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North Parkers Bike for Justice

Emily Johnson

CHICAGO, IL (May 5, 2008) – It was one of those crazy ideas that generally are discarded almost as quickly as they are uttered. "It would be great to do something like ride a bike across the country and raise money and awareness for a cause," Eric Landin told his friend, Matt Enquist.

Although Landin and Enquist have never done long-distance rides, they embraced the idea. So they and four other fellow North Park University students will soon set out on an 11-week trip from San Francisco, California, to Boston, Massachusetts, hoping to raise money for two international projects, while also discussing issues of compassion, mercy and justice with Evangelical Covenant Churches along the way.

The first to be recruited was Emily Johnson. Johnson had long-distance cycling experience, having ridden across Wisconsin on one trip and Illinois and Iowa on another. Oh, and there was the time she rode from Minnesota to North Park, arriving just before her first day of classes as a freshman.

"I took a little convincing, but after a couple weeks of Matt's pestering, I committed to the trip,” Johnson says.

Three other students subsequently were persuaded: Andrea Buchanan, Marcus Simmons and Dylan Maysick. Four members of the group attend Covenant congregations. Enquist attends Libertyville Covenant in Libertyville, Illinois; Buchanan attends Prairie Hills Covenant Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Landin attends Zion Covenant Church in Jamestown, New York; and Johnson attends Bethany Covenant Church in Minneapolis. Simmons is from Longview, Texas, and Maysick is from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The students will raise money for Spark Ventures and Acirfa Bikes. Spark Ventures offers unique ways of sponsoring children in Zambia. Rich Johnson, director of University Ministries at North Park, is a co-founder. Acirfa is a nonprofit operation providing jobs at a bicycle assembly plant as well as low-cost bicycles in Zambia. Vaughn Spethmann, a member of Clairemont Covenant Church in San Diego, California, is one of the co-founders.

Donations to the projects can be made through the organizations’ websites. The trip is being sponsored by North Park University office of undergraduate admissions and University Ministries. Mark Olson, dean of enrollment and director of church relations, says the school is paying the students’ expenses.

“These are highly motivated Christian young adults,” Olson says. “They want to learn how churches across the country are reaching out to our world with the compassion, mercy and justice of God, and to share how their own lives have been changed as they have done the same.”

Rich Johnson, the team’s trip advisor, is equally enthusiastic about their commitment. “When the students first approached me with this idea, it was clear that it wasn't just about the adventure of biking across the country,” he says. “Right from the start I have been impressed with the tenacity and diligence of these students. A trip like this has numerous details and issues that have to be addressed, and Matt, Eric and Emily have risen to the occasion, doing the research and careful planning that were needed.”

The students began their planning by locating every Covenant church on a Google map and then contacting congregations along possible routes. They will sleep at the churches as well as engage in conversations and even participate in various activities. “I’m really looking forward to meeting people along the way and hearing about what they are doing in their communities,” Buchanan says.

The students will start their journey at Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City, California, outside San Francisco. They will then cross California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts before concluding in Quincy, Massachusetts.

The group will fly to San Francisco on May 23 and be joined by Richard Johnson. They will speak at Peninsula Covenant on May 25 and then embark on the adventure May 26.

The cyclists will average between 50 and 75 miles a day, says Landin. They expect to pass through at least one town on each leg of the trip. The team will maintain a blog as they travel across the country.

The six have been meeting together at least once or twice a week to pray and plan the trip. They also have been squeezing in individual training sessions of up to 30 miles a day, as weather permits, amid their busy schedules. In addition to her regular training rides, Buchanan cycles to her job downtown. Team members say they will have more opportunity to practice together when classes end this week.

Students will maintain a blog during their journey http://bikeforjustice.blogspot.com

Copyright 2008, Evangelical Covenant Church.