400 Miles to Welcome the Stranger

By Giselle Gonzales

 An Interview with Kyle Turver

By Giselle Gonzales

On June 21st outside the World Relief Seattle offices in Kent, Washington a crowd gathered to send off 46 people like you and me (that is to say, non-professional athletes), to ride their bikes on a five day, 400-mile journey across Washington. Over mountains, alongside rivers, and through endless rolling farmlands—from Seattle, to the Tri-Cities, then on to Spokane—these cyclists rode to raise awareness and financial support for refugees in the Pacific Northwest as part of World Relief’s 2017 SEA-TRI-KAN (STK) bike ride.

Following the extreme government cuts that took place in early 2017, refugee support and resettlement agencies across the United States suddenly found themselves without a critical portion of their funding. This meant bad news for sustaining their work to aid refugees and asylum seekers. So when Seattle-based World Relief—a refugee resettlement agency—was hit by these major budget cuts, sudden layoffs, and fluctuating travel bans, their third annual SEA-TRI-KAN ride kicked off with even greater significance as a way to stand defiant and invite the community to support refugees.

But let’s back up to about a month before the ride, where this particular story begins with a reformer—a man named Kyle Turver—who was one of 46 riders to donate time, money, and passion to support local refugees. A worship director in Seattle, Kyle is a quintessential Seattleite who rocks a beard and looks like he’d be perfectly at home in any coffee shop, bookshop, or brewery. He is easygoing, brims with creativity, and can speak readily about putting his faith into action. Which, in this case, meant hopping on his bike to participate in a journey across Washington that I get exhausted just thinking about.

 

Photo by: Nathaniel Dietz

 

But Kyle is no stranger to biking. He began riding to work in 2010 and began participating in long rides two years ago. When he and his fellow cyclist Matt heard that World Relief was hosting a bike ride across the length of Washington State to respond in solidarity with refugees, it didn’t take much to convince them to sign up. Kyle’s church, Bethany Presbyterian, has a long relationship with World Relief and a strong history of welcoming refugees. This background, coupled with his familiarity with long-distance biking, helped make the decision to participate in the STK an easy one.

To participate in the STK each cyclist rallied support from friends and family to raise a minimum of $1,750 for World Relief, and thanks to a government matching grant, those donations were not doubled, but tripledmeaning that each rider is helping enroll 8 refugees on Seattle’s Match Grant Employment Program. (Multiply that by 46 riders, and that means at least 368 refugees enrolled). The money raised provides housing assistance, transportation, English language classes, job skills training, and interview preparation for incoming and newly arrived refugees.

 

Photo by: Nathaniel Dietz

 

While chatting with Kyle, I asked him what he hoped to accomplish through participating in the bike ride. He broke it down into three pieces.

First: “It’s about supporting an organization that’s worthy of our support. World Relief really puts their money where their mouth is and does the work of the Gospel without forcing, manipulating, or coercing. They see a need and they’ve dedicated themselves to meet it. That is a cause worth donating my money to, and also worth helping friends and family do the same.”

Second, he decided to ride to raise awareness and encourage local communities to support refugees who come to the area instead of leaving it all to organizations. He underscored how he hopes this moment of engagement will be transformative not only for his community, but for his own heart as well.

Third, he wanted to connect with actual refugees who would also be riding in the SEA-TRI-KAN. “I hope it’s an opportunity to change the way that I operate,” he explained. He feels his role at the moment is primarily to listen and to learn. And what better way to do that than by hearing from people who have been personally impacted by the cause he rides for?

What I loved about Kyle is that he didn’t decide to participate in this ride as a way to be seen as a do-gooder. Rather, he saw it as a clear way to partner his love for biking with a deep conviction to welcome the stranger. It’s his belief that by caring for people who are different from us, we offer that same hospitality and love to God.

“I keep trying to imagine what it would be like if I was in that position [of a refugee],” Kyle said.

“If we were fleeing death and destruction, what kind of person would I hope to find along the road? What sort of welcome would I hope to receive?”  

 

Photo by: Jared Knutzen

 

“I feel like the ride is a small thing. It’s a reason, it gets you moving, it starts a conversation. The ride is ultimately not the thing that’s all that interesting.” (Although I would argue biking 400-miles across a state definitely qualifies as interesting.) But for Kyle, “The ride is a catalyst. To see a need, see something in your life that is worth doing and stepping into it.”

This brought us to the idea of reformers. Nations Foundation is built upon telling the stories of reformers; ordinary people who do extraordinary things.

So I asked Kyle, how would you define the term “reformer?”

“I think the reformer is a really interesting idea. I’ve always been fascinated by reformers from history, like Martin Luther. When I was a kid I thought that reformer just meant things like turning over tables or posting theses on the wall like, ‘This is it! This is how we’re moving forward. We’re gonna discard everything that used to be and we’re gonna create something completely new.’ But the older I get and the more I grow to love tradition and the tradition of the Church, I also see its real problems. So I’m starting to learn that becoming a reformer means loving the Church. To love what has been and know it intimately. To love the Church as your family, but at the same time being able to call out the issues and push back on corrosive or hurtful things.”

“Being a reformer is about living in that tension. To see the mess and deal with it,” he says.

“To be a reformer you have to love what you’re trying to change. At the same time, a reformer must push against the sentimentality that paralyzes us from being present.”  

It was as a catalytic step away from inactive sentimentality and toward this role of “reformer” that ultimately drew Kyle to participate in World Relief’s SEA-TRI-KAN bike ride. By choosing to respond to the opportunity before him, and not to merely leave the refugee crisis to be addressed by others, Kyle and his riding companions stepped into a greater story.