Welcome. You're about to hop on the Appalachian Trail and become part of the 2009 thru-hike of Chris Hennig, whose trail name was "Feed Bag." While Feed Bag took in all the personal benefits of spending hours alone in the woods (getting in better shape, crying, pondering the meaning of life), there is a purpose greater than that for which he hiked: to make the world a better place for children. And you can be a part of this journey starting now...and help make a difference!

Start Date: 3/29/09 End Date: 9/5/09

26,000 steps later, 26,000 reasons to sponsor a child

Filed under: Blog Posts — chrishennig @ 10:44 am June 3, 2009

Before you even read the following blog, thanks again for spending ANY TIME on my site. My dear friend and editor Allison edits my blogs to make them as short and concise as possible. (She probably would rather I not use both “short” and “concise” in this sentence, redundant or something.) But I realize they do take your valuable time to read, and for that I’m grateful.

I hoped after counting 26,000 steps to represent the preventable deaths of 26,000 kids on Monday, it would well up some emotion. I thought I’d have to type through tears while blogging about the experience. Ironically, the day started with the smell of death as I laced my shoes and noticed, of all things, a turtle had died and begun decomposing beside the road. But otherwise, it was a beautiful day with great vistas and people with which to talk. As it turns out, I average over 26,000 steps everyday on the trail; it’s about 12-13 miles. While hiking, I marked 260 hash marks on my hands, each representing 100 more steps taken; 100 more lives lost. It was still hard to connect emotionally, but what happened later that evening is what really inspired and taught me.

100 Airplanes Crash, Killing 26,000 People
In his book The Hole in Our Gospel, Rich Stearns (my boss!) asks us to imagine waking up to the headline: “100 Airplanes Crash, Killing 26,000 People.” With the recent French plane crash in the Atlantic, which killed almost 260 people, we understand the sadness and shock of a massive loss of life, even if we don’t know a soul onboard.

It’s unimaginable to think of that much death, numbing even. But the equivalent of 100 airplanes do crash every day, killing thousands of children, passengers on “poverty-hijacked airplanes.” And we have the means to save them. Imagine 100 airplanes around the world, full of children, sitting on the runway waiting to take off for the last time, piloted by the world’s diseases. Stand with your back to the cockpit door and look at the buckled-in faces staring back at you. There isn’t an empty seat. By the end of today, all 100 planes will take off and crash.

*21 planes full of children crash from birth complications
*19 planes of kids die of pneumonia 17 planes full of diarrheal diseases
*15 planes full of neonatal illnesses
*8 crash with malaria
*4 full of measles
*3 succumb to AIDS
*13 die of other injuries and complications

All of these children who die are under 5 years old; 40% of them haven’t even lived out their first month.

100 “poverty planes” will crash today. And those crashes will happen again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.

I know many of you already sponsor a child, but not everyone. How can we get 2,200 kids sponsored? A quote I heard at the conference I attended is, “If you want to feel deeply, you must first think deeply.” It’s hitting me over the head everyday. I don’t want to fake or elicit shallow emotions. I want to continue to think deeply about what I know and what I can do. Can we, this small and unusual community of people interested in the trail and my attempted thru-hike, pull 2,200 kids out of the “Poverty Air” ticket line and buy them a ticket on “Hope Air”? Who can you ask to join our team and sponsor a child?

For most people, it takes more than a statistic to create an emotional response. That’s ok. While sadness or compassion may initially motivate us, responsibility and self-interest should sustain our concern and action, even when we feel detached from the facts. Let’s not forget the aspect of the joy we receive by becoming sponsors! Like Warren in About Schmidt, your answer to the questions, “What kind of difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me? What difference has my life made to anyone?” will be “One life!” I’ve made a difference in James’ life. Fabricio’s world is better because of me.

At the End of the Day
Here’s how Monday ended for me. After counting 26,000 steps, I knew another town was 6-7 miles ahead. I was low on food, so I hiked to a Mexican restaurant. Hikers enjoy Mexican because it’s usually cheap, and you can eat all the chips and salsa you want! I sat on the patio, enjoyed the shade of an umbrella and drank a whole pitcher of water. People came and went. Children stared at my dirty legs, shoes, and pack, but I was just happy to be seated and eating.

After I asked for my check, a couple at a table nearby struck up a conversation about the trail: how far I’d come, where I was going, and so on. A few minutes later, Anna and Mike said, “Well, we paid for your meal, and we hope you enjoy the rest of your hike.” I blushed and thanked them profusely, informed them that they didn’t have to do that. But during the course of their own meal, they decided they’d have more happiness from buying the meal of a stranger than had they not. “For I was hungry, and you gave me food.” To Anna and Mike, I became the one hiker they were able to help out of the thousands who pass through their town. The world needs more Anna’s and Mike’s.

After the meal, I had no plans on where I would sleep. I didn’t want to pay full price for a hotel, so I thought about “stealth camping,” reentering the woods and camping a few hundred yards from the road. As I began to leave the restaurant, a hiker I met once before motioned me to his table and offered to split the cost of a room with me! “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” The poor need our friendship.

Finally, when I arrived at the hotel, I was greeted by 11 other hikers I already knew. We sat around the pool, enjoying each other’s company. Most hikers are very generous, even though we’re mostly a poor bunch. There were shared refreshments, and no one went without. “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  The world needs more joyful sharing.

Like I keep saying about my hike, there are high-highs and low-lows. I’m so thankful for the experience up until this point. I’ve finally come to realize though that I’m reaching my end: financially, spiritually, mentally, emotionally. I realized I can’t hike on my own. And I don’t want to do it on my own because I receive so much joy relying on you, your words of encouragement, and the wisdom I’ve received from you, my friends. I gave the start of the hike to God a long time ago, but just recently, I feel like I gave Him the end. I told Him I’m at with peace with leaving the trail at anytime if this isn’t the wisest use of my time and “resources.” But I feel the end isn’t in sight yet! Next blog, which I will post in a few days, will discuss me crying in the woods, what else I’ve been learning spiritually, and will be an optional read since it has less to do with the trail and more to do with me. :)

Thanks again for reading.

Trail Report
6/1 19.8 miles, great views at McAfee Knob and along the Tinker Cliffs. Completed the 26,000 steps project. Decided to hike on into town rather than find a campsite. Happy to see familiar faces in town and split a motel room.

6/2 0 miles, staying for free at Fairfield Inn in North Roanoke. (Thank you, Marriott Reward Points!!!) Had great conversations with friends on the phone, but didn’t get the blog done. So…

6/3 0 miles :) Decided to stay for a SECOND free night and get more accomplished. I couldn’t pass up another morning of continental breakfast and a different Mexican restaurant with a lunch buffet down the street!


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