Traveling for faith

Story by Briana Gruenewald

While many imminent graduates are preparing to move back in with their parents or start new jobs, senior Katlyn Head is getting ready to leave the country for nearly a year, devoting herself to Christian missionary work.

Trading the comfort of Wisconsin and material society of the United States for several third world countries, Head will possess only that which she can carry in a backpack while participating in The World Race.

“When I graduated from high school, there’s no way if you told me I was going to be a missionary when I graduated from college that I would have believed you,” she said.
However, she said now is the perfect time for her to strengthen her own faith and to share it with those in need throughout her journey.

An organization’s impact
Eau Claire was not Head’s first choice of schools, so as a freshman it took some time for her to adjust and make friends.

“I didn’t necessarily want to be here,” Head said. “And I didn’t drink or party, so that eliminated a lot of people I could hang out with on the weekends. I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I think I was just kind of scared.”

In November of her freshman year, Head started attending Student Impact meetings, where she joined a Bible study and was exposed to opportunities, like religious conferences. Over winter break, she attended one in Minnesota called the Twin Cities Experience, where she said she finally started to feel a strong sense of both belonging and faith.

“I made a ton of friends … freshman girls that I could hang out with and spend time with,” she said. “I just really connected and there is where I made the decision that I wanted to follow Jesus Christ for my whole life.”

Student Impact has since been an integral part of Head’s college career. While continuously participating in Bible studies, she has also taken on leadership roles in the organization. During her junior year, she organized and led the weekly Student Impact meetings.

“(Student Impact) has just been somewhere that I can call home,” she said. “I can learn about Jesus Christ and they can tell me truth and challenge me in what I know.”

Head’s current housemate, senior Erin Winkel, worked on the Student Impact leadership team as well. Together they’ve engaged in planning and discipleship with other women in the organization. Winkel said she’s seen Head grow in different ways throughout their involvement with the organization.

“Generally, in her faith I’ve seen her grow,” Winkel said. “I’ve seen her heart for the world grow and her desire to do missions has come out in the last year. It’s cool to see.”

The World Race
Head said doing mission work is an obvious next step for her. She chose The World Race, which is an 11 month mission trip to 11 countries, “It’s the perfect time. I’m not tied down to anything, I’m single (and) I don’t have a job yet,” she said.

Kim Hillebrand, Head’s mobilizer — the person who accepted her for The World Race and her main contact person for questions and concerns — said Head is a great candidate for the mission trip.

“She loves God and is willing to obey him and go whereever he leads,” Hillebrand said. “And she loves the people that God loves and the world.”

Head will travel with a squad of 70 young people aged 21 to 35 and, more specifically, will be on a team of seven people. The countries she will spend a month each in are China, Bulgaria, Swaziland, South Africa, Philippines, Mozambique, Serbia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and an Eastern European country that is unknown until Head and her team “pray about where the Lord wants (them) to go.”

In each country, Head and her team will work and live with an existing mission organization, such as an orphanage, local church or free clinic, doing humanitarian aid work.

Before she leaves in September, Head has to raise $14,800, which will cover expenses for traveling, living and eating while she is abroad. Currently she’s raised more than $6000 through simply asking family and friends to support her financially and through prayer. She has been surprised by the support she’s received so far.

“My friends have been really supportive financially, which is cool because I know they’re all in college and don’t necessarily have a lot of money,” she said, “but they’re willing to help me go.”

Winkel, who is doing missions in Honduras at the same time as Head’s endeavor, knows what it feels like to need support. Because of this she has offered both financial and emotional support to Head throughout the planning process.

Previous travel and mission
Head spent the entirety of her sophomore year studying abroad in Winchester, England. During that year she travelled to several European countries, including Spain, Bolivia and Poland.

“(I learned) how to be in a situation where no one spoke my language and I needed to figure out where my hostel was,” Head said.

Knowing that his daughter is confident, determined and strong in her faith, Kevin Head thinks her study abroad experience will undoubtedly help her during The World Race.
However, he adds that his daughter can be naïve at times, always giving people the benefit of the doubt and trusting them unconditionally. For this reason, he said The World Race will be a drastically different experience.

“There won’t be those safety nets where she’s going,” he said. “She’ll have to do some of the thinking on her own. There’s a big difference between this program and studying abroad.”

Winkel agrees, adding that living in the third world is bound to be “eye-opening” for Head.

Another experience that Head said prepared her for her impending mission trip is the summer she spent in North Myrtle Beach for the Summer Project. For 10 weeks, she helped at a homeless shelter and with Sunday School. She also served as a student director for the project, strengthening both her faith and her leadership skills.

Fears and struggles
Head admits that she has some superficial fears about The World Race, like her strong aversion to spiders and not being able to shower on a regular basis. However, she also divulges a substantial concern that she has never had to deal with in America or Europe.

“In some of the countries, Christians are … physically persecuted for their faith,” she said. “That is a real, legitimate concern.”

In China, for example, Christians are not allowed to prophesize their faith. However, there are no secrets between The World Race and the Chinese government, Head said. Since the missionaries will be doing humanitarian aid work, they are allowed to be there.

To Hillebrand’s knowledge no racer has been physically persecuted, but she did say verbal and emotional persecution has occurred, which is something Head may come in contact with.

Head also said not everyone close to her has been particularly supportive of her decision to enter The World Race, viewing it as a kind of vacation and delaying “real life.”

However, Head said that although she’s traveling to different countries, she’s going to the worst part of many of them. She has to remind people that she’s not staying in any resorts or eating at any fancy restaurants.

“We’re going to really help the poor … and the needy,” Head said. “I do get to see the world, which is awesome and I’m super excited about it — but I’m not going on vacation.”

The unknown future
Since Head has no way of predicting the person she will be at the end of her 11-month journey, she has no solid plans for when she returns.

“Whatever I think I’m going to do will change,” she said. “Although I have a few ideas … a lot of it is going to be determined by what I do this next year.”

Her father said he and Head’s mother are putting no expectations on her future. He said he supports his daughter’s desire to recognize the “steady need of others and how to help them.”
“We help her find her own way, but she has to do it on her own,” he said. “We can’t make every decision for her.”

Ideally, Head said, she’d want to do missions for a few more years. However, if she does feel like pursuing a job in public relations, she feels that her life experience will make up for not delving into the field right away.