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Lydia Shaw is on the final leg of an 11-month worldwide mission.
The 24-year-old was a teacher at Rineyville Elementary School before leaving for her adventure in July of 2012.
“I got involved with the World Race when I started feeling God calling me to go and spread his name around December 2011,” she said.
She searched online for short-term mission trips, but after reading about the World Race, she was hooked.
“It was far from short-term, but I knew that it was exactly where God wanted me,” she said.
The World Race is a ministry of Adventures in Missions. Missionaries participate in a variety of ministries in 11 different countries, spending a month in each country.
In July 2012, she left from Washington, D.C., to minister in her first country, Ireland. Since, she’s been to Ukraine, Moldova, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Nepal, India, Thailand and Malaysia and will finish her journey in Cambodia next month.
“Packing was definitely a challenge,” she said.
To get a handle on what to bring, she read blogs from previous racers that included detailed suggestions.
“Ultimately, you have one big backpack, one little backpack, a tent and a sleeping bag,” she said. “So, you make it work.”
Shaw’s friend Jenna Colson was at first surprised Shaw was taking this trip, but she knew she was looking for that kind of experience.
Colson described her friend as a selfless and enthusiastic person.
“She is full of spunk and her smile can light up a room,” Colson said.
Some of Shaw’s experiences have been meaningful, some have been funny and some are experiences she won’t miss.
“I have certainly had days when the simple thought of eating rice has made me gag,” she said.
Because rice is a staple around the world, it’s been a big part of her diet on the trip.
“Ugali is probably my least favorite food I have eaten on the race,” she said. “It is a cornmeal and water mixture that is served as a starch or filler with many African dishes. It can be made many different ways, but the vast majority of them are not the slightest bit enjoyable.”
In addition to an American meal, she’s looking forward to a hot shower and comfortable bed when she gets home. But more than that, she can’t wait to hug family and friends she hasn’t seen in almost a year.
This trip is the longest her mom, D. Dee Shaw, has gone without seeing her, she said. At first, she was opposed to her daughter going on the journey.
“I could not imagine my sheltered daughter being able to handle the rigors and physical challenges that the World Race requires,” her mom said. “Lydia has not only met these challenges, she has blossomed and grown as a result of them.”
She has become a mature young woman, strong in her faith and fearless in witnessing while trying to make a difference in the world, D. Dee said.
In March, she joined her daughter in Thailand when parents were invited to join the journey for a week. She was able to help in ministries with children in the slums of Chiang Maiand and women in the sex trade.
One of those ministries was Remember Nhu, which works to prevent child sex slavery by providing at-risk children basic needs and education and teaching them about Christianity.
“These girls are raised as productive Thai citizens in non-sexual jobs,” D. Dee said.
Shaw will remember the little things about her 11-month journey and the friends she made despite language barriers.
“I’ll always remember sitting in the kitchen and making dinner with our ‘mama’ in India,” she said.
She’ll also remember the way she felt in Nepal.
“The unexplainable feeling that I was home, even though I had never been there before,” she said.
She received more than 20 marriage proposals, but joked that only three of them were serious.
“In Africa, being an American meant that I had a lot of money, so I was a hot commodity,” she joked. “Our pastor in India also wanted to arrange my marriage to a man from his country. I politely declined all of the offers.”
Through the people around the world, she’s learned everyone “desires to be deeply and completely loved.”
“From the men in the pubs in Ireland to the children living on the streets in Africa, to the prostitutes in the bars in Thailand, they are all searching for someone who will love them for who they are,” Shaw said.
That’s the beauty of her trip, she said.
“I get to meet these people and love them as Jesus does,” she said. “I get to be their friend and show them that they matter, to help them understand that I love and accept them because Jesus did first.”
The trip has taught her a few things about herself, too.
Shaw spent three months sleeping in a tent when she thought she hated camping and tried — and sometimes enjoyed — different foods when she thought she was a picky eater.
She has slept on buses, trains, airplanes, concrete floors and grass and among spiders, snakes, scorpions, large rats and loud snorers.
“I have slept in places so hot that I woke up every morning drenched in sweat and places where it was so cold that I went to bed wearing every piece of clothing I owned,” she said. “The World Race lifestyle is not one that I would choose to live in forever, but it has been encouraging to know that I have been able to persevere through it all.”
Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Getting to know Lydia Shaw