By Emily Stimpson
Young cyclist braved elements to learn how God is working in the lives of the faithful across the country
For Seth DeMoor, it was all about the stories.
As an undergraduate at the University of Colorado, hearing people’s stories of conversion, reversion and grace helped the 24-year-old Colorado native discover the beauty of his Catholic faith for the first time.
And when graduation loomed, it was those stories DeMoor felt called to share.
“They were too good for just me to hear,’” he said. “I knew I needed to somehow capture them and put them where others could hear them, too.”
He also knew there were more stories out there — that there was, in fact, a story for each of the 1 billion Catholics currently living on Planet Earth. Capturing all 1 billion was impossible, but capturing a couple hundred seemed doable.
So, in November 2009, one month before graduation, DeMoor told friends and family about his plan. Beginning in January, he would bike from Florida to Colorado. Along the way he would collect as many stories as he could about people’s journeys with and to the Church, filming those stories and posting them on a website, OneBillionStories.com.
It was, in many ways, a crazy idea. DeMoor’s mother worried about his safety. His friends pointed out that he would be biking in the dead of winter. But DeMoor was determined to go through with it, and eventually both his family and friends gave him their support.
In late December, DeMoor flew to Florida. With money he saved up in college he purchased all the necessary video, biking and camping equipment. Then, at 10 a.m. on Jan. 3, DeMoor set off from Orlando.
For the next three months, he biked along the United States’ southern border, traveling across Florida’s panhandle, into Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico and, finally, up to Colorado. Although he “clung to the coast” for most of his journey, the weather was still bitterly cold.
“It was the coldest winter in the South in more than 50 years,” DeMoor said. “In Florida, the temperatures didn’t go above 32 degrees for 10 days straight, and it snowed on me in southern Mississippi and Texas.”
If not for Southern hospitality, the weather could have proved DeMoor’s biggest obstacle. That’s because DeMoor had lined up housing for only seven nights of his journey: He planned on camping out the remainder of the time.
Fortunately for him, however, the people he met along the way wouldn’t hear of such a thing. In the end, DeMoor pulled out his camping gear on only seven of the 94 nights he spent on the road. In nearly every city he stopped, he found someone who invited him to stay the night in their home. He also found hundreds of people willing to share their stories about conversion, discernment, vocation and apostolate work.
“Almost everywhere I went, the first thing I did was go to daily Mass,” DeMoor said. “With all my gear, I kind of stuck out, so after Mass, I would inevitably get asked about who I was. I’d tell them about the project, and, before you knew it, I had invitations to dinner and a list of people in town who I should talk to.”
By April 6, when DeMoor rolled into Boulder, Colo., that “list” included a Palestinian grandmother, born and raised in Bethlehem, who was forced to flee her home because she was a Christian. It also included priests and nuns, youth ministers and missionaries, monks and liturgists, former Buddhists, Protestants and atheists, as well as a host of college students whose enthusiasm for their faith was contagious.
“My generation was raised on so much garbage,” he said. “I think we’re now realizing how shallow and empty those things are, and that if we want real fulfillment, real happiness, this faith thing is where it’s at.”
During his travels, DeMoor posted one video a day on his website. Since his return to Colorado, he’s been posting the remaining stories, and with more than 100 still in the editing queue (not to mention the millions as yet untold), One Billion Stories won’t go away anytime soon.
“When you hear these stories, you realize that despite the bad situations in the Church’s recent and distant past, the Church is worth fighting for,” DeMoor said. “To see how God is working in people’s lives, that’s what gives hope.”
Emily Stimpson is an OSV contributing editor.
Visit OneBillionStories.com to learn more about Seth DeMoor’s project.
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