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Global Cyclists Putting Mettle to the Pedal

Posted on January 6th, 2009

EMU students Lars Akerson and Jonathan Spicher
Jonathan Spicher (l.) and Lars Akerson moments before beginning their arduous journey from Harrisonburg, Va., to Asuncion, Paraguay, that will take six months and cover 8,500 miles. Photo by Lindsey Roeschley

Lars Akerson and Jonathan Spicher are well aware of the major challenge, risk and unknowns facing them, but they feel confident that they’ll persevere "with God’s protection and the support of family and friends."

A large group of well-wishers stood in the cold rain Tuesday morning, Jan. 6, as Akerson, 22, of Harrisonburg, and Spicher, 20, of Lancaster, Pa., left Virginia Mennonite Conference headquarters in Park View, pointing their 27-speed touring bikes southward. Six months and some 8,500 miles later, they hope to arrive in Asuncion, Paraguay, to attend two global church meetings.

The 15th Mennonite World Conference Assembly, set for July 13-19 in Asuncion, is expected to draw upwards of 7,500 people from North and South America, Europe and other nations. The event will be preceded by a Global Youth Summit, July 10-12. The first such gathering was held in 2003 in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and attracted more than 220 young adults from 28 countries. Akerson hopes that many more will attend this time.

It’s an adventure, certainly, but more than that the pair will seek to raise funds to help more young adults from other countries to attend the youth summit.

They’ll also engage individuals, Anabaptist churches and larger groups along the way, do much listening to others’ concerns and vision for the church, but they also anticipate doing service projects as they arise in keeping with the focus of the youth summit, "Service: Live the Difference."

They also worked with persons at Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Akron, Pa., and with Mennonite Church conferences in setting up contacts along their route.

EMU students Lars Akerson and Jonathan Spicher
Lars Akerson (l.) and Jonathan Spicher ready their bike equipment before departing. Photo by Lindsey Roeschley

Akerson graduated from EMU the spring of 2008, a double major in mathematics and liberal arts with a minor in Spanish. He was one of 10 recipients of EMU’s "Cords of Distinction" recognition for significant contributions to the school and broader community.

Spicher plans to return to EMU this fall as a senior biology/premed major. His biking venture will fulfill the school’s cross-cultural requirement, and he’ll receive additional credits for independent study related to the trek.

The first segment of the journey will include stops in Durham, N.C., and at Jubilee Partners in Comer, Ga. They’ll travel through Alabama, Louisiana and Texas and cross into Mexico, through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and finally, Paraguay.

They’ve invited persons to join them for sections of the ride, for a few miles or several days.

They hope to spend time interacting with the EMU cross-cultural spring semester seminar group whose time in Guatemala will coincide with the men’s travels. They’ll also visit MCC workers in various locations and Conservative Mennonite Conference personnel in Ecuador.

Asked about the weather uncertainties and risk and safety factors of this major trek across two continents, Akerson and Spicher gave knowing looks and remained silent awhile before responding.

"Our main concern is the last leg of the trip," Akerson said. "We’ll spend much of the last two months biking in elevations up to 14,000 feet above sea level."

"We will be vulnerable, but we’re relying on persons’ hospitality and intentionally depending on God and others for safety and protection," Spicher stated. "We’ve done some planning for contingencies but can’t anticipate everything that could happen along the way."

EMU students Lars Akerson and Jonathan Spicher
Akerson and Spicher mount their bikes as they head out of Harrisonburg. Photo by Lindsey Roeschley

Nancy Heisey, chair of the Bible and religion department at EMU and president of Mennonite World Conference, called the pair’s impending venture both "exciting and scary."

"I admire the amount of energy Lars and Jonathan are putting into this journey," Dr. Heisey said, "but even more, I’m pleased that they are demonstrating a commitment to spiritual growth as well as the significant contribution they want to make to other young adults around the world."

The pair has set up an interactive web site (http://americas.bikemovement.org) where they will provide regular updates of their journey with personal reflections, stories and photos. Anyone who wants to contribute to the fund-raising effort can do so at the same site.

"We hope that our journey will encourage and add to an intercultural conversation about discerning and living Christ’s call with integrity," said Akerson.

Added Spicher: "Biking together is a great relationship-building endeavor. I’m excited to have this opportunity for two-way learning with brothers and sisters and for spiritual growth."

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