JBU graduates join in World Race

Two John Brown University graduates plan to set off on an 11-month mission trip with the World Race.

The World Race is “a journey to 11 countries in 11 months to serve ‘the least of these’ while amongst real and raw community,” said World Race has been sending squads of young missionaries all over the world since 2006.

Dani Rogg, who graduated last May, and Bailey Balenti, who will graduate in December, will set off in January. Rogg will start her race in El Salvador and travel all over South and Central America, and Balenti will begin in South America, going on to South and Southeast Asia and ending in Eastern Africa.

“I couldn’t shake that idea of a calling,” Balenti said, speaking of when she first heard about the World Race. Balenti said she’s not sure that everyone hears a call like that, “but I know that ministry is what I’m called to, and World Race is just an avenue of that calling.”

Balenti applied in May thinking that just an inquiry couldn’t hurt and was accepted in June. All applicants to the World Race must go through online and phone interviews as well as a week-long training camp in order to get them ready for the challenges they’ll face.

Balenti said that training camp was very rough.

“There wasn’t one day that was more challenging than the others,” she said. She recounted sleeping outdoors almost every night, eating food from all over the world and experiencing intense team-building exercises and discussions.

“It’s about forming the community,” Balenti said.

Interdependence within travel groups is crucial to World Race’s mission. There are between 50 and 60 people on each route, forming a squad, and within the squad, several teams of six to eight.

Squad members work through emotional baggage during their training, making sure their spiritual lives are on track to serve to the best of their abilities on the field.

“What your relationship with the Lord looks like now directly reflects what it looks like on the field,” Balenti said. “You can’t slack.”

Austin Robertson, John Brown’s coordinator of student success, agreed. He went on the World Race in 2010, directly after graduate school. He recounted a time in his third month of the race when his squad was serving in the Philippines.

“I just thought, ‘I have so much left to go,’ ” Robertson said. He felt tired, unsure if he’d be able to finish the race.

“You’re kind of glad at the point when all the excitement has worn off because you can finally get down to the business of why you came,” he said. “You stop thinking about how much of the race you’ve done and how much you have left, and you just serve and love.”

Robertson called his experience on the race “a huge adventure.” He told stories of petting tigers and riding elephants in Thailand, of door-to-door evangelism at mud huts in Kenya and Uganda, of overnight ministry in a park in Australia. Once, in Tanzania, one of the teams on his squad was robbed at gunpoint. Another time, in Thailand, he and the men on his squad were asked to put out a fire.

The World Race promotes service all across the spectrum, from manual labor and agricultural education to straight evangelism and preaching.

“It taught me what it looked like to serve wholeheartedly and to serve out of love,” Robertson said. “I would hope that I’ve learned to serve and love every day here as I did on the trip.”

But Robertson said he learned as much as he taught.

“God is already at work in all these places,” he said. “We didn’t take Him to them. He’s already there.”

As for Balenti, she still has some fears as she prepares for her journey.

“What if I’m not able to disconnect from my world back home?” she said. “There’re comfort zones here. It’s going to be painful in the beginning, but I want to be able to leave one hundred percent and fully engage in the work God has put in front of me in the next year.”

Balenti says she’s already starting to learn trust and dependence as she gets to know her teammates and raises support for her trip.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to adventure with God, to experience parts of His creation that I’ve never seen, whether that’s places or people,” she said. “But especially people.”