Pedaling Justice

by Howard Pinderventure

Miles covered: 1,700 and as many more to go.

Weeks of riding: four, with four remaining.

Cyclists: 15.

Flat tires: 25 and counting.

Broken bones: two.

One month after leaving Seattle, Wash., for Rockaway Beach, N.Y., the group is a little less shiny, significantly more sun-bronzed, and a lot stronger (and wearier) than they were at the outset.  Are they having fun yet?

The objective is neither fun nor even fitness (although they’re getting plenty of both), but rather humanitarian fundraising.  The 12 team members and three leaders are riding to help support a community center in Thailand that provides education for children and a refugee care point on the border of Burma and Thailand that provides food, shelter, and other basic needs.  Both are projects of Venture Expeditions, a nonprofit that seeks to link people’s desires to help the world with their sense of adventure.

This expedition, which left Seattle in June and is due to arrive in New York City in August, is just one of many charitable adventures that take place each year. In addition to the eight-week cross-country trip, there are 10-day cycling trips, hiking treks, and running trips.

The expeditions involve no small sacrifice for their members.  For this particular cross-country venture, members had to raise $5,500 each—$1,000 is donated off the top to the sponsored projects, and the balance is used for food, equipment, and other trip expenses.  Since meals are routinely provided by overnight hosts, there is often leftover food money, which also goes to the projects.

Like other teams that go out from Venture Expeditions, this one is struggling not only through the physical challenge involved but also through the emotional adjustment of spending every waking moment as part of a team.  Several people in the group have mentioned the lack of alone time as the most difficult aspect of the trip. When asked how they do it, they refer to a team motto: “Be like spandex.”  In other words—be flexible.

Many of the riders were looking for a cross-country ride regardless, and when they found an organization that met that need but also served a greater purpose they jumped at the chance. In total the team will raise approximately $20,000 to be given directly to the nonprofits in Thailand.

The thrills of the trip go past just the physical excitement (including some negative excitement like injuries and flat tires) and include the joy of raising money for a cause and the joy of new friendships. Because Venture Expedition is a faith-based initiative, the team stays with churches and faith communities throughout the journey.

“Experiencing community with different churches has been amazing,” says Lauren Anderson, one of the team leaders and an intern with Venture. “I have really seen the unity of the church. Across all denominations and regardless of whether they are urban, rural, or suburban churches, we have received generosity and compassion at every turn.”

“Experiencing community with different churches has been amazing,” says Lauren Anderson, one of the team leaders and an intern with Venture. “I have really seen the unity of the church. Across all denominations and regardless of whether they are urban, rural, or suburban churches, we have received generosity and compassion at every turn.”

When the team stays at a local church, they also attend worship at that church. The team educates the congregation about the people and causes that they are riding for. Anderson shared with one congregation that compassion means to co-suffer with people.  She told them that a lot of the trip is about being uncomfortable, like riding for 113 miles one day and getting up to ride another 109 the next.  She told them that the trip is about sacrificing one’s own comforts and desires in order to give people in other parts of the world an education and protect them from being trafficked.

People on the team come from all different walks of life, and several have even given up their jobs to take part.   Team members experience the expedition in different ways. Some have focused on justice to fuel the passion. Others focus on creating relationship with the people they meet.pedaling_n

Others have joined up to get out of their comfort zones. After working hard for several years to plant a church, Alex from Texas realized he was getting very comfortable. “How can we trust God if we have nothing to trust him with?” he wondered.  He realized he needed to do something that he couldn’t do without God. Being uncomfortable pushes you to places you never thought you could go, he realized, but the suffering of others keeps the physical pain and frustration of the expedition in perspective.  Sore muscles and an occasional flat tire don’t compare to not being able to feed your children.

Brittany from Arizona had been a missionary for four years in Turkey, but she had never really pushed herself physically as far as she could.  She heard about Venture Expeditions from Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and signed up for the cross-country cycling trip.  It was a great disappointment to her when she experienced nerve damage in her hand and had to leave the team in Minneapolis, but she plans to join up with them for the last long day in New Jersey.

At the halfway point, the team is starting to think about the end of the trip, seeing their families again, and doing something besides riding a bicycle for seven hours a day.   But as they keep on pushing their bodies to the limit, they think about the money and the awareness they are raising with every mile they pedal.

(Editor’s note: The trips mentioned in this article took place in 2013, but similar trips take place every year. Learn more at VentureExpeditions.org.)

Howard Pinder works as a chaplain at Einstein Hospital in Philadelphia. He loves riding his bike through the city.

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