Mission trip spans 11 countries in 11 months

CORNELIUS — For 11 months starting in July, everything Alexa Kwiatkowski owns will have to fit in a backpack with her sleeping bag and a tent.

The 22-year-old Cornelius resident is about to embark on a mission trip, called the World Race, which will take her to 11 countries in 11 months to serve others.

“I’m leaving friends and family, I’m not sleeping in a bed and I’m abandoning the life I’m used to,” Alexa said. “But God is calling me and put it on my heart to really go for it.”

Having recently graduated with a degree in marketing, Alexa was at a crossroads — start a “real job” or take part in a journey to continue sharing her faith. After a lot of thought, prayers, a lengthy application process and the blessing of her parents, she accepted the opportunity.

Forty-one people, ages 21-35, are participating with her, but they will spend each month in a different country in groups of seven or eight. Her itinerary includes working in Honduras, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Philippines, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

“Thailand has always been on my list to vacation, but I never thought I would be doing mission work there,” she said, acknowledging that the travels will not be touristy.

Her time could be spent in orphanages forming relationships with the youth, doing building projects or seeing the effects of sex trafficking. In some places, her service could be as simple as yard work.

“It’s still serving and through serving I’m showing how to live like Jesus,” she said. “I’m excited to make relationships and bring them hope and joy they might not be seeing.”

“Part of the excitement is the unknown,” she added.

Though a self-proclaimed planner, her life has already had unexpected events strengthening her faith. She attended Saint Mark Catholic Church through graduation from North Mecklenburg High School, where she participated in the Young Life program, an adolescent non-denominational Christian ministry. She went on to East Carolina University, but found it wasn’t the place for her. In 2011, she spent a semester in Colorado interning for Young Life. She said her faith grew as she thrived in a community of believers.

After, she transferred to a school in Wilmington and began leading a Young Life group at a private school, which she said was great to mentor others in a small way before going out to do that in the world.

While she feels she can never be truly ready for it, Alexa is excited about the World Race.

“I saw a quote somewhere that said if you wait until you are ready to do something you are never going to do it,” she said. “It’s scary and intimidating to go into the unknown, but I’m more excited than scared to serve. I may sleep in a tent and only eat rice for 11 months, but that’s OK.

“It’s going to be the most difficult and challenging — but also the best — 11 months of my life when it comes to an end.”

Want to help? Alexa Kwiatkowski, of Cornelius, must raise $16,285 by the end of the year, when she will be more than halfway through the trip.

From 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. April 30, Proscuitto’s in Cornelius will give 10 percent of its proceeds to Alexa. She will also hold a silent auction there thanks to the generosity of area businesses. To learn more about her trip, donate or follow along with her journey, go to alexakwiatkowski.theworldrace.org.