniable feeling of having been out there, and then coming back to camp with the rest of our young battalion, each unit showing new battle scars and also speaking of new joys and victories.
The magic of the debrief is like hiking between a series of old Mayan pyramids rising up out of a dense interminable jungle landscape. Or, it is as though a squad of Racers sit in a large dormitory together, and all at once fall asleep into their own vivid dreams for three weeks, and then awake all at once and try to relate their dreams to each other. But, it can’t be done. The memories and the richness slip away even while we speak, and we discover that we ourselves don’t even understand what we just experienced.
At these times when we momentarily wake from our dream states, there is no way for any of us to truly understand where the others have been in the preceding weeks. There is no way for us to relate the full depth and heartache and exuberance of our stories to one another at these gatherings. Words are inadequate vessels for the choking, hiccuping light struggling to break out of each of us. No, the true depth in our debriefs is not in the words exchanged, but in the quiet camaraderie forming amongst us — the gritty formation of Jesus in each of our faces; the confrontation of darkness in each of our souls; the unpredictable advancement of the Kingdom of God, outpouring without reason through each of our hands. None of it makes sense, but we partake in this beautiful nonsense together. All we can do is give thanks, worship passionately, pray for one another, and laugh deep old laughs.
The World Race is like that, if that’s any help at all.
The days pass by into a growing blur of colors and smells, into vast movements of transformation and upheaval within our hearts, frequently passing by unknown to us, unfolding outside the dark windows of the plane, in the realm of the Spirit. And then without warning we each arrive at Manila, Hong Kong, Nairobi, Kiev, and San José; we arrive at joy and gratitude and humility and brokenness, where before there was pride and hardness and jealousy; and most of us arrive at desperation for God; and then we arrive home, the Race finished, and we wonder how we got there. And we emerge into sunlight again, and we’re still groggy, still waking up. The journey is not complete, not by a long shot, but the Race is over.
And years later, we see these vignettes on the World Race website, and scattered across the multiplying blogs of new squads. We re-encounter these old colorful Latin facades, these withered Ukrainian grandmothers, these beaming Filipino children, these hopeful African youths, these American feet wrapped in weatherbeaten Chacos, these familiar figures sleeping and eating and worshiping together in the most unfamiliar of places … and we say: I was there!
… I think.
But I’m not even sure anymore. The memories are blurred, the sagas all run together, the stories told so many times that I can’t even recall if it was my own or my teammate’s. It doesn’t matter where I’ve been, or what I’ve done. All I know is that I went, I ran the Race, and I’ve been changed forever.
And for that, I am so deeply grateful. I am undeserving of such an extraordinary rite of passage.
The storyteller in me, though, wants to upturn some of the dormant stones in my journey. There were things that happened out there that I just couldn’t write about yet. I didn’t understand them yet, or they were too hard, or I didn’t even notice them until hindsight brought things into focus. So in the next few weeks I hope to relate a few lost sagas from my journey. In the meantime, hopefully what I’ve written above serves as a useful (re)introduction.