This past weekend I had the opportunity to be a part of the support crew for Alabama Rural Ministry's annual Cycle of Service, a 3-day, 300 mile bike ride across the state of Alabama. The hard-core cyclists ride 100 miles a day, traveling back roads to highways from the Georgia to Mississippi state lines. And the best part is, the ride raised money for our home repair ministry, to end the "cycle of poverty" in Alabama.
Being new to the organization, and not a trained distance cyclist, I opted for the chauffeur option instead of biking. Although not pedaling across the state, I still witnessed some eye-opening things over the course of our 3 days.
During the first day of riding, with me chugging along behind the bicycles at 15 miles per hour in the car, (flashers on, pulling over constantly to let cars by me) I saw some beautiful sights. Alabama is filled with a variety of trees, open spaces, and quaint country roads. The drive was a pleasant and scenic one, despite the countless hills (which were more of an issue for the riders than me!).
I also saw some heart-wrenching, emotional things. Almost to the Georgia line we passed by Crawford, a rural area that was hit hard by the recent tornado. Never before had I seen firsthand the homes totally wrecked by the sudden and severe attacks. It was shocking. What had once been a sturdy, safe dwelling was now a pile of rumble, its previous inhabitants wandering around not knowing what to do next. But there is hope. Thanks to the American Red Cross, the local United Methodist Church, and other disaster relief organizations, people were already receiving donations of food and clothing, and efforts were being made to find the victims temporary housing.
In light of these two observations, I began to think about the extreme disparity between the rich and poor, even here in the United States, in my own backyard. We passed a myriad of huge farmhouses surrounded by tens of acres of land, where just across the road would be a run-down shack or trailer. Why this inequality? How could these two families live in the same neighborhood under such different circumstances? This is an issue that I will be exploring more in-depth both at my work with Alabama Rural Ministry and personally, as I adjust once again to living in the U.S. and the privilege that comes with my middle class status.
Throughout the weekend, I was continually amazed and inspired by the strength of the 11 riders. I love riding my bicycle for fun, but had never even dreamed of going 100 miles in a single day! These individuals exhibited such endurance. I hardly ever heard them complain, and although I could see by the sweat, sore muscles, and cramps that it was a challenge, they persevered to the end.
For part of the ride, I got to chat with one of the riders, who due to her asthma and other health conditions, had to ride with me in the car for a while. I very much enjoyed the company, and quickly found a friend in this young spirited pastor. We discussed theology and poverty theory, shared ideas on how to be honest and real with youth about sexuality, and compared college experiences.
To top off this incredible three-day journey, our last day ended with a miraculous financial provision. Lisa, our director, had been told a week ago by one of our homeowners that we would receive a financial blessing from God. At the time she did not know what to think of this - prophecy, encouragement, call it what you will. The purpose of this entire bike ride had been to fund raise for our home repair ministry. The goal for donations was $25,000, and by the end of the three days, after adding up all the riders' sponsors and other donations, we had raised a substantial amount but nowhere close to the target amount. After finishing the ride, we were splayed out in the grass in front of a church, when one of the riders gave Lisa an envelope. She opened it to find two checks from a local church, totaling $25,000! What an incredible way for God to show his faithfulness. We indeed received the financial blessing, but even more so, an increase in faith and trust in Him.
Overall, this weekend was both a learning experience and lots of fun. Thanks to all the riders for being so incredible!