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What the World Race Gap Year is Really Like

You turn the tassel, pick up the diploma and shake the principal’s hand.  And then you move on with your life; you go to college or get a job.  But Abby Heskett didn’t take the traditional route after high school graduation.  Traveling to Cambodia, Honduras, Guatemala and Ethiopia, she embarked upon the World Race Gap Year, a 9-month mission trip.  Abby spent her time serving whether it was working at a special needs orphanage or teaching English to elementary schoolers.

But that wasn’t always the plan or even a desire. During Abby’s sophomore year of high school, her mom brought up The idea of a gap year was brought up by her mom during Abby’s sophomore year of high school, and her first response was no, I’m going straight to college.  But after going on two short-term mission trips to Germany and learning more about her friends’ positive gap-year experiences, she changed her mind, started researching the idea and found World Race.  After praying and seeking wisdom, Abby felt both peaceful and enthusiastic about this journey.

I asked Abby some questions about her World Race gap year and what she learned:

Q: What was coolest moment you experienced? 

A: I think one of the coolest moments for me was praying over my friends who were not feeling great. Now, I’m your stereotypical church kid who had had absolutely zero experience with healing or anything related. I had faith that God could heal, but I also had this idea in my head that you had to be a “highly qualified,” “super holy” Christian for God to ever use you in that sort of way.

Let me tell you, it was not an eloquent prayer. I was distracted and stumbling over my words and not even fully there. One of my friends started freaking out (and) said, “It feels (like) a gust of wind just went down my throat, and now it’s not sore!” Praise God, she was healed! I don’t say this to make myself look good, but rather to share one of the coolest things God taught me: It doesn’t take a saint, it takes obedience.

Q: Were there any scary moments from your time abroad? 

A: For the most part, I felt very safe on my trip. There was one instance in Guatemala that made me slightly nervous. We were on taxi on our way home from the school, and one of the workers on the van got in a fight with some very drunk guys on the side of the road. The very intoxicated men ended up pulling him off the car and throwing some punches. When the men started taking off their belts and threatening to use them as whips, we ran for it but turned around just in time to see the driver get out of the car with a tire iron. No one got hurt badly, and we laugh when we talk about it now; but in the moment, I was definitely scared enough to use the guys on my team as a shield as we ran.

Q: What will you miss most about your gap year? 

A: I miss so much about my gap year. I miss the simplicity of life in other cultures. I miss my squad and their passion and wisdom and friendship. I miss going to church with people who are awestruck in wonder of the Lord and who worship with every ounce of their being.

I miss adventure days when we’d go out and explore temples or climb volcanoes or hike through the rainforest. I miss living in places where God was everything, not just another box to check off the to-do list.

Mostly, I miss the people I met. These people from all different corners of the world brought me so much joy and welcomed me into their homes like one of their own. Walking through life was them was real, raw and genuine. These people challenged me every day and helped me see the world through a completely different lens.

Q: What did you learn about yourself and the rest of the world? 

A: I learned so much on my trip; I could honestly write a novel. For starters, I learned many things about myself: how I’m wired, what I’m passionate about and what my purpose is. (For example, I discovered I’m passionate about nursing. I had no idea what I wanted to major in until I got to volunteer in a midwifery clinic in Africa.)

I learned that the world is beautiful. It reflects the greatness and beauty and creativity of our Creator. I’ve been a lot of places in the world, and while I’ve loved all my trips, eventually another city is just another city, another village is just another village, another mountain is just another mountain.

Photo by Ryan Duart

In reality, the people are what make all these places so special. The more people I meet, the more I’m able to see how God is working in individuals all around the world. What He’s doing in Southeast Asia is different than Africa, and what He’s doing in Africa is different than Central America, and what He’s doing in Central America is different than Missouri. God is doing incredible, miraculous things everywhere, and I’m so grateful to have gotten to witness some of them firsthand.

Q: How has this World Race gap year changed your everyday life now that you’ve come back to the U.S.? 

A: Everyday life definitely looks slightly different that it used to; however, just as I adapted to other third-world countries, now I’m adapting back into American society. I’m more minimalistic than I was before I left. After living out of a backpack for nine months, I think having 10 pairs of shoes is more than enough. I also really despise paying $5 for coffee when it was 50 cents in Ethiopia.

On a more serious note, my day-to-day life looks a lot less tomorrow-focused and a lot more today-focused. On my trip, I got into the habit of taking it a day at a time. Saying “yes” to God today. Finding one person to go out of my way to love today. Reflecting on things to be thankful for today. My life didn’t make a 180º, but it was refocused, and I’ve seen that make a significant impact on my everyday life.

All photos courtesy of Abby Heskett unless mentioned otherwise.

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