It took some effort, but Katherine Davis was able to pare down her possessions for the coming year so they fit in one backpack.
The 2004 Glenelg High School graduate sold most of her furniture and clothes. She gave her television and Prius to her parents. She trimmed her wardrobe to the barest essentials.
A single 37-pound backpack is Davis' sole piece of luggage for an 11-month mission trip called The World Race, which will take her to impoverished countries around the world doing such tasks as caring for orphans, helping reconstruct communities hit by disaster and working in refugee camps.
"I can't wait, but I know it will be the hardest year of my life," said Davis, 25, a few days before her planned Sept. 5 departure. "I expect to come back completely different."
She said she first heard about The World Race, organized by the nondenominational Christian group Adventures in Missions, while a student at the University of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, Va.
The program, for people ages 21 to 35, asks participants to live and work in needy communities for a year, where they can expect to both change the world around them and be changed by their experiences.
"We're seeking participants who believe that God is actively at work today," reads The World Race website. "People who not only want to do the Lord's work, but who are willing to let the Lord work in their hearts over the year."
In December, Davis, known to her friends as Kat, took the leap and signed up. "I couldn't just sit and not do anything," said Davis, who has lively brown eyes, shiny, shoulder-length dark hair and a ready smile.
She'll travel in a team of six women. Her first stop will be in the Philippines, where she'll "work with orphans and street children" as part of Kids International Ministries. "We're at their service," she said.
While her itinerary is uncertain, Davis expects China to be the next stop, and anticipates spending time in South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland, Serbia, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua as well. "I'm going to not only see poverty I didn't know existed, but I'll live in it," she said. "There's no way I can come back and be the same person."
The trip also includes a "challenge" month, in which members of the team make their own arrangements, finding a place where they are needed and figuring out how to get there.
Davis is expected to blog about her experiences throughout the trip and will have Internet access to communicate with her parents on occasion. She's still raising the $14,800 required for the trip, to cover the anticipated $3.25 a day for food and $5 daily for lodging and transportation. She expects most of her meals to be rice and beans.
'Pretty scary' for mom
Davis is the youngest of three children. Her sister, Liz Todd, a nurse, is 26, and brother Tim Davis, 31, works for Patuxent Publishing, which owns this newspaper.
Her mother said the family, who live in Dayton, was always devoted to community service.
"I think Katherine's an amazing young woman," Christine Davis said. "I'm really impressed by what she's doing. I think it's amazing. I also don't think I will sleep a wink the entire time she's gone. It's pretty scary."
While in college, Davis developed an interest in working to prevent violence against women. Upon graduation, she landed a six-month fellowship with the Polaris Project, a Washington-based organization that works against human trafficking.
From there, she accepted a job with Courtney's House, also in Washington, which specializes in outreach to children who are victims of sex trafficking. She found the work fascinating and important, but eventually went to work as assistant manager of the Lululemon store in Tyson Corner. All the while, she was thinking about The World Race.
Once she joined, she became part of a squad of 54 men and women from all over the U.S., as well as from Canada and England, who together attended a 10-day training session in Tennessee in July. For Davis, who had never been camping, the camp was physically and emotionally grueling.
The group lived in tents, moved around, and faced obstacles such as having half their luggage stolen — a set-up exercise designed to prepare them for what they might face on their journey. "For the first couple of days, I was like, 'there's no way I can do this,'" she said.