Rolling away Stones
Every day for 40 days, Russell York woke up and wondered why he was here.
Then, he packed up his gear, got back on his bike, and rode 100 more miles, one pedal stroke at a time.
“MY BIKE TRIP
TURNED INTO A
SHINING LIGHT OF HOPE
FOR THEM, AND I
York, a 21-year-old senior at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia, biked over 3,200 miles in 40 days across the United States to raise awareness and funds for Young Life’s ministry to Ukrainian orphans. Young Life is a nonprofit Christian group that supports faith-based orphanages in the country. He arrived at the Pacific Ocean in his home state of California on June 27. One week later, York crossed the ocean on his way to visit the orphans in Ukraine he’s cared so much about.
During the journey, he found his purpose in Matthew 28:2, where the angel at Christ’s tomb rolls away the stone and reveals the risen Christ to the world. “We’re all empowered to roll the stones away in the hearts of people that haven’t seen the risen Christ,” York said. “We too often ignore that.”
That stone weighed heavy for York, who endured almost constant physical pain, long hills, triple-digit desert temperatures, continual flat tires, a collision with a car, and some unwelcome rattlesnake guests during his solo trip. Before his departure, York had rarely biked long distances, and after biking 45 miles from Washington, D.C., to Purcellville, Virginia, on his first day, he was already hurting. To reach the California coast in 40 days, he’d have to ride more than twice that far every day. “I was like, ‘Oh, no, this is going to be a problem,’ ” he said. “I honestly didn’t know what I was doing.”
York slept in a tiny, cocoon-like tent by the side of the road for only a few hours each day and realized that he was “technically homeless.”
“You don’t realize how much air conditioning, a warm bed, clean clothes, showers, and food matter until you don’t have them,” York said.
Crossing Arkansas in June, he was hit by a car traveling 55 miles per hour. His bike absorbed most of the impact, and York credits God’s providence for allowing him to walk away with minor scrapes and bruises.
“If there was a moment of clarity for me, it was when I walked out of the hospital on my own two legs,” York wrote. “I guess what I learned is that death is the kind of thing that blindsides you on an idle Tuesday.”
The best part of his trip was telling the people he met about the reason he kept riding: over 100,000 orphans half a world away. Ukrainian orphans don’t receive simple signs of love such as human touch, and many die from neglect. When they age out of the system, as young as 15 years old, 60 to 70 percent turn to crime and prostitution, and many more are at risk for human trafficking.
“There’s such lack of love for 100,000 kids in a country halfway across the world that people never hear about,” York said.
York’s trip raised money and awareness for Young Life. He kept a running blog about his journey and was surprised to learn that orphans and staff in Ukraine were following his entries. “My bike trip turned into a shining light of hope for them, and I didn’t even realize it,” York said.
“A long time ago this trip became bigger than me pedaling,” York blogged. “The real story has been about lots of things—the generosity of strangers, the depth of common people, the power of being friendly, the awesomeness of God. You can get anywhere one step, pedal stroke, or word at a time. It’s all about putting your head down, setting a goal, and gritting your teeth until you accomplish what no one said you could.”
For more information on Russell’s trip, to find out how to donate to Young Life, and to read about his ministry to Ukrainian orphans, visit 3,000 Miles for Ukraine.
Alicia Constant is a junior journalism
major at Patrick Henry College. A version
of this article originally appeared in WORLD on July 4, 2011. Reprinted with permission.