Ask any group of college students what their summer-break plans are, and here’s what you might hear: Road trip. Eat a lot. See the world. Work on a tan. Hang out with friends.
Jason Hardrath and Travis and Alissa Hilley plan to do all that and more. They will road trip for a grand total of 45 days.
They will eat a lot – nearly 5,000 calories by each sunset. They will see the world – or at least 12 states, stretching from Ocean Shores, Wash., to Liberty Island, N.Y. They will work on their tans; spending 70 to 90 miles a day on a bike should take care of that.
They will hang out with friends, camp under the stars in tents and keep in touch with buddies through email and blogs.
And by the end of their 3,000-mile bike ride, the Hilleys and Hardrath will have changed a small corner of Guatemala, providing lifesaving safe water systems for impoverished children and their families.
Going the Distance
As college students at Corban University in Salem, Ore., Jason and Travis often hop on their road bikes to take a break from studying.
Along with Alissa, Travis’ wife of nearly 10 months, the trio has long loved biking long distances.
Jason, a track and field athlete at Corban, competed in his first off-road triathlon in 2008, while Travis and Alissa biked together from Portland to Seattle while dating.
So it seemed natural to say yes to Jason’s wild idea of biking across the U.S. to raise money to fight poverty.
The impulse came to Jason during a game of Ultimate Frisbee. Why not raise funds for a great cause while burning a serious amount of calories?
Bike America Mission was born, with Jason as its president.
“We want to be in God’s plan, to see new places, challenge ourselves, meet new people and encourage them to do something about poverty.”
The recipient of the money raised on their bike ride was an easy choice. Within weeks of their wedding, Alissa and Travis, a junior majoring in biblical studies, began sponsoring Antoineta, a 5-year-old girl in Guatemala, through Compassion.
They quickly fell in love with the whole sponsorship experience, and so when Antoineta moved away from her child development center, they chose another little girl, this time a 6-year-old named Ester.
Together with Jason, they decided to raise funds for Ester’s development center. The first $2,000 raised along the route will bless the center as a gift. Anything beyond that will be used to fund safe water systems through Compassion’s Water of Life program. Water of Life systems are portable, efficient and long-lasting.
Jason, who will graduate with his physical education degree just a few weeks before their departure, tells me that,
“Water is absolutely necessary [to Travis, Alissa and me] as we cycle 70 to 90 miles each day in the hot summer sun — as well as to families who have no accessible source of potable water.”
Water for All
The safe water systems make a small-but-invaluable dent in a worldwide problem: access to clean water. More than 4,900 children die each day from waterborne illnesses and poor sanitation – that’s one child every 18 seconds.
Children in impoverished areas suffer mightily because of this lack, sometimes carrying up to 1,000 parasitic worms in their bodies at one time.
Compassion’s Water of Life system uses filtration technology based on that of kidney dialysis machines. Weighing less than two pounds, the portable filters remove 99.99 percent of all bacteria from water, making it safe for drinking. At a cost of just $55, the system comes pre-assembled and can be set up for use in a child’s home in under five minutes. Education and sanitation training are also provided to each family as part of the Water of Life program.
A system will provide a family with more than 1 million gallons of safe drinking water.
Geoff Peters, a Compassion product development manager, knows the value of these filters.
“As we looked to identify and serve the needs of our program beneficiaries, it became clear that while access to water was a problem in some areas, access to safe water was a problem almost everywhere.
“Water of Life, our safe water system, enables each child and his or her family to quickly and easily remove illness-causing bacteria from water regardless of its source – making the water safe to drink. The parents we have talked with give thanks for their health and that of their children and speak of renewed hope for the future.”
Jason, Travis and Alissa will have a support team back home as they travel from church to church and town to town. They have already raised more than $1,000 of their $25,000 goal.
Each member of the team will have plenty of time to think about the children and families they are helping during the estimated 2,677,765 turns their wheels will make between the Pacific and the Atlantic.
Travis Hilley knows their coast-to-coast trek won’t be a walk (or ride) in the park. He will be without any income for a good portion of the summer – a crucial earning time for most college students.
Yet he believes his financial uncertainty pales in comparison to what millions of children face around the world every day.
“I’m finding that God sometimes calls people to do seemingly unwise things and trust Him with the results.
“Getting out of a boat in a storm, freely giving money away and leaving a comfortable fishing environment for a vagabond lifestyle seemed like unwise decisions. Yet in each case, the people who make the ‘unwise’ decisions turn out to be on the narrow, joyful path that others miss out on. I don’t want to be one of the 11 disciples still in the boat. That is why I am biking across America this summer.”
For updates on Jason, Travis and Alissa’s trek across the country, go to their website at www.bikeamericamission.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Crystal Kupper is a military wife, freelance writer and Compassion Advocate living in Salem, Ore. Along with her husband, Nick, and two young sons, she sponsors Barbie from the Philippines and Kris and Rosa from Indonesia. Crystal has written for nearly 20 publications. Her work can be viewed at www.crystaldkupper.com.
Photos courtesy of Sheldon Traver of Corban University