Traveling to war-torn countries, putting yourself in the line of danger at every turn, and setting yourself up for physical exhaustion isn’t something most of society would do. In fact, the very special people that devote their time to others while exposing themselves to the aforementioned are lead by more than just an idea or whim. For Erin Waggonor of Russellville, it was clear that God was the one pointing her in this very direction and it was The World Race that ended up being her catalyst.
The World Race is a journey to 11 countries in 11 months to serve the least of these among real and raw community. It’s a year of Matthew 10 in action: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” The World Race currently serves in dozens of countries across the globe spanning from the tip of South America to the vast wild of Mongolia.
Erin, who is the daughter of Clay and Paula Waggoner, is a 2010 graduate of Russellville High School. After graduation she did what most do and attended college (Western Kentucky University). She graduated in 2014 with a pre-dental major in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. After that she secured employment at Compton Orthodontics and Sheldon’s Pharmacy in Bowling Green. Erin loves working in the health care field and loves working with people. Dental school was the next step for Erin, however, before taking that journey God spoke to Erin and told her He had something for her to do first.
“I chose to do the race because I felt like God had been calling me to international missions for a while,” said Erin. “I just wasn’t ready to step out of my comfort zone and actually do it. But I noticed I couldn’t get the The World Race out of my head. So after six months of fighting it, I decided to take a leap and apply.”
For safety reasons, we cannot disclose the exact countries Erin is traveling, but we can say there have been many close calls already which threatened her life. Erin’s specific Race is referred to as the “Expedition Route.” Her squad is only the second team ever in the organization to focus strictly on a region called the “10/40 Window.” This region is considered to have the most unreached people groups and only 1 percent of missionaries focus on serving in this region.
Erin’s main focus is just to meet people where they are at and just love them – whatever that looks like. So far her team has devoted their time to volunteering in orphanages, loving and helping refugees, and being as much help as they can be for long-term missionaries in the areas.
“This mission has really made me aware of the seriousness of the refugee crisis. Just how hopeless and scared the people really are. I’ve really taken for granted the freedom, love, and privileges that I have in the states,” Erin says.
With danger lurking around the corner, Erin says she really hasn’t felt scared. A little uncomfortable, but not scared.
On June 7, there was a bombing in Istanbul, Turkey a little over one mile away from the hostel where Erin’s entire squad was staying. There was just a darkness that swept over the city, she said. “I became uncomfortable when I noticed that a majority of the tourists in our area had fled and even the locals were worried. But I just handed those worries over the God, and tried my best to bless the mourning locals,” added Erin.
Erin said she has had the opprotunity to meet numerous people from other cultures and this has impacted her in so many ways.
“I met a Syrian woman named, Sadah. She is a mother of five, the youngest was 10 days old at the time. She fled Syria after a radical Muslim group murdered her husband. Her willingness to open her heart amazed me. Her children clung to me with such joy. It made me realize that they have no other option but to press on – and the strength Sadah has through that inspires me,” Erin said.
This experienced has changed Erin more than she could have ever imagined, and she is only a third of the way through.
“My heart has changed in a way that allows for me to really love people- to not pass judgment and to comfort them in trying situations. I would also say this experience has changed my perspective of the Middle East completely. The people of Turkey were some of the most loving and hospitable people I have ever met. I will definitely be going back,” said Erin.
What do Erin’s parents think? Well, it’s hard enough sending your child to college, but sending them around the world is a bit different.
“My parents were extremely concerned at first – mainly for safety reasons. But since I’ve been gone they have been the absolute best support system I could ask for,” said Erin. “They have helped me sell t-shirts for fundraising, they constantly send me encouraging text messages, and never fail to tell me how proud they are of me.”
Erin’s mission will end in February 2017, and while it has been an adjustment to say the least for her, she will miss what has been her life the past several months.
“I’ve made some lifelong friendships. It’s not hard to do when you surround yourself with such amazing people that have one purpose for being here – sharing hope and love to each person we meet, including each other. The 22 people on my squad really have became family,” Erin said, adding, “It may sound cliché, but this race has been so life changing. By just trusting God and applying, I started seeing fruit come from it. Since being overseas, it’s really opened my eyes to just how many people long for just a little bit of hope. God has grown my heart for all His people these last few months – the homeless, the angry, the lost, the hopeless, the sad, the hurting, the lonely, the scared. He has extremely grown my heart in compassion. It’s truly been amazing.”
If you are interested in knowing more about The World Race, you can visit worldrace.org.
To contact Chris Cooper, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 270-726-8394.