By Roberta Olson, Correspondent
Two 2017 Sauk Centre graduates learned suddenly in the past few weeks that when you are planning your future, life happens.
Katelyn Gierke, 18, and MiKayla Olson, 19, were to set out Sept. 7 on the first leg of a nine-month international mission journey to discover their purpose in life, and to discover what God has in store for them.
On Aug. 29, just two weeks away from their planned departure for the World Race Gap Year program, Katelyn’s father, Bob Gierke, died of a heart attack at age 48, leaving her, mother, Pam Gierke, and four siblings behind.
Needless to say, Katelyn’s plans changed.
“I am for surely staying home this upcoming year to help out,” Katelyn said. “I will potentially be going on a few shorter mission trips in the future with Adventures in Mission using the money that I raised. As of now, I am thinking that I will start school at Bethel University next fall 2018, and go on mission trips in the summer.”
MiKayla, meanwhile, left for the mission program as scheduled Thursday, but making the trip to Georgia for final training, and leaving for Cambodia on Sept. 10, without her best friend.
The plans for the trip all started when, as juniors in high school, the two young women were sitting together in class one day, and together made a plan — to research the mission field.
MiKayla had been introduced to the World Race program by a girl from Alexandria Covenant Church, who had made the mission.
“I looked it up and showed Katelyn, and yah, that’s what we want to do,” smiled MiKayla.
They applied a year ago and were accepted this spring.
World Race Gap Year takes college-aged students to three continents in nine months to serve the poorest of people. The girls expected to work with sex trafficking victims, teach English, teach Vacation Bible School, work in orphanages, on building projects, or church planting.
Each had been working to raise the $15,000 fees, and to prepare for their life adventure.
They sent out support letters to try to meet the $10,000 goal by Aug. 25. Both contributed their graduation gift cash and their savings.
MiKayla sold bracelets made in the Philippines, and did face painting at the Glenwood Waterama. Katelyn designed a T-shirt to sell, and organized a family garage sale.
July 6-16, the two attended training camp which simulated living conditions in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Guatemala and Honduras. Held at Gainesville, Ga., the weather was 95 degrees, with 100 percent humidity, heavy rain and flooding.
They tried out the equipment they would be taking, a 50 pound backpack, and a 20-pound day bag, which held their tent, sleeping bag, pillow, clothes, personal supplies, camera, cellphone, computer and batteries.
Camp included scenarios of conditions they would face, including bucket showers, and porta-potties.
In one exercise, half of the squad packs were “stolen or delayed at the airport,” forcing the two to share clothes, supplies and sleep in one tent.
They hiked 2.2 miles over a hilly, muddy, rocky route with their team in 38 minutes, in 99 degree weather, carrying all their gear.
MiKayla’s team made the timeline. One girl on Katelyn’s team, however, sprained her ankle and couldn’t finish, so the team had to repeat the exercise the next day.
They experienced “Africa Day” when they wore clothing covering their entire bodies, scarves when they ate, and eating with their hands.
“There was no silverware, with everybody eating from the same plate,” Katelyn said. They tasted fried crickets, goat and chicken gizzards.
“Crickets tasted like burnt sunflower seeds,” said Katelyn.
On market day, they bargained for food, dealt with beggars, scam artists and pickpockets.
They learned to always keep their pack in front of them, to travel in twos and to never leave their belongings unattended.
MiKayla’s team, “Hearts Ablaze,” has three girls and two boys, all from different states.
The team gathered in Georgia to leave for Cambodia Sunday, Sept. 10. Parents went along to say their last goodbyes, and will visit them at the halfway point in Guatemala.
“I am excited to see what the Lord is going to do to my life,” Katelyn said. She has had a deep spiritual life since she suffered a serious skiing accident three years ago.
“After my accident it dawned on me that God told me that I needed to do something else with my life, otherwise I will be wasting it. My faith became more important after that. I changed my priorities.”
MiKayla said, “I think that doing this trip is really just serving my purpose in life. I hope I can continue serving God in this way.”
People can follow MiKayla’s travels on her blog located at www.mikaylaolson.theworldrace.org. Donors can also contribute through the Donate button on the website.