An intense passion for travel led Stephanie Archer ‘10 to seize every trip opportunity as a UMobile student.
Whether Urban Plunge, The Bridge, or University Missions – each trip gave her an opportunity to experience the world and share the Gospel.
“The University of Mobile shaped my perspective of the necessity of world missions,” Archer said. “I was a part of a community that – as a whole – wanted to spread the Gospel.”
Recently, Archer embarked on her most intensive and rewarding excursion she’s ever taken – the World Race.
Seth Barnes, executive director of Adventure in Missions, founded theWorld Race in 2005 as a mission effort to see the world “transformed through tangible expressions of God’s love.” Racers must raise over $15,000 to join a team that will backpack through 11 countries in 11 months. While teams engage in friendly competition, the World Race focuses on ministry and service to “the least of these” and encounters the harsh realities of life outside the American dream.
Sometimes, those harsh realities include getting lice, eating rat sausage for dinner, and digging a personal latrine.
“The World Race is not about comfort,” said Archer, who majored in music. “It’s about focusing on what’s truly important.”
Archer and her all-girl team of seven, called the Joyful Divas, traveled through China, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Japan, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Swaziland, and South Africa. Sharing everything from food and money to sleeping space, Archer experienced the beauty and burden of living in community.
“You learn a lot about other people and how to live and communicate with them,” she said.
Furthermore, American cultural values like personal space and self-reliance were challenged on a daily basis. Throughout the trip, living space was minimal. Team members shared rooms, often slept without a bed, and rarely saw a clothes drier. There were days without showers and Internet access. The quintessential luxuries of the American life had been stripped away. And being away from home is no fun when you’re hurt.
While traveling from Bulgaria to Romania, Archer slipped and broke her ankle.
For an entire month, normal activity became a liability. She couldn’t use the stairs. She couldn’t make her own coffee. It was even difficult gathering clothes to wear. Being bound to crutches left her helpless and dependent.
But her team responded graciously.
“As a team we had our differences and didn’t always agree, but through that experience I got closer to the girls because I had to depend on them for everything,” she said. “I learned a lot about trusting the Lord and allowing myself to be served.”
After an exhausting but exhilarating 11-month trip, Archer returned home to the United States – seeing family, sleeping in her own bed, and eating Cajun food.
But adjusting to life back home was more difficult than she had anticipated.
“I lived out of a backpack for a year and went to places where people had less than I had on me,” Archer said. “I’m learning to appreciate what is a ‘need’ and what isn’t.”
One highlight of her World Race experience was working with a children’s home in Thailand. When the house mother found out that Archer taught piano, she connected her with a 15-year old girl in the home who had no access to piano lessons. When Archer took the time to teach the girl some skills, it was a defining moment.
“I saw how much she cherished that moment and how much it meant to her,” she said. “She was one of my favorite people that I met.”
Currently, she teaches piano at Samford University’s Academy of the Arts while also working as an administrative assistant in the department. She continues to look for opportunities for travel and teaching the arts abroad. But until that day comes, she’s content using her gifts and love for children in the states.
“I’m learning to trust the Lord, no matter what I’m doing at the moment,” she said.