LUTZ — A row of pitched tents and large 65 liter backpacks surrounded the wooded site as hikers briskly grabbed their gear to endure a 38 minute, 2.2-mile hike at the World Race headquarters in Gainesville, Ga.
As for Erica Everett, 22, she victoriously reached the finish line drenched in sweat with only three minutes to spare.
The test was just one of many Everett endured as she prepared to embark on a worldwide trip.
Now the Steinbrenner High and University of South Florida graduate, after much prayer is off to go "everywhere," with World Race, a Christian program that helps young adults travel to various countries with a mission to spread the gospel and share God's love.
Everett found her way to World Race while backpacking in Europe. She said she received words of comfort from God as she gazed over a beautiful lake that overlooked the snow-capped mountains in Switzerland. He whispered in her heart to not worry about later, enjoy the now.
So during a subsequent mission trip to Colombia, she assisted with a Christian soccer club. During her second day, the ministry director had asked her if she could take some video testimonials from a group staying there for the past month.
The group shared that World Race had brought them to the country. She did some research and said she knew God wanted her to do it.
"It combines my love for travel and culture with my passion for ministry work," Everett said.
The World Race stems from a nonprofit organization called Adventures in Missions, which purportedly sponsors thousands of mission trips. This particular aspect required 10 days of intensive training at the headquarters that included various exercises.
For instance, it devotes each day to a different culture and everyone had to abide by those cultural rules. One time participants had the option to eat crickets and worms. Everett thought they did not taste too bad, despite the crunchiness.
She's now in Serbia, the first of 11 countries she will visit over the next 11 months with 40 other members. Everett has been partnered with six others on a team called Abundance. Her travels eventually will take her from Serbia to Romania, Bulgaria, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Lesotho, South Africa, Namibia, Haiti and Dominican Republic. The team will do humanitarian and ministry work at each stop.
Out of the 11 countries, Serbia and Thailand will be the most dangerous in terms of being a Christian missionary. Her parents, however, remain confident she will find the trip rewarding. Gina Everett is excited about her daughter spreading a message of love and hope. Ric Everett is overwhelmed with the support she has received.
"As we watch this experience through the eyes of our daughter, it will be a journey for my wife and I as well as we reflect on this new chapter," Ric Everett said. "We are both excited too and know she will be in God's hands."
Before reaching this point, Everett had to sacrifice — leaving her job, friendships, family and first-world comforts such as clean water. This will be her longest time away from home.
She will miss her family dearly.
However, she says her giving spirit has developed as she has strengthen her walk with God. Now she's open to the adventure.
Contact Tatiana Ortiz at firstname.lastname@example.org.