Saturday, June 21, 2008

India 2008 - All systems go!

Tomorrow right after church the India 2008 mission trip begin.  We won't actually be "feet on the ground" until 5:30 am Tuesday morning (local time, that's 7pm Monday evening for those of you in the US Central Time Zone.  It still takes a while to get halfway around the world.) and, by that time we will have been on four different flights and, hopefully, had a chance to buy some Belgian chocolate (we connect through Brussels and Newark and Bombay/Mumbai.  But it's the Brussels connection that I'm most excited about.)  We'll also probably all be pretty beat.  But that's the price of modern air travel and we're planning on putting in a full day (prayers for good rest on the flights, endurance and quick a quick recovery from jet lag for all members of the team would be greatly appreciated).  Theoretically keeping busy on Tuesday should help to get us adjusted to the time.  That's worked for me in the past when I've had to completely upend my schedule.  We'll see how it works this time.  I'm confident that it won't hurt any.

In recent days, people have asked me if I'm ready to go.  My response has almost always been "not yet".  And, that was true.  It wasn't until tonight that I was fully packed (okay, I'm not completely packed yet.  I still need to let a few podcasts finish downloading, put the finishing touches on some playlists and then resync my iPod before adding that to my pack.).  And I definitely didn't have my life ready for me to be gone from it for two weeks until this evening.  Living alone means that you have to take care of your own bills, make sure that the cats are set-up for someone to come in and care for them, do some minor picking up around the house, mow the lawn, make sure the chores are pretty much done, etc all before you can leave.  Otherwise, you come home to a mess that you're in no shape to deal with.  Fortunately, I've had a lot of practice doing all of this and the house is still in pretty good shape from my pre-RYM cleanup.  So no worries in the physical preparations front.

The bigger thing is whether I'm mentally ready for India 2008.  I'm not certain.  It still hasn't really "hit me" that I'm going to India tomorrow.  Part of it probably is that I've been talking about and thinking about this trip for almost a year now (some people may know that, most of the time, the mission trips for each year are preliminarily decided on by Steve and I at an after dinner conversation late in the week during the current year.  For the rest of you, if you've got opinions about where we should go, get your ideas in early!).  I've been planning for the trip for the past six or so months.  And I've done so much travel that packing up and going somewhere isn't as big a deal for me as it is for many other people.  India is a bit farther than I usually go and I know the culture is going to be much different than most of my regular trips (Texas sometimes feels like a whole different country than the rest of the planet, but it's pretty similar to most other places in a lot of ways), but, really, in a lot of ways, it's another short term mission trip (number 17 for me), another plane ride, another time to spend some concentrated time serving God with a group of His people.  I say that I'm excited about this trip.  And in some ways I am.  But, in others, I've got a bit of a blasé attitude.  It's not quite "been there, done that", but it's kinda close.  And that doesn't mean that I'm not looking forward to it.  I'm just not feeling that it's going to "The BESTEST BEST THING EVER that will TOTALLY CHANGE MY LIFE FOREVER!!!".  Maybe it will.  God can do that and that would rock.  But, more likely, that won't happen.  And I'm good with that.  I'm ready to be flexible and try to be patient and be open to whatever God has to teach me and show me in the upcoming two weeks.  And hopefully my team and I will come back in one piece (well, 9 pieces, but you get the idea), having suffered no ill effects (food or water borne diseases, physical accidents, being chewed on by sacred cows, running out of M&Ms with four days left to go on the trip, etc).  But, if we don't, we'll deal.  God's still in control, no matter what happens.

Semper Gumby!*

I'll post more when I get home.

*Semper Gumby = Always Flexible.  It's a motto we brought back from a mission trip to Fairmont, West Virginia a number of years ago.  One of the team coordinators there is a former Marine.  It's very fitting and it has served us well.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

For Lauren

Couple of issues left over from RYM.

2. Brendan Fraser was definitely not in Dead Poets Society.

RYM Recovery - India Prep - Day 1

Some people take a "gap year" between high school graduation and college to take a break from school, reflect on who they are and where they want to go with their lives and, well, for whatever reason.  Me, I'm taking a "gap week" between my two summer vacation adventures this year.  And today was the first day of that week.

Last Sunday, right after worship, I drove one of two 12 passenger vans out of the church parking lot, headed north west and, about 14 hours later arrived in Boulder, Colorado*.  We were graciously hosted by Lauren's family (our former youth intern who is now an RUF intern at Ole Miss).  Monday we spent the morning sleeping in to recover from the late arrival, learned that the Bates boys had been born, hung around in Boulder and then drove up to the YMCA of the Rockies camp outside of Estes Park.  This camp has become one of my favorite places on earth.  The camp is surrounded on a couple of sides by Rocky Mountain National Park (the camp has been there longer than the park).  It's an amazing facility with everything you'd need for a camp (comfy dorms, good food served in a well organized dining hall, an auditorium for large group worship, fields to play in, sports courts and free equipment loan, putt-putt, stables for horseback riding, a herd of mule deer that regularly wander through) and from camp you can walk into the national park.  I know that spending a week with 270 high school kids and their ATPs**, but for me, it's always one of the best weeks of my year.  And this year was no exception.  We had 14 kids and 4 ATPs this trip.  Throughout the week at camp we attended seminars taught by amazing men (and one woman), enjoyed large group worship each evening, won a volleyball tournament, did a lot of hiking, some people went mountain biking and/or rock climbing, killed various video game animals, enjoyed early morning runs/walks, met new friends, caught up with old friends and just generally enjoyed playing in the Big Green Room*** enjoying God's creation.  

It was a challenging week in a lot of ways.  It was a different group of kids this year and that presented some different situations.  I took the seminar for those involved in youth ministry, which was a lot of about ministry philosophy and other great things.  But I did miss the teaching from the other seminars.  My physical conditioning was very good, but I shouldn't have slacked off on the intervals as part of my cardio training.  I really dislike intervals (who doesn't), so I let myself slack off.  And, while I wasn't limited from doing anything, I did feel it during the uphill portions of all of the hikes (or even just walking to the dining hall the first few days).  But, we had very few altitude issues.  I managed to stay well hydrated the whole week.  We had no van issues or any major injuries.  And, as I've said more than once, it was an amazing week.

Friday I had a "Best Day Ever" as Mike would say.
I got up for my usual early morning walk (which provides exercise as well as some alone time during which I can talk with God and get myself ready for the day as well as experience the quiet beauty of the camp), enjoyed breakfast with many of our crew and attended the last session of the seminar for youth ministry that I had been going to all week.  After picking up my lunch, I headed over to where our group that was going rock climbing was going to be leaving from.  I had signed up to climb earlier in the week but due to cold weather and snow (yes, in the second week of June), the trip was cancelled.  I had hoped to go up with our kids and hang out, take pictures and just enjoy the time.  Due to some kids deciding not to go and those who did not being very comfortable belaying (taking someone else's life in their own hands quite literally), I ended up belaying while the kids climbed and rappelled.   I would have enjoyed the chance to get up close and personal with the rock, but I had no problem working the ropes.  Some college rappelling experience made me an "expert belayer" in the eyes of our guides and the kids seemed to feel very secure with me helping them out from the ground.  It was really neat to be able to encourage the kids and to help Mary (who was also one of my roommates for the week) be the only person to make it to the top of the rock all week.  Go Mary!  I also enjoyed talking with the guides, chatting with the kids, especially on the hike down the mountain and the view from the climbing site.

After returning from climbing, a few of the girls and I hiked up to Bible Point.  It was about a mile hike (and about another 3/4th of a mile from our cabin to the trail head) to the top of a hill (it would be a mountain in Texas) that overlooked the camp on one side and a beautiful valley on the other.  It was a bit more intense than we originally though it would be and, especially those who had been climbing earlier in the day were winded by the time we made it to the top, but it was so very much worth the effort.  The view was amazing and we still made it back to camp in time to shower before our dinner BBQ cookout.  Dinner was wonderful pork and chicken BBQ with most of the fixings (although ice cream instead of cobbler, which was almost as good) and, as per our tradition, the ATPs gave up walking places at camp at this point in the trip.  We ran into town to get gas for the vans and came back from large group worship which included a fun slideshow with pictures from the week, our senior pastor doing his "laugh routine" (which is hilarious.  Plus, it's amazing for the kids to see the guy who preaches the word every Sunday morning being silly and goofy and demonstrating various types of laughs.  Apparently he also used mostly Far Side cartoons for his illustrations while teaching the world and life view seminar.), a great message from our main speaker that wrapped up the teaching on the incarnation and encouraged us to go out and enjoy God's beautiful creation and wonderful singing.  Small group was a good time of sharing for our girls and everyone was all packed up before turning in for the night.  That last part was especially important as we pulled out just after 5am the next morning to start what would turn into a 15.5 hour van ride home.  The drive is always a bit brutal, but it is so very much worth the effort.  And, once again, it was one of the best weeks of my year.

Now I'm home and trying to get caught up on life and chores while also trying to take the time to process everything from the week.  It's so easy for me to slip into the routines and stuff of daily life back home and to not take the time to really meditate on the things that I've learned on trips like these.  That's going to be especially hard to do this year as one week from today I leave for my two week mission trip to India.  I've designated today as "recovery day".  While I won't get a nap in, I've got my bags unpacked, laundry done, mail dealt with, many chores finished up and I shouldn't have any problems being ready for the week.  About the only thing I won't get done today is wade through all of my backlogged emails (on my personal account, I don't want to think about dealing with my work emails.  That's what tomorrow morning is for.).  Tomorrow I'll start my final preparations for India as well as resume my normal work week schedule (and this is a long week, no off-Friday to look forward to.  That helps in terms of needing to use less vacation time, but doesn't make for fun work weeks.).  

Here's some pictures.

Some of the kids playing in the snow in Rocky Mountain National Park on Tuesday during our drive along Trail Ridge Road.

The yearly ATP picture at the highest spot above the visitor's center on Trail Ridge Road.  Left to right is Lauren, me, Brian and Travis.
Cub Lake, an intermediate destination during our seven mile hike on Thursday.  Those who remember stories from previous RYMs will be proud to hear that we finally found the official Cub Lake Trailhead this time.
Me on the hike Thursday, just above Cub Lake.
The girls who hiked to Bible Point with me.  Left to right is Mary, Lauren, Hulda and Whitney.  All but Lauren were my roommates for the week.  We had a lot of fun rooming together and I was most impressed with their efforts to keep the room clean and mostly organized during the week.

*Which we learned is correctly pronounced with a short "a", like in "rad".
**ATPs are Adult Type People.  We're old enough and responsible enough for parents to trust us with the care of their kids for week, but we're not so mature as to be above starting a marshmallow fight, incessantly teasing someone about an embarrassing mountain biking incident, getting overly excited about winning "the alphabet game" on an excessively long car ride or, well, a lot of other things that "real adults" just don't do.
***You know, the one with the sky blue colored ceiling that, in Colorado, has less air in the air.