North Park University Graduate to Begin Two-Year Journey Across Africa

Amy Russell
Amy Russell leads the 'Africa Walk" beginning Jan. 18.

Amy Russell and team to call for clean water, project fundraising

CHICAGO (January 12, 2012) – A 2010 North Park University graduate, along with two companions, will leave the United States next week to start a two-year, 7,000-mile journey from southern Africa to its northern coast. Amy Russell is leading the journey to call attention to the need for clean water to help reduce extreme poverty, and to work toward a fundraising goal of $8 million to raise funds for water projects worldwide.

Russell, 23, who earned a bachelor's degree in business with a concentration in nonprofit management, said the decision to begin the "Africa Walk" is a calling inspired by God. The journey culminates some learnings about poverty while she was a North Park student. Russell was president of the University's chapter of International Justice Mission, a Washington-based human rights agency, and took a class to learn more about human trafficking.

"I wrote some papers on this subject, and it became abundantly clear to me that one of the root causes of human trafficking and human suffering in the world is poverty," Russell said in an interview. Among other things, she also learned that "clean water is a first step in ending extreme poverty." Russell founded "Walk4Water" while she was a University student, an organization that calls attention to clean water needs, and raises funds for water projects. Walk4Water provides the funds to charity:water, New York, which sends 100 percent of its funds for water projects in developing nations.

Russell has walked in the United States, raising attention and funds for clean water. Last summer, she walked through her home state of Connecticut, and she walked 500 miles through California to raise attention for clean water. Walk4Water encourages groups and individuals to arrange similar fundraising experiences.

Russell will leave Newark, N.J., Jan. 18 and fly to Cape Town, South Africa. Two colleagues, Aaron Tharp, and Marty Yoder, will join her. The three will secure a support vehicle and collect supplies for their journey. They are expected to follow some of the eastern coastline of Africa, then travel north along the Nile River through Cairo, Egypt, and to their goal, the Mediterranean Sea. Others from Walk4Water will travel with the trio for selected portions of the trip. Though she has never been to Africa before, Russell and her colleagues have consulted people who have spent time there. Sub-Saharan Africa, she said, is one of the places where clean water needs are greatest. The three expect to "connect with many people, organizations, missionaries and orphanages along the way," she said. They will camp or stay with people during the journey, and volunteer with organizations already working in Africa.

Helping the trio is a U.S.-based team. Matt Vickers, Chicago, support team coordinator, led a team which developed a marketing and fundraising plan for the trip. Vickers got to know Russell on mission trips while they were both University students. He earned a bachelor's degree in advertising and nonprofit management certificate in 2011. Vickers and Russell have talked about the idea of walking through Africa since 2009, he said. His team is also providing prayer support for Russell and the trio in Africa.

Russell, seen here as she began a walk across Connecticut in 2011, has done many long walks in the United States to call attention to the need for clean water.

Marketing and advertising will be aimed primarily at college students, church groups and others with an interest in the topic, Vickers said. They'll use the Web, social media tools, email, letter-writing and other tactics to spread their messages, raise funds and offer prayer support. At the end of the trip, the Walk4Water team plans to produce materials from the journey, and members will go on a speaking tour in the United States and United Kingdom.

"(This is) a huge goal I know Amy is capable of upholding," said Vickers. "She has a heart for it and strength for it. We've talked about the risks. She's done tons of research and will put herself into it. She's talked with many people who've been missionaries there."

Some North Park University faculty and staff are aware of Russell's dream to do something tangible to bring clean water to people in need. One is Dr. Scot McKnight, Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies, a widely-recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. When Russell told him of the Africa journey, McKnight said he was concerned initially about the group's safety during such a trip.

"I had just returned from South Africa and a few had regaled me with stories of violence, and so her decision concerned me. She said they thought God would protect them (Theology 101 in my face)," he said.

"I have watched Amy and her friends grow and become solidified in this noble pursuit of justice for the poorest of the poor in our world," said McKnight, echoing the University's mission of preparing students for lives of significance and service through education. "I consider it a great privilege to say I was one of Amy's teachers," he added.

Also supporting Russell and her colleagues are members of Trinity Covenant Church, an Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) congregation in Manchester, Conn., the congregation where Russell grew up. She has spoken there about her clean water work, and the congregation's youth group is providing offerings for the Africa Walk. North Park University is affiliated with the ECC.

The most difficult part of preparing for the Africa Walk has been assuring family and friends, Russell said. "My parents are supportive, though it took them a while to adjust to this idea," she said. Russell has one sibling, a sister, 19.

"This is definitely about God telling me to do this. I believe in the cause of clean water. I hope this inspires people to think bigger about the world, and believe in bigger things," she said.

Walk4Water's nonprofit partner organization is Global Outreach, Bramwell, W.V.

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