He stood as another passenger in LAX Airport chaos, and overcome by the reality of the year-long trip of a lifetime, which he was now committed to. This day, Jan. 1, 2010, Austin Robertson had more thought of what he was leaving behind than any anticipation of the adventure ahead.
This journey would be an extended team mission trip throughout 12 different countries around the world. It was no typical happy New Years for Robertson, as he held his boarding pass in hand with mixed emotion. To where, he knew, but exactly how drastically the next 12 months would impact his life was uncertain.
This was the beginning, the starting line. This was the World Race.
After first a week of team training in New Zealand, in the following three months he and fellow teammates traveled to Australia, the Philippines and Malaysia as they worked alongside various missions organizations.
Prior to departure, in his personal World Race blog he wrote, “We will be meeting these people ‘right where they are,’ and that means far more than just physically meeting them in their country. Therefore, I expect that my heart will break for them, and I hope it does. It’ll be through that brokenness that Christ will be able to use me to share his love for them. May I not forget that I was lost once too.”
The month of May brought them to Thailand, Robertson’s favorite and most memorable experience of the whole Race tour. It was here they were touched by their time with the girls of “Remember Nhu,” a communal home and school for girls ages 7-17 from poor rural families who would have likely otherwise sold them into the sex slave trade.
The World Race continued as his team journeyed throughout Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda where they experienced the poverty and culture firsthand in small mud huts with natives who shared conversations of Christ and His people.
In September, Race teams from various parts of the world all reconvened in Ireland for a week together before his team’s final three month’s assignments throughout Ukraine, Romania and Moldova.
The adventure of travel and joy of cultivated relationships within teams and groups was also met by the reality of personal sacrifice, hardship and discomfort. Several cases of malaria and typhoid among teammates made their time in Kenya challenging. Robertson specifically remembers a 15-hour long bus ride traveling a bumpy dirt road, scrap metal in place of windows as dust filled the humid air and clothes of passengers. Before arrival, they discovered that a group of their teammates had been robbed at gunpoint, which required a change of plans to help establish new U.S. passports.
Yet, they still made time for recreation they would not soon forget, which included elephant riding, petting tigers, white water rafting down the Nile River and zip-lining through the jungle. Each experience during their stay in countries provided new and memorable tastes of each culture. Robertson recalls eating duck embryo in Philippines known as “balut,” and indulging in “the latest catch” mystery meat offered by locals in smaller fishing villages.
After the extent such life-changing experiences as teams were often physically, emotionally and spiritually tested, “The hardest adjustment culturally was actually coming back here to the United States again . . . [this trip] has changed what I think about day to day; it changes the way in which I see the value of daily work, even when I’m not on a mission trip . . . I see the eternal value in the work that I’m a part of. It’s helped me live a much more purposeful life here and the way lives are being lived around the world . . . it’s increased the way I know the way others are living simultaneously around the world.”
This perspective spurs his teaching through the challenge of David Platt’s “Radical”: “taking back Christianity from the American Dream” with his Gateway class this year.
The course, entitled “Every tribe, tongue and nation” he began teaching in Aug. 2012. “I chose our Gateway topic because I want students to have more of an idea of what the Lord is doing all over the world, not just here in the states . . . and that we’re called to be part of that work,” he said.
This May he will also be accompanying some education, biology, and family and human students for a month long trip to Uganda.
Prior to The World Race, Robertson spent two years as a residence hall director at John Brown University and completed a Master’s degree in ministry with an emphasis in higher education. Today he is also Coordinator of Student Success in addition to organizing events for commuter students and Gateway teaching. And time with students isn’t limited by office hours; he becomes personally involved in their lives, such as through bonfires for fellowship and food and camping with his Gateway class to Devil’s Den State Park.
Matt Abbott, a junior this year and mentor for Robertson’s class, said, “I’ve appreciated seeing Austin’s heart for people to become engaged in God’s global kingdom through their specific purpose.”
“He’s sincere and genuine with a diligent work ethic in all he does. And through that, he easily throws himself into everything, which serves the campus well,” said Frank Huebert.
Concluding his trip in Nov. 2011, after traveling around the world, working with 20 different ministries throughout 12 countries and a total estimated 66 hours of flying, Robertson blogged, “This is something that’s going to continue long after the Race for me…we follow a God who redeems, who refines, and who removes…a God who is looking to do this through people [during] their time on earth. That is my desire, and I’m honored that he’s making me more like his Son and preparing me for the highest calling a person can have in their life . . . a Kingdom builder.”