I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. (John 17:21)
For the second straight year, I approached the counter at the airport not knowing the people I was going to spend 24 hours a day with. Starting with a 15 hour flight. Last year, it was just my niece Brooke that I had met face to face; no one else. This year she wasn't with me, but I did know my team leaders Jesse and Angela - they were with me on last year's journey to Africa as well. As you have seen from previous posts like this one (or this), last year's team jelled in a way I could not have dared hope for and I have gained lifelong friends. Could lightning strike twice?
I was skeptical. When 25 people are thrown into difficult conditions and spiritual warfare, it would be very easy for it to bring out the worst in everyone. For us to get on each other's nerves. But more importantly, 2010 had set the bar so stinkin' high, how could anything live up to it?
25 people. From four different states. Two married couples. Five children. A group of 17 from one place, mostly teens. A single traveler from West Virginia and one (yes) from Alabama. How in the world would this group mesh?
I think you know the answer. But you can't possibly understand the depth of the answer without having experienced it yourself. This was one of the most amazing groups I have ever been a part of, and that is saying something. I saw fountains of compassion and love flowing from our team to the children of Ethiopia:
And we had so much fun during down time, just getting to know each other better:
And with such diverse group and such difficult circumstances, I never heard one bit of griping about anything. That is the Holy Spirit living in us.
It is so hard to single out a few memories from such a rich week, but here are a few things that stand out to me:
- A bone tired group heading out to an orphanage only hours after landing, and pouring their love into the children from what little energy they had.
- Dan leading our team in teaching English to children. I don't know how we could have done it without him.
- Carley's tears as she talked about the child she had grown to love one afternoon, and how hard it was to leave her. They came from deep in her heart.
- Countless hours playing Quelf, Signs, and other apparently meaningless games. Meaningless? Nah - God, as he so often does, used fun to bring us all closer. God's like that.
- Eric encouraging us to share something God had done in our lives during the day's activities.
- Marc leading us to pray without it having to be at "meeting" times, helping us all to remember how we were dependent on God and not our own strength.
- The fun times at meals. Like playing "two truths and a lie" with my table at the pizza place. Or laughing with Ashton, David, Katie, Kaili, and Carley about the way the food came out at Kaldi's. (How 'bout that cheese sandwich, Kaili? :))
- Ashton and Emily both giving me handwritten notes of encouragement, one in the middle of the week and one at the end. What a boost!
- An awesome time of prayer we had after the power went out Thursday night. I will never forget that.
- Staying up with friends 'til 4:30 am our last night, just because we didn't want it to end. Friends who didn't even know each other a week earlier. How awesome is that?
Yes, God was moving and not just during our official ministry times. He was drawing a group of his children closer together. Because he loves us that much and he wants us to love each other. And yes, because it made us better ministers when we were working - because the Scripture at the top of this post is so true: when the world sees us loving each other and living in unity, it is proof that Jesus really is the way.
Jesse. Angela. (Little) Jesse. Marc. Michelle. Eli. Abby. Bekah. Melanie. Kyle. Dan. Emily. Larry. Eric. Stacy. Ticka. David. Ashton. Carley. Katie. Kaili. Maddie. Sarah. Chelsea.
What an amazing group of Christ-followers. And my brothers and sister forever.
Next post: The future
Next post: The future