75-year-old walks across 12 countries to show those living in poverty that they are not forgotten
Bob Hentzen’s day begins around 2:30 a.m., when he wakes up in an old Toyota camper. He takes a moment to pray, enjoys a nice cup of coffee, and kisses his wife before hitting the road.
For the past 14 months Hentzen, 75, has been walking an average of 20 to 25 miles daily as he makes his way through vast terrains — from beautiful farmland and mountains, to treacherous highways and deserts. If you ask Hentzen why he’s walking, he’ll tell you, “It’s about love.”
As president and co-founder of Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, a lay Catholic sponsorship organization serving families living in poverty in 22 developing countries, Hentzen has devoted most of his life to the caring service of those in need. Although he is no stranger to life on the road, his latest trip and means of transportation represent a whole new set of challenges, but also rewards.
In December 2009, Hentzen embarked on an 8,000-mile walk from Guatemala to Chile. Known as Walk2gether, the trip is intended to shed light on the struggles of families trying to survive in extreme poverty — often on less than $2 per day.
Walk2gether, which crosses 12 countries and spans about a year-and-a-half, is Hentzen’s unique way of putting Catholic social teaching into action by walking in solidarity with the poor to show that we are one human family, despite our national, racial, economic and religious differences.
“If the Lord gave me good health and long legs, it was for a reason,” Hentzen said. “By walking with people living in poverty we are saying, ‘You are not alone; we are listening to you and learning from you.’”
Hentzen hopes that his efforts will inspire people in the U.S. to act on the church’s teachings, which ask us to prioritize the needs of the poor and vulnerable. This is why Hentzen is asking people to join him, not by walking, but by sponsoring at least one child through CFCA for each of the 8,000 miles he is walking during Walk2gether — 8,000 miles for 8,000 kids.
“Sponsorship says, ‘We are equal in the eyes of God and we need each other,” Hentzen said. “We are interdependent.’”
Despite the constant mental and physical demands required to complete the 8,000-mile walk, Hentzen finds the time and energy to mingle with some of the 182,000 families CFCA serves in the countries he walks through. Bob’s wife, Cristina, travels with him and often walks with him to encourage him and others who join the walk.
“I’m grateful to people living in poverty for all that they have taught me about life, faith and unconditional love, even under the toughest of circumstances,” Hentzen said. “I enjoy the time we get to spend together because they give me the energy to keep going.”
On any given day, dozens to hundreds of men, women and children make their way to Hentzen to support and encourage him in the same way that he does for them. This is no simple task, considering that many of them live miles away from the walk route and have very limited time and resources.
Leaving her mountaintop home at midnight in the rain to be a part of Walk2gether was no harder than any other day for Cumanda, a single mother from Ecuador, who normally begins her day around 5:30 a.m. to work as a day laborer.
“Due to my lack of education, I work long days hoping to be able to earn what I need to provide for my girls,” Cumanda said. “I want for them the opportunities I did not have growing up.”
Always looking for ways to give back to CFCA, which helps provide her daughters with food and school supplies, Cumanda was eager to meet Hentzen and join him on his walk through communities where CFCA works. And though her worn shoes offered minimal comfort, she was grateful for the opportunity to show her love and admiration for the man who has devoted his life to families like hers. “We feel supported, cared for and loved,” she said.
CFCA’s Hope for a Family sponsorship program connects individual sponsors with a child, youth or elderly person in need to provide basic resources and support needed to create a path out of poverty. More than 94 percent of CFCA’s expenses go toward program support.
“I know that not everyone can walk 8,000 miles to show their support for people living in poverty worldwide,” Hentzen said. “But I want to ask those who are willing to help to make a difference by becoming sponsors, and helping to provide children with the basic resources, education and moral support they deserve.”
To follow Henzen’s journey or learn more about child sponsorship, visit http://www.hopeforafamily.org, or call (800) 875-6564.
Category: Spirit of Giving