What I Learned at the End of the Road
Meet your host, Cathy Herholdt, and hear the vision behind the podcast.
Check out photos, videos, and behind-the-scenes stories from our guests on the podcast. You won’t want to miss these exclusive extras!
Hear host Cathy Herholdt’s vision behind this podcast and get glimpses of some the people you’ll meet and places you’ll hear about in season one.
Cathy shares some of the things she learned, personally, in her time at the end of the road – about herself, about people, and about God.
“Mostly, I learned that I have a lot to learn. Even though I’ve traveled to some very remote places, I still know so little about the world, beyond my own familiar surroundings. I had no idea how mind and heart-opening it would be to visit places I thought would be scary, uncomfortable…” says Cathy. “My hope is that your mind and heart will be opened too, as you hear the stories on this podcast.”
Buckle up! We’re going to the end of the road.
What I Learned at the End of the Road
Welcome to the end of the road podcast. My name is Cathy and I'm your host and tour guide as we journey together to some of the most remote, challenging places on the planet. I'm so excited to have you along for the ride. So, buckle up, we're going to the end of the road.
I'm a Seattle native loyal Sounders fan wife of the best third grade teacher, quite possibly on the planet and mom to three amazing human beings. I've worked with World Concern, a faith-based humanitarian organization headquartered in Seattle, and I've been there for the past 11 years and had the privilege of traveling to some of the places where World Concern serves – places where I've never felt so far from home in my life. Places where absolutely nothing is familiar – places I fell in love with and that changed me forever. I cannot tell you how excited I am to see this podcast come to life. I know this sounds cliche, but it truly is a dream come true. So, the vision behind this podcast is to take you, our listeners, to some of the places through the stories and experiences of our guests. They have lived and worked far beyond the end of the road from a village that takes an entire day to reach by canoe through the Congo jungle, to a war-torn city in the Middle East.
You're going to hear firsthand what life is like in some of these places and how God is present and active in these places. And in the lives of the people who, of their moms, dads, kids, families, just like yours, only, they live at the end of the road. You're going to hear from some incredible people who have sacrificed so much to serve, live and work in some of the toughest places on earth. They've experienced unmapped things and met people. You'll get to meet too through their stories here on the podcast. I can't wait to introduce you to these selfless humanitarians, our guests on the podcast. I've handpicked each one because I know tidbits of their stories, but even I learned so much in my conversations with them. You'll be amazed. I want to share with you some of the things that I've learned in my experiences in places like Bangladesh, where 165 million people live in crowded, urban slums and bustling, rural villages or Northeastern Kenya, where Samburu tribespeople have survived as pastoralists in the bush for centuries or the mountains of Haiti, far above the teal waters of the Caribbean.
And far from the chaos of Porta Prince, where families live in tiny villages, no running water, electricity, or infrastructure of any kind. As I mentioned, these places and more so the people I met there changed me. Now, these places are not places you'd likely go on a typical church mission trip. Maybe some of you have been on a mission trip before, but this is why I want to take you there virtually through these stories. I want to introduce you to people like a 13-year-old girl named Rima in Bangladesh, who sobbed, as she told me through tears, that she was about to be forced to marry a much older man, because it was the only option her parents felt they had in order to feed her civil. I want to tell you about walking five miles through the dry barren desert lands of Eastern Kenya for water, with a strong, beautiful, resilient Samburu mother who made this walk every morning of her life.
And by the way, I was sick that day. And I want to share with you how God was so present, right there with me in each of these situations, reminding me that he is with them to every person. I've learned some things in my time at the end of the road, about myself, about people and about God, let me share a few of those thoughts with you as we prepared to travel together. First of all, I learned that I have a lot to learn. I know so little about the world beyond my own familiar surroundings. I had no idea how mind and heart opening it would be to visit places I thought would be scary, uncomfortable, and disturbing spoiler alert. They were all those things and more. After working for a few years for World Concern, I was sifting through some photos of Bangladesh for a project that I was working on.
And I remember looking at the packed crowded streets in Dhaka. There was literally garbage piled up. So high on either side of the street. It was like a 10-foot wall. In one of those photos, there was, there was actually a cow standing on top of this pile, eating the garbage and in another photo, much more heartbreaking photo. In fact, this photo has stuck with me in my mind. Ever since I first saw it probably more than 10 years ago, there was a young boy. He was maybe eight or 10 years old. He was shirtless. Um, but he was wearing a pair of what looked like adult pants that were cinched up around his waist and tied with a piece of rope or string. And he was picking up a piece of rotten fruit from the garbage and smelling it. I'm sure to check and see if it was safe to eat.
That photo changed my heart and opened my mind to the kinds of challenges people face that are so hard. And yet we share the same needs and desires as human beings. Bangladesh was not top of my list of places I wanted to go. God has a sense of humor, doesn’t He? Wouldn't you know, my second assignment to travel with World Concern was to Bangladesh to interview and capture stories of these young girls who were at risk of becoming child brides. Bangladesh has a longstanding and harmful practice of child marriage, that trip and subsequent trips to Bangladesh changed my heart for that place. Yes, it was hard. Yes, it was foreign to me and indescribably crowded. It was, it was all those hard things, but I prayed for God to help me see the people there, the way that he sees them. And I also prayed, a prayer that maybe some of you have prayed before.
It's a dangerous prayer. I prayed for him to break my heart for the things that break his. And he did into a million tiny pieces. I remember landing in Dhaka city and stepping off the plane into utter chaos. There were so many people everywhere. It felt like it was about 95 degrees, both inside and outside. And it was very humid outside the airport. I remember there were people just crowding and pushing and shoving, trying to get where they were trying to go. And there were actually some people with animals out there. Yeah. Goats and cows and stuff on ropes. And they were carrying them through the crowd. And there were police officers that looked more like military soldiers with big, giant guns. I, I remember the first time I heard the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer over the outdoor loudspeaker that was attached to a mosque in this city.
And I remember riding in a car or rickshaw through that city and seeing nothing, absolutely nothing familiar to me, not a bit of clothing that someone was wearing. None of the cars were, were the makes or models that I was familiar with. Uh, not a store or restaurant. Well, okay. So I did, I did at one point out of the blue, our, our car went past a Pizza Hut and I, I absolutely couldn't believe it there in the middle of Dhaka City was a Pizza Hut. But other than that, there was really no sign of home in this city. People stared at my white skin, um, everywhere I went, people looked at me and I got, I got just a tiny, tiny glimpse of what it's like to feel like you look different. Like you truly stand out in a crowd. And maybe what it feels like when people are making assumptions about you because of the color of your skin.
So from Dhaka, we drove for several hours out to the countryside, which was still, even though it was countryside, it was very, very crowded. There were just people everywhere, walking on the streets all times of, of day and night, our, our very skilled driver in Bangladesh being, being a driver is a profession it's, um, a vocation that that many people do. And the drivers are very, very skilled. But nonetheless, as we were driving very fast on this rural road passing buses that were with people at high speeds with oncoming cars honking and racing towards us, it was like, it was like that old game of chicken. And it was absolutely terrifying. I remember I had to cover my eyes many times and pray. I, I prayed a lot on that trip. And at some point, on that drive, the traffic came to a complete stop, there were cars lined up for miles and the drivers were all getting out of the cars and they were talking to each other and on their cell phones, they were trying to figure out what was going on, why the, the traffic had stopped.
And our driver did the same. And eventually he came back to tell us that the road was blocked, um, due to a police protest, the police weren't happy with something and they were, they were protesting by blocking the street. I remember seeing a pickup truck pass us on the side of the road with about 10 or 12 armed police officers piled in the back and so, our country director at the time recognized that this situation could potentially be unsafe for us. And so he told the driver in Bangla or Bengali, as we would say to turn off the road to get us out of there. And so off the road, we went down an embankment and through this grassy marsh, and then up onto this dirt side road, it was starting to get dark. And as we traveled through this junglelike terrain, it, it felt so unreal. It's almost like I was on a Disneyland ride like Mr. Toad's wild adventure or something. Eventually, we arrived at the guest house in the town where we were staying, and the real adventure really began.
I want to just pause for a moment and thank our listeners for joining us today. If you're just hearing about World Concern for the first time. And you're curious to learn a little bit more about who we are and what sets us apart from other organizations you might be familiar with, please visit www.worldconcern.org/podcast, and learn a little bit more about what we do.
So, as I mentioned, I met this girl Rima in a village that was near that town the next day. And I remember sitting down on the steps of a school to talk with her and hear her story. She was about 13. Although many of the people that I met there don't actually know how old they are, but she looked very young and, um, she was wearing a blue and white school uniform. And that uniform represented really the only thing, keeping her from being married off to a family friend, a friend of her parents, a man, probably in his mid-thirties, at least. And she was absolutely terrified. I remember that she just cried so hard throughout our interview, and I remember stopping the interview a couple times and just putting my hand on her back and trying to comfort her with words of compassion that I shared through a translator as tears just streamed down her face.
She told me that she knew that if she could stay in school, she would be able to avoid marriage and eventual pregnancy that her young developing body was nowhere near ready for, early motherhood, and a life of serving her husband. She wanted to play with her friends. She wanted to go to school and have a chance at a job and a different future than she'd seen other girls have in her village. World Concern had given her a scholarship and she basically pleaded with us for that to continue because you see girls in Bangladesh are six times less likely to be married off before their 18th birthday, if they can stay in school and finish high school. And I remember sitting there thinking of my own daughters back at home who were young and vibrant and dreaming of college and their future careers.
And my heart just broke for her and for the millions of other young girls that face that terrifying and, and uncertain future. So, I was talking about what I learned about myself in villages like Rima’s at the end of the road. One of the things I learned is that I have a much greater capacity for empathy and compassion than I thought I did. You know, we can become so consumed with the struggles of our own lives that we forget how important, and I'd even say freeing from self-absorption it is to consider the needs of others before our own. I've also learned a lot about people on my journeys. I've learned that people are essentially the same when you get down to the heart and soul, we have the same needs, same desires, and even similar dreams.
Some time when I was on my second trip to Haiti, we were in a village and I remember meeting this young mom who was walking up this very steep and slippery dirt hill with her baby on her hip and this huge sack of something, maybe grains of rice, um, that she was carrying on her head. And we met with her at her home, which was basically just a small one room shack. I'd call it. She had agreed to share her story of her life in this mountain village with us. I don't remember a ton about her story, except that she had such a sweet expression on her face when she showed us her baby girl and talked about her children. She was working so hard every day in her garden and working wherever she could to feed her children. But, um, to be honest, they were lucky if they got one meal a day and I could just see the longing in her eyes for a better life for her kids.
And I recognized that look, I had much of the same look in my eyes when my kids were young, mine was more about being tired during my early years as a mom. And I, I really had never been so tired in my entire life as when I had a kindergartner, a toddler and a newborn baby all at the same time. So, I just felt this connection with this mom. I felt like I understood some of her heart as a mom. And so, I told the translator, I said, I have something I want to tell her. And so I asked him to tell her that I was a mom too. And I said, tell her that she's doing a good job, a very good job. I wanted to tell her that I could see that. And that it was obvious that she was such a good mom.
And when the translator told her this, I kept telling him word for word. I insisted, I want you to tell her that word for word. She started to cry. She looked at me and nodded, and I got choked up too, just seeing her, her expression. And I just, I just knew that that was God prompting my heart. Tell her she's a good mom. Tell her she's doing a good job. She needed to hear that. So when we pulled away in our land cruiser from that village, I remember she waved to me as we drove off. And I just thought we are the same. Both moms, both working women, both humans. And we shared a deep desire to make the best life for our kids as possible. Lastly, I've learned a ton about God at the end of the road, mostly that he's there always constantly he's present in the hard places.
And he loves the people there who just by chance were born into such hard places. God was always present with me when I was there, but he used the hard places I've been to, to show me how utterly alone I really am in the world. And to show me how much I need him. I remember one time in a very remote part of northern Kenya. Now I'm talking like eight hours by car from Nairobi, the biggest city in Kenya and the last hour and a half of that eight-hour drive was on very bumpy dirt roads, like so bumpy. I'm shocked. I didn't break a tooth riding in that car. And the last half hour beyond where the dirt road ended just goes off into the bush. That was like the last half hour of our drive. That's how remote we were. Um, we stayed in a guest house there that was basically just a concrete room with some bars over a kind of a square hole cut in the concrete wall to make a window.
There were bugs everywhere, including this giant cockroach that greeted me when I arrived in my room and then scurried under the bed. And the bed was just like a mattress, just a hard mattress on an old metal frame with a mosquito net hanging over it. There was a small sink in the room and a toilet. Thank God, not many toilets out there in the bush. Um, most of the time we were using a hole in the ground if we were lucky, the toilet didn't have a seat or anything, mind you, but it was a toilet at least. And it flushed, which, um, turned out to be a good thing because I got sick with a stomach bug while I was there. Sorry, it that's TMI. It's the first time that I've ever been sick in the field. And I was, I was really surprised because I was always really careful not to let a drop of water get in my mouth, um, when I was washing my face or anything, except, you know, when I'd drink from a sealed bottle and I would only eat hot food that I could see the steam coming off of, so I knew that it was hot and I constantly took Pepto Bismol to protect my gut lining from bacteria, but somehow a bug got in and I was down for the count on that trip.
So one of the days, I didn't travel with the team out to the field. I stayed back at the guest house at my room and I was alone, no cell coverage, no internet, no nothing. Just me in that concrete room. And I didn't feel well at all. So, about midday, I started to imagine, I know I was imagining it, that I was having chest pains, probably just getting dehydrated. I, I thought that, you know, that was probably the cause, but I, I started to let my mind wander. Like, what if I had a heart attack out here? What if I needed to go to the hospital? How would I call for help? How would I get there? I, I didn't even think there was a hospital anywhere, you know, for hundreds of miles. So, I started to pray just to ward off a panic attack, which I knew would only make things worse, but nothing.
I heard nothing. Just silence. I remember thinking, where are you, God, I was desperate. I kept asking him for peace, for healing, for calmness, for something. I felt nothing. So I just started to read my Bible and write in my journal. I poured out my fears and, and anxieties to God and searched the scriptures for those familiar, comforting verses. But I honestly had never felt so utterly alone in my life an hour or two later, a knock came at my door and it was just two angels. They were two local World Concern staff members who had heard that I wasn't feeling well from the field team and they came by to check on me. It was so sweet and it was such a sweet relief. And then, um, they handed me what I felt like was a piece of gold. They gave me a mobile hotspot.
I could now call or message them if I needed anything and I could connect to the internet. So God was there showing me through these two angels that he was right there with me. He heard my cries for help, and he sent them. And so with that mobile hotspot in hand, I was able to rest peacefully the remainder the day. And eventually I, I felt well enough to join the team back in the field, just in time for a five mile walk through the desert to get water, but that story's going to have to come later because we're just about out of time. But I really hope that this gives you a little taste of what it's like at the end of the road and of the kinds of, of stories that we're going to hear from our guests who have been to much crazier, wilder places than I have, and who have lived there, worked there and learned a lot and their experiences as well. And so they're going to, they're going to bring a us to those places on, on a virtual journey as we get to experience them. And we can learn so much about ourselves, about people and about God, if we're willing to make the journey. So I'm really glad that you're joining me. So buckle up my friend. This is not your average church mission trip. Are you ready? Prepare for takeoff. We're going to the end of the road.
I want to thank World Concern’s, parent organization, CRISTA Ministries for helping make this podcast, this dream come true possible. And I want to thank Casey Helmick and the whole team at Terra Firma who have just been incredible to work with and helped us every step of the way to make this dream a reality and for their expertise in editing and production and all the behind the scenes work that make this podcast possible. So shout out and thank you to all those who have contributed and brought the end of the road, right to your living room. Thanks. And I'll see you soon at the end of the road.