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Mission Improbable: Dayton woman sets off on mission trip around the world

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.

But she rose to the challenge, and even repacked her backpack, removing items to lighten her load from 44 pounds to 37. Since she expects to be in South Africa in the heat of summer and Eastern Europe in the thick of winter, her plan is to buy a winter coat when she needs it.

'Willing to jump in'

Davis has support from Di Dinnis, 24, a fellow Glenelg High School graduate who did the World Race in 2009, shortly after graduating from Towson University, and now works in Atlanta for Adventures in Missions.

Dinnis said she was inspired to take part in the World Race by a three-week Adventures in Missions trip to India she took during her senior year in college. She helped throw a Christmas party for orphans and lepers, and said she realized she had to do more.

She said she set out on The World Race thinking she would change the world, and instead found that she was the one who was changed, as the people she met "gave me so much more than I could ever give them."

Dinnis said she's known Davis since high school.

"We both like our clothes, and to be clean and have our stuff," she said.

But part of the experience, Dinnis said, is learning how to get along with few possessions. She remembers being amazed at children in the Dominican Republic who treasured a simple paddle toy, and said she came to realize that relationships, not possessions, are what matter.

"Kat loves life, she is very much a go-getter, she has a huge heart for social justice," Dinnis said. "She's willing to jump in."

The World Race squad is divided into teams, and Davis happens to be part of an all-female team, since there are more women than men. The group is collaborating on their packing, so just one is bringing a knife and one is bringing iPod speakers. They agreed they would each bring a nail polish in a different color, so they could share, Davis said.

The group was scheduled to meet in Atlanta, where Adventures in Missions is based, for five days before heading to the Philippines. As departure day approached, Davis was nervous but excited. She had packed her backpack and was getting used to toting around the weight. She was planning a crab dinner as her last meal.

"I think this will be a shock for her," Christine Davis said. "She's never camped. She has led a very middle-class life. I think it will be quite eye-opening for her."

Davis said she is ready.

"It's an opportunity for us to give up our American lives and possessions," she said. "I don't think what we're called to is living a life that is easy. I want so much more than that."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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    Katherine Davis poses with her backpack, filled with 37 lbs. of necessities, at Centennial Park in Ellicott City. Davis left Monday to begin an 11 month mission trip to various third-world countries, beginning with the Phillipines.

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    Katherine Davis looks through a world atlas at Centennial Park, preparing for her nearly year-long mission trip overseas. "Kat loves life," said friend Di Dinnis, a fellow Glenelg High School graduate. "She has a huge heart for social justice."

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