What a wild ride this summer has been.
I will attempt to recap for you all in a single blog post. So reader beware – this will be a long post. I’ll put a few pictures throughout for those who like picture books.
I am currently writing this from a cafe in Seoul. The teams have all gone to their homes all over the world. I stayed a few extra days after the team left and, though I’m exhausted and ready to be home, I think it was a good decision to do so. I spent these alone days recollecting and also finally taking a trip up to the demilitarized zone that is the border between North and South Korea. I will dedicate a separate blog post for that later.
This was my first time ever visiting China. In fact China is only the third country outside of the USA I’ve ever visited. I felt at home, though. Since I’ve been working with Footsteps I have made many friends and contacts in many different countries and I finally got to meet some of them in person for the first time.
I joined the team for their second camp in Shanghai – a 10-straight-day camp that went from 9am to 8pm (well, on most days). We had 33 kids with TONS of personality. We spent the mornings learning about fun destinations in geography class and conducting cool science experiments in science class. We would all eat lunch with the kids in the cafeteria and then come back to our meeting room to sing and dance and learn lessons from the Bible. The afternoon was full of activities like cooking, learning about American culture, and craft making. We would all eat dinner together in the cafeteria and spend the evening hanging out and doing recreation activities. We only hit a handful of kids in the face with soccer balls this year!
The partner school took the kids and team on a couple of field trips – first to the natural history museum and then to Shanghai Disneyland. I did not go to the museum but I can tell you Shanghai Disneyland was a really cool experience for everyone. It was definitely a highlight for many of the kids and our team members.
When camp was finished we went all they way across Shanghai to another school location for our closing ceremonies. It was quite the production – students performing songs and dances, sharing what they learned in classes, and receiving certificates and photos to commemorate the camp.
You can imagine we were pretty wiped out once camp was done. We had a few days to recoup before we departed for Seoul. And boy did we need to recoup. That leads me to my next topic.
You know that saying that is always quoted incorrectly for the exact opposite purpose that the correct quotation is trying to get at? (Go ahead, look it up and then come back to my blog post…I can wait.)
“Blood is thicker than water”
Well I got a new one:
“Blood is thicker than water but diarrhea is a liquid, too.”
I learned that Imodium in China is called Imodium.
I also learned a lot about our team! Because there’s not much you won’t talk about after you realize that everyone sitting in your dorm room can hear all of your bowel movements. They can hear all of them very well.
And just as everyone’s response to bodily malfunctions is different so are our personalities.
That’s the last diarrhea themed pearl of wisdom I promise.
This team was amazing. I don’t know where to start to describe them. It was a real blessing for me personally to get to know each of them. One of my favorite things we did was share our personal testimonies – who we are, where we came from, and why we were sitting in a room in Shanghai, China with a bunch of other people with diarrhea. OK I lied that’s the last one.
I am a believer that real good ministry starts with empathy and while we were in China to minister to Chinese kids we still have a call to minister to one another. Just as we (hopefully) learn about the culture, language, and customs of the country we are going to serve in we should even more so do that with the people we are going to serve alongside. I know I learned a lot and it’s my hope that the team members learned a lot, too. I think I learned more about myself on this particular trip than I have in any of the past trips I’ve had to Korea.
This team was extremely diverse. I greatly enjoyed meeting Sid – our 81 year old lead for our first leg of the trip. Lauren was fantastic to work with and I feel like we complemented each other’s leadership style well. She was definitely missed by the team in Korea. We had students from Moody Bible Institute Chicago, Olivet Nazarene in Bourbonaise, Westmont College in Santa Barbara, and people from all over the map – Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Oregon, Minnesota, Thailand, Colombia, Cambodia, Philippines…I can’t remember them all. We had our ups and downs, likes and dislikes, conflicts with each other, and cultural snafus. It’s my hope that the team will look back on this wild summer and think fondly about what they experienced and learned with all of us.
It was my fifth time here in three years and I can finally read a little bit of Korean! I also only got lost a couple times this trip. I feel like I’m getting more comfortable here.
We had a team change in Seoul – we lost two girls and gained three girls from the Taiwan team. This was by far our largest team I’ve had – a total of 14 of us. We were at Presbyterian Church of the Lord and had a huge camp of 62 kids! This is my second time with a team at this church and it’s always a great experience.
By this point in the trips our teams are usually pretty well-versed in all things Footsteps so all the classes were awesome and I heard from our partners and some of the parents that this was one of the best camps we’ve had with the kids. One of the comments I got was that the parents absolutely loved seeing our team members so involved with the kids. One of the unique aspects of our model is that the teachers are teaching using a lot of hands on activities that gets them involved with the kids. This team in particular had no problem sitting on the floor with a bunch of kids playing games or just hanging out. Those types of interactions are the ones that really have an impact on the kids.
Pastor John – the head of the English ministry at the church – took us out one night for a Korea baseball game. If you ever get a chance to come to Seoul I highly recommend it. It’s a uniquely Korean experience. He also hosted a movie night for us at the church where we watched A Taxi Driver (I highly recommend you watch this!) We went out a few nights and on the weekend on our own to see Seoul. We visited Gyeonbokgung Palace where most of the girls on the team rented hanboks (traditional dresses) and toured the palace. We went to Namdaemun Market, Myongdong, Insadong, Lotte Tower, a meerkat cafe, and Seoul Tower. It was really cool seeing the team so interested in some of the historical places and traditional places. They were definitely my most curious team I’ve lead.
Which leads me to the best part.
I didn’t include food pictures on this post. I’ll do another blog post later with some good food pictures.
Some of my most memorable moments with the team happened around the dinner table. I believe that the best way to invest into a friendship is through sharing a meal. I feel like I made some friends on this trip and I hope they feel the same way, too.
A Personal Thought
I’m still processing a lot of this summer as I’m writing this. I am exhausted, I am homesick, and I still have one more leg of my trip in China before I head home. A lot has happened this summer that I have been a part of and a lot that I was not able to be a part of.
I had to watch from afar as my hometown was on fire. I was powerless to do anything as I spoke to my wife on the phone about evacuation plans for her, my dog, and our belongings.
I had to make some difficult decisions as a leader. Some as a representative of an organization, some as a representative of the USA, and some as a representative of Christ. I said earlier that I have learned a lot about myself on this trip and I definitely mean that.
Right in the midst of a storm of a variety of issues I won’t discuss here I boarded a plane and left the country for over a month. When I come home those issues are not gone – and some have been compounded.
And as I sit here in this cafe typing all of this I feel as though God has spoken to me through a still small voice. It’s not clear what is being said but there is a calmness that I haven’t felt in a long time. For how wild things are and for how cynical I should be I am hopeful.
As we close the book on Footsteps Summer 2018 I feel like something new and exciting is coming with the next installment. I’m not sure what that is yet, but it definitely feels that way.
Summer Team – Thanks for a great summer. Here’s to hoping our paths cross again in the future.