It was one of the first cold mornings of the year. I had coffee plans with a friend, but as I made my way across the campus (i.e. Richland Avenue), one look at my car made me realize there was no way I was going to make it on time—my car was an ice cube. Almost literally. Frost covered every window and it was obvious there was no way I could drive until I started the car and watched it melt off the ice itself.
Frustrated, “Rats rats rat rats,” was all I could repeat in my head as I sat watching my breath, burrowing my hands under my arms, and waiting for the car to warm up. (Note to self: purchase an ice scraper very soon.) Luckily, my friend had just texted me saying his car was an ice cube as well and that he was running behind too. (Note to self: purchase a second ice scraper.)
Once I finally got to the coffee shop, I stood for a minute wondering whether or not I should order for the friend I stood waiting for. Indecisively, I made my way to the cashier and mumbled the words, “I’ll take the Rainforest Mocha, please.” I furrowed my brow and fumbled with my card when she replied, “That’ll be $4.37.”
You’d think I’d never ordered coffee before. You know those days when you just feel plain embarrassing? That was today. Clearly, this morning was still just beginning and I was struggling to find my groove far away from the struggle bus. A string of words in my head asked for all kinds of goodness in the hour to follow.
But when I turned around, I noticed my friend standing at the door of the coffee shop. “Hey!” we said in unison, along with a hug and a brief string of “how are you”s and so on. He laughed, “I was going to yell, ‘Hey, hurry up!’ when I saw you ordering,” and I laughed, “I wouldn’t have known what to do.” Seriously, he had no clue how bad I was struggling this morning. But somehow, the fact that we were both late and he was still willing to laugh it off made it better.
And with that, we made our way to a sunlight table. With my notebook and pen on the table, and a whipped cream topped mocha in hand, I said, “I just really want to hear your story.”
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Meet my friend Kevin Smith. Over a year ago when I was wrapped in Christmas paper like a big ‘ole gift and presented to the leaders of Young Life Nashville, Kevin was there with the rest of the Franklin Road Academy Wyldlife team to welcome me to the group. During the past two semesters, this dude and I have done ministry together like crazy at FRA. Through meeting practically every other Wednesday at 6:30-7 am for club, dressing up like old people for skit, and laughing at cats on Instagram, I have had the chance to get to know him, and this story he is living in the middle of.
Kevin grew up in the Virginia Beach area with his Filipino mother and retired Navy-man dad, who have a story together that will absolutely melt your heart—but that’s a story for another day. Kevin grew up in a small Christian school and later went on to attend Christopher Newport University just outside of Virginia Beach. He reflected on that transition, “I knew about this Christian thing, but you know how it is, I didn’t have those solid relationships in my life yet.”
For Kevin, though, a lot of things were set into motion beginning in a typical night in a college library. Invited by a group of passing friends to this neat little outfit known as YoungLife, Kevin began attending leadership training and was placed as a Wyldlife leader just two months later.
Through this ministry—which again, is another incredible story for another day—Kevin began making friendships and building relationships. One friend invited him to a summer refresher ministry known as DFocus, where Kevin met with the Lord in ways that he still talks about (seriously, he will rave and go on, story after story, about the memories and friends he had from this summer—so cool.) And eventually, just over a year ago, his story brought him to sweet little Nashville. Although tough struggles defined the beginning of his time in Music City, it was through those moments and the people he had met earlier that led him to a unique opportunity to serve the Lord: an eleven month mission trip around the world known as the World Race.
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When I told Kevin just before meeting with him best way I could contribute to his journey was to write about it to share with my own friends and family, he seemed hesitant. Honestly, the best way I can remember it, he seemed taken aback. I told him, “I just want to hear your story, what God is working in your life, and I want to share that with others. I want to raise support for this work by sharing it with others—my own friends, family, and peers– on my messy blog.”
And okay, I get how totally weird that must sound. (But guys, it’s such a good story. Keep reading.)
He seemed to stammer a bit, and he said, “I mean, honestly, it’s not an entirely happy story. I actually applied to the Race when I was in the pits.” But with that, I was immediately reminded of why I want so badly to share these things with others—with you. There’s this aching desire to tell a pained, hurt world, “Hey, these are the best stories. These are the stories that are brim-full of hot tears and stammering questions, but still prove themselves in the end to be even fuller of big purpose. These are the refining moments that turn all the gold, and it is so cool to see you play a part in that, to see you make use of this purpose.”
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Let me back up a little. The World Race has adopted the hashtag “11n11.” This ministry sends people in squads and teams on over a dozen different routes every year in hopes of reaching a lost world. The things that strike me are:
- It’s such a long trip reaching so many places.
- The Racers live out of backpacks.
- The Racers are smack dab in the middle of raw community with the natives they meet.
As both the website presents and Kevin’s experience so far reflects, the Race challenges Christ followers to live radically by trading in first-world luxuries and possessions for miles of hope to others who ache to know truth. These Racers seek to change lives for the Lord by making a radical commitment to live solely for the expression of his love in different countries around the globe.
Okay, so what does that look like for Kevin? That means he will travel to places like Haiti, Guatemala, Botswana, South Africa, etc. This route is not set in stone. And his only possessions for the entire way will be contained in a backpack. So, there’s that. Now we ask, “How in the world did he get roped in to signing up for such a crazy commitment?” Here’s how:
In the pits. For Kevin, his World Race journey began as a get-away. Although he has grown to love Nashville, during the first of his short time in the city, he struggled to find a place of community.
His solution? Travel to 11 countries in 11 months, proclaiming the Gospel every step of the way.
As he began to get further into the process of applying, being accepted, and then transitioning to training with the World Race program, he began to come across a lot of familiar faces. People he had met years ago—in YoungLife, Virginia Beach, college—began to intersect his path. Get this: the friend who invited him to DFocus summers ago served as a traveler with the World Race, and up until leaving Nashville just a couple of weeks ago, Kevin worked with her husband.
He asked me, “How crazy is that?” and all I could say was, “That’s a God-thing.”
All throughout this past fall, Kevin has been preparing for the trip. Sometimes that looked like benefit shows held at local coffee houses or houses. Other times that meant selling t-shirts with the world and a cool string of words on it. Most often that looked like asking for prayer, leaning on grace, and trusting in God’s provision.
The crazy thing is, throughout these experiences Kevin began to really find a home here in Nashville. Whether it was meeting up with even more connections and friends from years past, getting plugged in to a great church and small group (seriously, the guys bought him some materials for the trip—how awesome?!), or hanging out with his super great Wyldlife team, a lot of really cool things have been set up for my friend. “It sort of sucks that now that I’m loving Nashville, I have to leave again,” he continued, “But I know this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Another piece of preparation meant travelling to Georgia for a week-long training session with the rest of the Racers. He was given a lot of time outside, a little bit of a better idea of what to expect, and the honor of serving as team leader. Totally humbled, Kevin quickly realized that his role was unlike most other leadership positions. For his team, this will mean looking to Kevin throughout the 11 month journey in order to be pointed back to Jesus constantly. Not only will he have an incredible opportunity to serve the needs of the world, but he will also have the opportunity to serve his team.
As we talked more about what the race is like (which several friends who have done it previously have shared with him—again, another too-cool feat) he said, “I hear this is the hardest year of your life, but you don’t even realize it until you’re out there,” and continued, “Just growing with Him means hard times. But it’s so crazy because you look back and think, ‘man, so worth it.”
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Afterwards, in a short little 2 a.m. written reflection, I journaled: “Was so thankful to hear his story over coffee. Left inspired to not only share his story, but to love the Lord more humbly. Such a cool morning.”
So, I’m sharing this dude’s story with you because I believe in him and I believe in the work the Lord is doing through him. When I hear his story, I am reminded of how precious the people around us are, and how greatly they can impact our own stories.
I’m reminded life is composed of pits and mountains, and somehow it all works together in the way we need most—even when it doesn’t make sense.
I’m reminded that life is not a cookie-cutter mold, but is instead an invitation for us to make weird decisions, bold moves, and cartwheel all over this box someone a long time ago claimed we need to live in.
My friend Kevin embodies this crazy-awesome form of humility and God-driven grace, and the fact that he is so willing to be molded to that image inspires me to be closer to God. And honestly, if that’s the not the point of our lives, then I have absolutely misunderstood this Gospel message I have chosen to believe in.
In this next journey of Kevin’s life, creature comforts will be thrown out, replacing happy boundaries with risks such as sickness, food poisoning, and not to mention, very few showers. Eleven months of the little things that tie us where we are—things like parties, and coffee outings, and shopping excursions—will be put on hold. The stability of having both a car and a job have been sold and given up.
But with the kind of bold grace that I long for every day, Kevin said, “It’s not about me. The world is broken, people are crying, and God sees that. And He looks at us, and He’s like, ‘you’re my children, you’ve tasted my love.’ He needs us to share that with others, with this hurting world. And that can be anywhere, for anyone. But for me, this is the path I’m on. And it’s different.”
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We left the coffee shop the day before Thanksgiving. Now, as you and I shiver in January, Kevin’s journey is finally reaching full swing. He shipped off to Georgia yesterday, and will ship off overseas this weekend.
I’ve loved sharing Kevin’s story, but I know he can certainly tell you better than I can. Check out his blog powered by the World Race, and read about his story from the beginning. It’s so good, ya’ll. It’s the sort of thing you read when you need something to encourage and challenge you to keep walking this line of grace. And, support the dude. Write his name on a bookmark, on your mirror, on that lucky dollar bill in your wallet. Anything to remind you of the work his team will be doing these next several months, and lift them in prayer. Or, donate 5 bucks or so. While a lot of his money for the trip is already raised, he will be seeking the remainder of his support while on the trip.
Above all, praise the Lord for willing people and bold opportunities to give new meaning to living life to the fullest.
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