In this Newsline interview, Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) workers Chelsea Goss and Rebekah Maldonado-Nofziger talk about their cross country bicycling adventure “BVS Coast to Coast.” They started off May 1 from the Atlantic coast of Virginia, and completed the trek Aug. 18 on the Pacific coast of Oregon. On the way they visited church communities and friends and family to promote BVS, and participated in three Church of the Brethren conferences. Their major learning? The kindness and caring of the people they met:
Newsline: So, did the trip meet your expectations?
Chelsea: It did. I wasn’t a biker before, so I knew it was going to be something that would challenge me. There never was any time that I thought I wasn’t going to make it, but it was challenging. And I thought that I would get to meet people and see beautiful sights, and both of those things happened.
Everyone always asks, who’s the craziest person you met? Or, what’s the craziest thing that happened? I think the craziest thing that happened is that everyone we met--every single person--was just so kind. Everyone was very hospitable and gracious, strangers would offer us places to stay or food or water or ask if we had everything we needed.
Rebekah: The bike across the country happened and in some sense it just seems like it was a dream. It happened in less than four months, and went by so fast. People were so kind and gave us a lot of love. I think it surpassed expectations, and it was a good time.
My dad and I had done some biking together. I biked up to Harrisonburg, Va., from Ohio to begin my freshman year in college, and I did a couple of other trips that weren't so long. My dad was an avid biker. He passed away two years ago. My dad's dream was to have our family bike out to the west coast and then down to Bolivia, so I thought this could be the beginning of completing the dream we had together. I still want to go to Bolivia, but this is just the beginning!
Newsline: How many church communities did you visit?
Chelsea: It was like 25-30 Brethren and then like 15-20 Mennonite, and then 15-20 others. That’s just where we stayed overnight. Sometimes we visited people throughout the day too, and family’s not counted in those numbers. And we tried to take a day off a week. Whoever’s house we stayed at, we’d usually sit down and have a meal together and would talk and hear stories. It was more the individual contact and conversations that we had that were more important to us.
Newsline: How did you come up with this idea?
Chelsea: I had the idea after coming back from a Learning Tour with David Radcliff to Burma. The last couple of years I’ve had a lot of opportunity to travel, and I love traveling abroad. I just had this realization that there’s so much of this country that I haven’t seen, and cultures in this country that I don’t know or haven’t met.
In Harrisonburg, Va., I was working for New Community Project, and Rebekah was a nurse and lived in the intentional community. I had given myself two weeks to find someone to bike with. I said to myself, if I can find someone in the next two weeks then I’ll go. But if not, then I’m going to leave this idea behind. And then Rebekah became my roommate and she said to me, “If you need someone for this bike trip I’d be interested.” We didn’t know each other at that point, but I said, “Ok, let’s go!”
Newsline: So it was a step of faith? Did you have apprehensions?
Chelsea: Yeah, I was nervous, of course. You’re always going to take some kind of risk in whatever you do--driving to work is a risk. This was definitely a risk, but it was a thought-out risk.
Newsline: What kind of planning did you do?
Chelsea: I had Google maps and I started pin pointing where I knew people in the country. When Rebekah came on board we started pin pointing her people on this map, and then BVS sites also. And then we connected the dots so we had our whole schedule planned out before we left. I could tell you before we left where I was going to be on August 16, for example. Of course, we left some room for buffer days, just in case we got off track.
Newsline: What was the hardest part of the trip?
Chelsea: I’d say anytime there was wind it was really the hardest. Everyone said we were going the wrong way because we were going against the wind! But I said, when does the hard way have to be the wrong way? Something I knew, but it was emphasized more in the trip, was how being mentally present and aware of what you have in front of you really helps.
Rebekah: Not being able to stay longer with such nice people we met along the way! The bike trip was a challenge in various ways: routing, hard terrain, weather, communication, and just feeling plain tired on some days. But I think we learned from those experiences and moved forward.
Newsline: What learnings do you take away from this?
Chelsea: I took away the importance of just slowing down. Since we were able to slow down and not have a schedule running through our heads all the time, or a list of things to do, there was room for other things to think about. Or not to think about. I often found myself just enjoying the creation around us. You feel all the elements, if there’s rain or wind or sunshine. Some days I would just find myself in prayer, not consciously, it would just automatically happen.
One of what Rebekah called our “pump up songs” was “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley. “Don’t worry about a thing, ’cause every little thing’s gonna be alright.” Jesus says the same thing: “Don’t worry.” I think we worry a lot on a day-to-day basis, and it was neat to see how we were taken care of.
Rebekah: We listened to two songs in particular...“Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley and “One Day” by Matisyahu. Both songs we used as our time to gear us up to continue biking, and get me motivated to keep pedaling onward. In “Three Little Birds,” Bob Marley writes that we should not worry--and it was a time of reflection and meditation for me. When listening to “One Day” it encouraged me--the young generation--that we can change the world, and we can work towards a more peaceful world. There is hope.
Another learning experience for me is that communication is really important. Ha, who would of thought! Being with the same person for such a long time shows how human you are.
I also learned more about the Church of the Brethren and the values and beliefs. I am so thankful and honored to be included in the family of the Church of the Brethren and be able to share the trek across the country with Chelsea! The Church of the Brethren has great examples on how to follow the revolutionary way of Jesus through loving your enemies, your neighbors, those in need. Look at Peggy Gish, for example, working with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq. I am so thankful for the example folks in the church have challenged me to live!
Newsline: Was there any particular experience on the ride that you are going to remember?
Rebekah: I have been challenged by people we have met on this trip, both in the church and out, that have showed acts of love and mercy towards us and the world. I have found that it is very easy to make generalizations of people groups that we do not know very much about. By biking across the country, I have learned that there are very kind people that are so giving--that's all we encountered! To have us, two young women, bike across the country seems risky to many, but we found nothing but love and lots of care towards us.
Newsline: What’s next for you?
Chelsea: I’ve actually done my year of BVS, but I’m staying on a couple months to help with fall orientation. I just got my visa for Australia, and my brother Tyler and I are moving there to work with Jarrod McKenna and the First Home Project, as well as being the youth pastors at a church there. At this point, we're planning on leaving in December and staying for roughly a year.
Rebekah: I'll be working as a nurse with Seattle Mennonite Church and Seattle University College, in a program that partners to serve the homeless population. I will help them transition from the hospital to a more permanent home, assisting them with their health care needs.
-- Find out more about BVS Coast to Coast, read a blog, and see pictures from the experience at http://bvscoast2coast.brethren.org .