KU grad Geoff Shepard will be visiting 11 countries in 11 months working with the group Adventures in Missions.
He’ll get his passport stamped in Ireland, Romania, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Uganda, Kenya, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and another African country to be announced.
To learn more or to donate funds, visit http://geoffreyshepard. theworldrace.org.
Geoff Shepard will spend his first year as a college graduate seeing the world — living out of a backpack in 11 countries.
But this won’t be the kind of graduation experience that includes staying in hostels and learning to say the word “beer” in a handful of languages.
Shepard, who graduated from Kansas University in May, will be taking part in The World Race. Starting Aug. 1, he will be on the road, bouncing around the globe doing missionary work in countries as varied as Ireland, Romania, Egypt and Cambodia.
While his friends are working their first desk jobs, the 23-year-old plans to help strangers thousands of miles away, living on a $14,000 shoestring budget of which he has less than half-raised.
How he’ll be helping is less certain and will depend on each country, situation, day or minute. He believes he could be comforting an orphaned child in one country or helping AIDS patients in the next.
All the while, he’ll be blogging about his trip at http://geoffreyshepard.theworldrace.org — keeping his family, friends and supporters back home abreast of the year he plans to serve the Lord.
“I’d always loved to do something after college for a year or two years. And I didn’t know where in the world I really felt called or had a passion to go to,” says Shepard, 23. “I hope it’s going to give me a good perspective on the world, since I’m going to be going to Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia.”
Danger and faith
It’s a perspective where the benefits line up with its possible dangers, something Shepard understands after spending a summer working in an Asian country not completely receptive to Christian missionaries.
“I’ve seen some crazy things happen ...,” he says. “When you read through the Bible, it doesn’t say you’re going to be safe. I know it’s not a right that I have just because I’m Christian. I know that’s not something that’s guaranteed.”
He may not wish to spell out the dangers, but his father, John, doesn’t mince words.
“It’s certainly not a sightseeing adventure,” John Shepard says. “Especially when you start talking about countries like Uganda, and Kenya’s had its share of strife lately, and Cambodia ... it’s not without its risk. Especially when you’re in areas that aren’t necessarily receptive to someone wanting to share the Gospel.”
Also apprehensive is friend and roommate Matt Beattie. After spending long nights discussing faith, he is secure in his friend’s beliefs and only hopes it keeps Shepard safe.
“I am worried about that aspect of the trip because people get killed all over the world for talking about the very things Geoff will be talking to people about — namely Jesus Christ,” Beattie says. “A part of me feels like God will watch over them and protect them, but even the chance that he could get hurt or killed is a pretty scary thought.”
Sharing the faith
Shepard has been sharing the Gospel for years, having been raised within a Christian family and then especially moved by teenage youth group experience.
“My high school youth pastor in my church really impacted my life for the positive, really modeled who Christ was for me,” he says. “And since then, I always thought I wanted to do something with youth and Christ.”
In college, he hooked up with Campus Crusade for Christ, first through Johnson County Community College, then with KU. He did summer missions work in South Carolina, Asia and then last summer in the Cameroon. John Shepard says that after his son’s summertime missionary work he wasn’t surprised Geoff wanted to do more after graduation, but the idea of his son being gone for a year, missing Christmas and birthdays was tough to swallow.
“I wasn’t completely surprised ... I knew that’s where his heart was. You know, the yearlong thing was rather daunting,” John Shepard says. “I had to wrestle with it for a while, but eventually it’s one of those things that you have to have faith that his life is in God’s hands and he’s doing what he feels led to do. So kiss them on the cheek and send them on their way, and you tell them, ‘You come back home when you’re done with it.’”
Keeping him company before he comes home with 11 new passport stamps will be Marissa Villa, one of six other team members who will be traveling and working with Shepard on the trip. Villa breaks down the pull she, Shepard and the 80-plus people doing this leg of the race feel toward the mission.
“The people who apply are searching for something more. The majority of us have had everything we could possibly want or need handed to us. We know that the life we’ve lived so far is meaningless without the one free thing that everyone in the world has access to — God’s grace,” Villa says. “This mission isn’t about providing material blessings, although we may do some of that along the way, this is about sharing the one true fulfilling thing we’ve had in life — the love of our God.”
Shepard says that his plan after the race ends next July is up to God. Like many kids his age traveling the world, he hopes to find direction despite the distance.
“I know coming back from each summer I’ve changed in how I’ve viewed things,” he says of past missionary work. “(I’d like to) kind of find where, if I do go into full-time missions, where in the world that would be, if I have a heart for anywhere, and what kind.”