I threw my very unorganized gear into the back of a practically stranger’s suburban and continued my adventure by climbing into the front seat, closing the door and waving goodbye to my aunt as she stood on the sidewalk on a late June Texas evening.
The 15 hour road trip to training camp had begun.
The drive was long and exhausting and pretty darn cramped with the addition of five more people and their almost equally unorganized luggage. I was completely overwhelmed, completely terrified and despite my searching eyes and craning neck, I couldn’t seem to find my comfort zone. So I sat quietly for the most part and let my thoughts carry me every which way while the wheels below carried me further east. After way too many pit stops, tank fill-ups and grub breaks to count we found ourselves on the back road of the Smokey Mountains, driving through one of the most beautiful landscapes I’d ever seen.
We finished driving into camp via the hand signals of the random people stationed along the way, put the car in park and opened the door. Grabbing bags and gear and any ounce of courage I could muster we walked down the hill as I wondered what in the world I had managed to pack for 10 days. Out amongst the field I saw our new home, sitting quite lovely and quite peaceful in the green grass. The tall trees and picturesque blue sky made it all the more inviting.
I knew no one, so I began to pitch my tent in the first open spot I saw, wondering which stranger I should talk to first and how the heck I was supposed to remember everyone’s name, wondering if I would make any friends at all.
Training camp was the longest and shortest week of my life. It was full of more lectures, worship, dancing and sweating than I knew possible. We woke up early to the sound of a Brandon’s flute or Potter’s yell and stayed up late to talk around the fire. We moved camp almost every night, took showers whenever possible, ate with our hands and learned the importance of digging holes in emergencies. It didn’t really prepare me for the cultures I would encounter and I didn’t even begin to pretend like I walked away knowing 11 new languages that I could share the gospel in. I wasn’t briefed on what to expect, but rather laid down all my expectations. I wasn’t prepared logistically or given a list of facts and FYIs; I walked away not knowing much more than I did when I first walked down the hill.
But I left camp knowing without a doubt that this is where I was supposed to be and that this was only the beginning. I came home believing that God wanted to use me, and that He planned on doing just that. Training camp didn’t prepare me in any worldly sense, but it stirred something inside of me that wanted to love everyone, that wanted to worship the God my Father in a bold and free way. It gave me a fire and a passion for this trip, something far more necessary than anything I needed logistically. It prepared my spirit for the next 11 plus months of my life.
I met some of my best friends in the world at training camp. My favorite birthday was celebrated with a sign attached to my body, surprise cookies and I’m a little teapot being sung on the tops of tables. I was exhausted, I smelled bad and I still had no clue what I was getting into. It broke me and lifted me, challenged me and encouraged me.
“I have never been so blessed. I have never been so surrounded with God’s promise of a future, of His love, of his Encouragement. I’m not sure if I even know how to process it. There’s just so much…Lord I just thank you. I thank you for my new family. My first true community. I thank you for the future challenges, for the dispelled judgements, for the future brokenness and the current joy. I thank you for showing up when I needed you most.” – July 7, 2011
photos by brianna danese and aj levan