James River

Step Ahead on Pilgrimage Through the Years: Reflections from John H. Quinley, R ’79

December 16, 2022

Leaving Dennis Hall, I had escaped campus once again on a run that would develop my fitness for wrestling and for the upcoming PLC Marine Corps officer summer training at Quantico.  As I took a break from the run, I found myself on a massive rock in the middle of the James River that runs through Richmond, Virginia and just about a mile from UR.  Breathing in slowly and deeply, I had been aware of Presence as I had begun my run, but now as I released my breath, and breathed again in slowly and deeply, I was keenly aware of the Sacred Presence that filled me with each new breath.

Since I was a young child, I learned that when I was in Nature and in Silence somehow I was indeed “With God.” The sounds of the river rushing about the rock below me, the birds singing for me as I rested, and the gentle breezes cooling and refreshing my body reminded me I was held securely in “Loving Presence.” These very real moments of pilgrimage and presence, beginning as I ran from UR towards River Road, and continuing as I returned to my pressurized life and times as a UR student, never stopped surprising me with great joy. In that time, I understood myself as a “growing Christian” and loved hearing Dr. David Burhans preach at Cannon Chapel services and singing Bach’s B-Minor Mass in the UR Choir in preparation for singing in Switzerland that coming summer. It was all a part of my UR student pilgrimage, one that I understand today never finished, rather simply stretched another step ahead into another chapter.

The next chapter would reach into the 80s after graduation and working in Marketing and Advertising, with hopes of making breakthrough advertising creative expressions like my goal ad agency, The Martin Agency. My hopes did not always overtly engage Sacred Presence as I worked in the ever-stressful context of advertising. Yet, I was again, certain: “The Lord was with me.”

As the decades came on, and the 90s and Y2K came and went, I discovered that my personal pilgrimage would carry me around the globe to Thailand with my wife Kimberly, and four children. Today, as the pilgrimage goes on past chapters of cross-cultural living, and doing microfinance in Bangkok’s largest slum communities with over 1,200 families, clearly the Sacred Presence impacts have been more pervasive than I’d ever imagined – filling every sunrise to sunset, in post-tsunami relief and development work, serving with asylum seekers and refugees, with alternative orphan and foster care, and with the Thai government, Kimberly and I now count over half our lives living, working, and loving people and God in Thailand.

Indeed, in these decades we are so grateful that UR with us, too. So that, when my daughter, Carter Quinley, now with the Bureau of International Labor Affairs in Washington, D.C., became a Spider, she helped us step ahead together with UR International Education and Intervarsity, so that over a dozen UR students came to Thailand on various summer studies and internships.

Today, silence, solitude, and stillness weave like in a tapestry in our work with Step Ahead as the pilgrimage continues and deepens, and our small retreat center – Hesychia – serves in Southern Thailand, while further Celtic/Contemplative pilgrimages, leading others in steps ahead to places like Assisi, Ireland, and the Grecian Isles await. Welcome.

Yes, we are UR, and all of us remain on pilgrimage, as under all is the “ground of being,” God Is with Us.

John H. Quinley

John H. Quinley, Jr. is CEO and Co-Founder of Step Ahead. Working in Bangkok’s largest slum community of over 100,000 people since 2002, and across Thailand focusing on the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized. Step Ahead has also run mentoring and training programs that help Thai youth gain growing confidence in English, computers and sports. Following Kimberly Kae Paradee to Thailand twice in 1986, the second time with a diamond ring, cemented the Quinley’s future in Thailand. They have worked together in missions, community economic development & microfinance, post-tsunami relief, refugee and asylum-seeker support, family-based orphan care, and even production of some of the finest woven leather purses never to come from Italy- ITSERA.

John & Kimberly, once parents to four children under five; today seek to keep up with four millennials on three continents. In 2013, John (Robins ’79) won the Alumni International Education Award from the University of Richmond. He’s had six marathon finishes, and one heart attack. He looks to continue to add to the first total with pilgrimage Camino treks, and leave off on the second. You are welcome to contact John by email at: john.quinley@gmail.com.