By John Brooks
CHICAGO (January 26, 2012) – An Evangelical Covenant Church member who graduated from North Park University in 2010 has embarked with two companions on a two-year, 7,000-mile journey from southern Africa to its northern coast as a way of calling attention to the need for clean drinking water in developing world nations.
The trio hopes to raise $8 million to fund water projects worldwide, says Amy Russell, who initiated the trip.
Russell is a member of Trinity Covenant Church in Manchester, Connecticut, and earned a bachelor’s degree in business with a concentration in nonprofit management.
The “Africa Walk” is the next step in her own education about poverty, which began while studying at North Park. Russell was president of the university’s chapter of International Justice Mission, a Washington-based human rights agency, and took a class to learn more about human trafficking.
“I wrote some papers on this subject, and it became abundantly clear to me that one of the root causes of human trafficking and human suffering in the world is poverty,” Russell says. Among other things, she also learned that “clean water is a first step in ending extreme poverty.”
Russell already has logged plenty of miles preparing for the trek through Africa. Last summer, she walked through her home state of Connecticut and covered 500 miles in California to bring attention to the dire needs of people around the world. Walk4Water encourages groups and individuals to arrange similar fundraising experiences.
Russell traveled from Newark, New Jersey, to Cape Town, South Africa. Two colleagues, Aaron Tharp, and Marty Yoder, later joined her. Tharp is a member of Jesus People USA Covenant Church.
After securing a support vehicle and collecting supplies, the trio was scheduled to follow some of the eastern coastline of Africa, then travel north along the Nile River through Cairo, Egypt, and continue to their goal, the Mediterranean Sea.
Others from Walk4Water will travel with the trio for selected portions of the trip. Though she has never been to Africa, Russell and her colleagues have consulted people who have spent time there. Sub-Saharan Africa, she says, is one of the places where clean water needs are greatest.
The three expect to “connect with many people, organizations, missionaries and orphanages along the way,” she adds. They will camp or stay with people during the journey, and volunteer with organizations already working in Africa.
Members of Trinity Covenant are helping support her mission. The youth group is providing offerings for the Africa Walk.
The most difficult part of preparing for the walk has been assuring family and friends, Russell says. “My parents are supportive, though it took them a while to adjust to this idea.”
She adds that the idea was not hers. “This is definitely about God telling me to do this,” Russell explains. “I believe in the cause of clean water. I hope this inspires people to think bigger about the world, and believe in bigger things.”
Her faith already has inspired others, including her former professor Scot McKnight, the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies. When Russell told him of the Africa journey, he voiced his apprehension.
“I had just returned from South Africa, and a few people had regaled me with stories of violence, and so her decision concerned me,” he says. “She said they thought God would protect them (Theology 101 in my face).”
More than Russell’s faith has impressed McKnight. “I have watched Amy and her friends grow and become solidified in this noble pursuit of justice for the poorest of the poor in our world. I consider it a great privilege to say I was one of Amy’s teachers.”
A U.S.-based team developed a marketing and fundraising plan, including Matt Vickers, another North Park student who got to know Russell while serving on a mission trip.
Vickers earned a bachelor’s degree in advertising and a nonprofit management certificate in 2011. He and Russell have talked about the idea of walking through Africa since 2009, he says. His team is also providing prayer support for Russell and the trio in Africa.
Marketing and advertising will be directed primarily at college students, church groups and others with an interest in the topic, Vickers says. They will use the Internet, social media tools, email, letter-writing and other means to spread their messages, raise funds and offer prayer support.
At the conclusion of the trip, the Walk4Water team plans to produce resource materials from the journey and pursue a speaking tour in the United States and United Kingdom.
Click here to watch a video about the project.
Editor’s note: John Brooks is the director of media relations and news at North Park University.