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Gainesville organization offers 11-month mission trip
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World Race missionaries sit at the Mayan ruins of Palenque in Mexico. The trip involves 11 countries, and this year includes stops in Ireland, Romania, Egypt, Israel, Kenya, Vietnam and Thailand.

Some people dedicate their lives to be a missionary, moving to a foreign country to help others.

Not ready for that kind of commitment? Try an 11-month mission trip instead.

That's one of the options offered by Adventures in Missions, a Gainesville-based organization that helps young adults minister around the world.

The 11-month, 11-country World Race, a trip organized by AIM, teaches missionaries about different cultures while allowing participants enough time to form a stronger relationship with God.

The AIM offices, along with a training camp, are in North Hall. More than 80,000 have participated in the AIM mission experience, said founder Seth Barnes.

The idea for an 11-month mission trip began in 2005, and the first one took place the next year.

"I was in Cape Town (South Africa) and I was talking with an associate there, and she and I partnered in that first year to create a team that included both South Africans and Americans," he said. "Everybody that came out of there is in ministry, and it really impacted their life."

There were 24 young adults on the first team. Barnes said this year there will be 10 times as many participants.

"We've got a great staff and a staff that is really committed to trying to disciple young people in a way Jesus did," Barnes said. "The trouble is, in churches it's hard to have the intensive time with young people that you need."

An intensive time is exactly what participants get when they apply for the World Race, one of several programs offered by AIM. After the application process comes training and then the 11-month mission trip around the world.

"We have a very stringent application process," said Ashley Musick, a World Race participant leader with AIM. "They have to answer various questions about their walk with the Lord, how they became a Christian, what types of ministries they're currently involved in, why they want to go on the World Race."

Participants in the World Race must be between the ages of 21 and 35, have a committed relationship with Jesus, have a positive attitude and a willingness to help other nations, Musick said.

Jeff Goins, director of marketing for AIM, said participants head up to the training facility in North Hall to prepare.

"We set up big tents in the summertime," he said. "We have a lot of high school and college-age students that come up here and train for other AIM programs. We've got lots of land and bunk houses out here."

Last year the organization finished converting offices into an indoor training facility, too, he said.

The length of training varies depending on the mission trip. For the World Race, training is 10 days and includes cultural training sessions with a concentration on personal transformation.

"Basically by taking them out of their comfort zone and putting them in a new place with challenging and unfamiliar surroundings we realize that the participants tend to rely more heavily on God," Goins said.

There is a World Race trip leaving in June and another in August. Stops include Ireland, Romania, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Kenya, Uganda, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

"I like to call it an initiation experience because young people are not initiated in our culture," Barnes said. "They need an opportunity to go out on their own and to see the world."

The trip costs $13,000, he said. And gives the organization a chance to spend more time with the participants.

"What we realized was the longer we have with the young adults, then the better we can do, the better discipleship that we can bring to their lives."

Musick has been on two World Races.

"It's a very long and amazing process," said the West Virginia native. "It's a yearlong pilgrimage is what we refer to it as, because it's each person going after the heart of the Lord to get to know him better and become a disciple of Christ."

Along with being away from home for 11 months, the participants abandon all but the essentials.

"You live out of a backpack," Musick said. "We take everything with us, we take a tent and sleeping bag and mat and all of our clothes. Sometimes we'll stay in churches or host homes. ... World Racers live on about $10 a day for food, lodging and daily transportation."

Barnes said his call to reach out to others began right after graduating from business school in 1987.

"I had a lot of offers and opportunities and I just couldn't escape the call of God that there was something more than just a career and earning a paycheck," Barnes said. "I thought that he wanted me to impact the lives of young people."

Barnes began AIM in 1989 in Florida working out of his garage. After a few years with his ministry, Barnes said he felt like he had a calling to teach youth how to hear God's voice.

"A lot of people have not been taught that in churches and don't understand what it means to have a personal relationship with God," he said. "So mission trips are a great venue for teaching young people that. You get them out of there and give them space and time to hear what he's saying."

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