Is the World Race Effective in Preparing You for Long-Term Missions?

I heard Thavry’s story the last day I was at the orphanage.

Through broken English, our translator told the story of a nine-year-old girl who had stolen my heart. My team had been in Cambodia for a month on the Race, and this beautiful soul was so full of life and joy. We communicated through hand gestures and would pick flowers together. I couldn’t imagine the horror of what she had experienced, the pain she’d known.

Thavry had been sex-trafficked when she was only seven years old.

“Teacher McKenna!”

She ran up to me with hands clasped behind her back, her bare feet making little clouds of dust on the ground we stood. Her navy-blue school skirt swished around her legs as she stopped in front of me, out of breath. From behind her back, she presented another colorful array of wildflowers and handed them to me.

“For me?” I gasped. “Thank you. They’re so beautiful.”

She motioned for me to bend down and put a big orchid in my hair. “Beautiful.” She clapped her hands, giggling in delight as she looked up at me. Her gorgeous brown eyes sparkled in the fading sunlight. Those brown eyes had seen things I can’t imagine. I longed to be able to help her, to tell her that she is worth more than what those people did to her. That she didn’t have to earn my love through giving flowers.

 But I could do nothing more than smile and show her that she was loved by being her friend.

Thavry’s story changed my Race.

My passion for people and their stories grew as I continued to meet new people and see lives transform before my eyes. Thavry is one of the few people who taught me how to love without asking for anything in return. I learned how to communicate and share God’s love without a commonly shared language, and while that was challenging, the joy of seeing a relationship built through giving each other flowers made it all worth it.

I’ve been told it takes a certain kind of person to be a missionary.

A missionary is someone who is willing to get dirty, hug children and know you might get lice, be flexible, be willing to change, try new foods–including bugs–and not be afraid of sleeping while mice walk on your hands. A week into the Race, I was hit with the realization that this wasn’t the adventure I was expecting.

I knew a lot of missionary stories and was fully aware of the trials and hardships that would probably come while being on the field. I knew former Racers who said it was challenging, but what could be so hard about traveling the world for nine months while sharing God’s love?

My experience on the Race taught me how to embrace hardships while choosing joy. I have learned to laugh when my expectations weren’t met. I realized that traveling itself doesn’t change you; it’s what God does in your heart through the process that leaves you different.

The World Race is an exploration of what it looks like to be a long-term missionary, but while you’re on it, you’re not yet committed to full-time ministry. It’s a stepping stone toward reaching where you want to be in the future. It teaches you what it’s like to go live in a culture where everything’s different–the language, the people, the food–and helps you discover what you’re passionate about and how that can be used to further God’s kingdom.

These next five points explore some of the most important focuses of the World Race and whether or not they are effective in preparing a future World Racer for long-term missions.

“Over the last nine months, God has taken me to incredible places. I’ve been able to see and experience brokenness. I’ve noticed that heaven is all around us, not necessarily just in the beauty of His creation, but also the people.” — Diego G, Gap Year Alumni

1) Experience Close Community

On the Race, you have constant community. You learn how to live in tight spaces with people who are different than you, love each other when you don’t always feel like it, and have grace for mistakes. The best memories I have of the race are with my team–they were genuine and authentic, and we could laugh in any situation. It was encouraging to constantly be surrounded by like-minded believers so far from home. We could pray over each other and challenge each other to remain focused. Being in community is not always easy, but it’s so good. We need people who encourage us, pray for us, and remind us why we’re doing what we’re doing.

2) Communicating Through Language Barriers

Language barriers were the one thing I wasn’t prepared for. I had to learn conversational phrases in four different languages, and I quickly realized the Race isn’t the time or place to become fluent in Spanish or Thai. Instead, I taught myself how to communicate with my hands while bargaining for my dinner in the street market. I focused on building friendships over a cup of coffee or little handfuls of wildflowers. Some Racers go back to a country they fell in love with and learn the language while building relationships through business. The World Race is a step that moves you from a place of having no experience in communication to showing you the importance of learning a language while investing in a culture.

3) Building Relationships with Local People and Communities

One of the primary focuses of the World Race is to “invest deeply into local communities while creating lasting relationships.” The gospel is much more effective in long-term missions when you build relationships first. Taking time to build a relationship with a barista in a coffee shop in Thailand and become friends with her is important because showing her you genuinely care about her as a person can lead to amazing conversations and openness, which can lead to Christ. Realizing this makes long-term missions feel less overwhelming and more doable–you can be a missionary in a coffee shop. You can share the Gospel doing anything. Ministry is about the people, and building relationships with those people is really important. You’re showing them you’re serious. You’re not looking for something out of them–you truly want to learn about their culture and become their friend.


4) Realizing Every Day Isn’t An Adventure

The World Race was one of the most adventurous things I’ve ever done. But if you go on the Race expecting every day to be exciting or picture-worthy, you will be disappointed. The Race prepares you well for full-time ministry in this way because life as a missionary is often filled with normal, day-to-day routines, which becomes boring and monotonous. It teaches you about reality. It doesn’t give you false expectation. The greatest adventure isn’t found in seeing every part of the country you’re in or in jumping off the highest cliffs in New Zealand. It’s in fighting to pour out every fiber of yourself out for Christ, emptying and surrendering every part of yourself as He gently, lovingly gives you the passion and love to keep going.

5) Discovering Your Passion and Learning How You Can Make a Difference in People’s Lives

World Race alumni have become passionate about making a difference in the world. Several have started businesses and ministry organizations that raise awareness of sex-trafficking, child labor, hunger, and the injustice of the caste system in India. My passion came out of the individuals I met on my Race–people like Thavry. God used the World Race to show me that I am passionate about building relationships and hearing people’s stories. This realization led me to come to Bethany Global University where I could live in community while pursuing my goal of becoming a full-time missionary.

Bethany Global University is an accredited college that will help you get on the field full-time. They teach you how to become fluent in a language, learn how to live in a culture for a longer period of time, and the effectiveness of discipleship while building relationships.

Though I didn’t feel fully equipped to launch myself into an unreached people group after the Race, it has prepared me for the reality of what life looks like on the field. God used the World Race to draw out my passions and show me how to pursue ministry where I am building relationships where I can disciple people. In the midst of that, I am learning their stories, sharing Jesus’ love, and be equipped for full-time ministry.

As you fully immerse yourself into the culture, you will find that all people long to be known and heard. Take your time to listen, learn, and adapt. Not only does the World Race prepare you to be an effective missionary, it will also change the way you live.

“The glorious thing is that it doesn’t ultimately matter where you decide to go. Surrender your will and intentions to Jesus, and He will direct your path.”

– Steve Eliason, BGU Professor of Intercultural Studies