Journey called life-changing experience
“I expect [it] to be a blessing and to be blessed, challenged, and inspired.”
That’s what local resident Melissa Friesen wrote in a blog back in October, 2012 before she embarked on a missions journey to 11 countries in 11 months through a program called “The World Race.”
“I had the privilege and honour of seeing so much, and now the job extends itself to the rest of my life,” Friesen said about the trip, which saw her away from home from mid-January until just a few weeks ago.
Friesen wants to share with others what she learned while visiting Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Nepal, and India.
“It can be as simple as telling their stories that might inspire someone else to do something,” she explained.
“I saw a wide variety of culture, religion, and ways of doing life,” she added, noting she travelled with a group of 50 other individuals, ranging in age from 21-35.
“I met a lot of people—a lot of people who didn’t speak my language,” Friesen recalled.
“In one sense, it’s amazing what a smile can do,” she said of the language barrier. “In another sense, it was incredibly difficult some days to get to the train station because you are so misunderstood.
“So it’s incredible how language doesn’t have to be a barrier when it comes to the important stuff.
“But when it comes to logistical, it was extremely frustrating,” she admitted.
When thinking back on her year, Friesen never imagined she’d ever have some of the experiences she did, such as riding an elephant in Thailand or rafting the Nile River in Uganda.
“The world is beautiful, the people are beautiful,” she remarked. “And in the same amount that the world is vast in its beauty, it is vast in its pain and its hurt.
“I have seen glorious sites—you see the Himalaya mountains in Nepal and you see the beggars and orphans on the street who hope they get a meal a day,” she said, describing both ends of the spectrum she witnessed.
One of her most memorable experiences was working with children at Zion’s Gate Ministries in Honduras.
“They were kids who were taken off the street or kids that had been abandoned in one way or another by their families,” Friesen explained.
“We saw them grow up in an environment that loved them and took care of them.
“And they didn’t just survive, they thrived,” she enthused. “They are full of life, intelligent, and such a joy to be around.
“But if you saw them on the street, you would be afraid of them or not know what to do with them.
“So it’s just the lesson that you can’t count anybody out,” she reasoned. “Everybody has a story and everybody who exists is here with some kind of purpose.”
In Thailand, meanwhile, Friesen visited with a 22-year-old Buddhist monk, named Pa Hem, for quite a few days.
“I just saw him really searching for truth, searching for answers in the world,” she explained.
“I can’t help but admire his search—the things he has to give up as a monk for what he hopes will be enlightenment.
“That the people of Earth are searching and we’re hungry to know why we are here.
“I believe there are a few basic truths and then after that everything becomes relative,” Friesen continued.
“For instance, beauty is so different in every region. What’s beautiful in India is not what we consider beautiful here.
“It just opens your eyes to see people where they are at and you don’t have to see them through your perspective anymore . . . you see it from an overhead perspective; you see it from the Creator’s eyes,” she remarked.
Friesen said the trip certainly was a spiritual one for her.
“You’re always becoming who you already are,” she said. “The eyes of Heaven see you as you really are.
“Regardless if you failed today or messed up, you are who you are to Heaven.
“We have such a skewed vision of what success is, what it even means to be happy,” she added. “I’ve seen the poorest, most unsuccessful people be so filled with light and joy that it has to be supernatural because there is no reason they should be that happy.
“And so you are who you are,” she reasoned. “When given an opportunity to flourish, people will do so, but that takes a lot of love, a lot of patience, and a lot of passion and determination to see that in someone.”
Friesen said this is evident when you look at orphanages.
“They can’t run if the people running them aren’t filled with determination, passion, love and patience,” she stressed. “But they know the reward outweighs the cost.”
Friesen indicated she saw a simplicity in the lives of many of the people she met that she admires.
“We describe ourselves as the free world, the Western world, but I look at the things they don’t stress about and I think that maybe we have it backwards in some ways,” she remarked, noting she witnessed how children in other parts of the world are happy with so little.
“I came back to my room [here] and couldn’t believe I had so much stuff,” she declared. “I lived out of a backpack for a year and was used to it.
“At first it was tough and then it became my normal.
“And now this,” she said, referring to life in Canada, “is overwhelming.”
“I would definitely be willing to give some of my stuff up because it’s just excess,” Friesen added. “I saw what other people in the world are living without—and doing just fine without it.”
Friesen also said she became very close with the squad she travelled with over the 11 months, and noted that being away from home for that long was “fine most of the time.”
However, she said that on the days they travelled to another country, it often was a bit chaotic.
“We were crammed into every type of vehicle you can imagine—motorbikes, buses, trains,” she recalled. “If you have to go to the bathroom, maybe they’ll stop for you or maybe you’ll have to pee in a chip bag.
“So travel days were some of the funnest, but some of the worst.”
She added that luckily wi-fi was available almost everywhere, so she had many opportunities to send e-mails home, blog, or post photos.
“There was only one month, and that was Kenya, when I didn’t have any access to the Internet at all,” she noted.
“Sometimes you would have to scour for Internet, maybe be creative about it, but we could usually get our hands on Internet, so that was huge.”
And, of course, she took plenty of photos and kept on journal to remember as much of the nearly year-long trip as possible.
But Friesen stressed they were not tourists.
“We hung out with locals, lived with locals, ate what they ate, and lived like they did for the most part—usually without air conditioning,” she explained.
She had applied for the “World Race” because she was driven by a passion and a wonder to see God work in her life and across the world.
And while helping those less fortunate, she underwent a life-changing transforming, which she intends to continue in her day-to-day life.
In fact, Friesen only is home for a few weeks as she’ll soon jet off again—this time to Atlanta, Ga. where she’ll work for “Adventures in Missions,” the organization that runs the “World Race” program.
She has been accepted for an eight-month internship, where she will work in their office and hone her skills in writing.
“So it’s like a story-telling internship,” she explained. “They believe there are important stories to be told.
“And to be with like-minded people who have come from the same experience or similar experience, I think will be a blessing.”
And while Friesen doesn’t have many plans beyond the internship, she definitely wants to get her 11-month journey in writing.
“I would love to write another book, I would love to go on more trips, I would love to inspire people to get involved,” she enthused.