Dear Whoever May Still Read This,
I want to update you on what’s been going on these past few weeks. I apologize if you texted, called, facebooked, or e-mailed me during the month of July and did not hear back from me. On July 4th, I drove down New Jersey to volunteer at training camp with Touch the World. I have joined TTW teams around the world for the past ten years, but this summer, I really wanted to finish my book so I volunteered to train the other teens going out on trips.
My first trip almost ten years ago was very difficult. Training Camp is a boot camp. You wake up at 5:45am, work/learn all day, sleep in tents, and have no running water all in order to prepare you to serve in less privileged areas around the world. TTW’s training camp breaks you down and forces you to work together as a team in order to survive so that when you are on the field you are prepared for anything.
As an eleven year old, I moved through training camp in a daze. I questioned myself every step of the way, “what am I thinking? This is CRAZY!” I spent much of my time at the nurses station treating various aches and pains and retreating from the intense discipline forced upon me (but don’t get me wrong- the stomach ache and painful blisters were real!).
When we arrived at our destination, a camp for inner-city kids in Erie, Pennsylvania, my two elderly leaders refused to let us have sugar (and as a sugar-holic I went through a painful withdrawal). One night (probably tossing and turning and dreaming of brownies) I woke up to bears walking through our tent site!
Yet the next summer, two friends convinced me to go on another trip. Prepared for training camp and one year older, I began to really understand TTW’s mission and values, and I enjoyed my time much more.
TOUCH THE WORLD
TTW is dedicated to moving young people from apathy to energy by exemplifying God’s love through service. Coming from a liberal Presbyterian church (where church sometimes feels more like a social club than a place to worship the creator of the universe), at first I held back and just watched from afar. Were these the crazy evangelical Christians occasionally shown on the news? People who condemned homosexuality and abortion with signs like, “Jesus hates fags” and brainwashed people? No.
I quickly learned there was something different about these Christians at TTW. TTW is simply dedicated to love of God above all else and a love for people. They take the golden rule to “love your neighbor as yourself” literally and they promote peace around the world by training young people to go out and love others through community service projects and by building relationships.
The training and experiences I received at training camp and in various communities made it possible for me to travel by myself last summer to Kenya, but this summer, I wanted to finish up a multi-media journal so I dedicated four days to training other teens.
I really thought that would be it for me.
However, when I signed in as a volunteer I (only somewhat jokingly) said to a TTW staff member, “I packed my passport just in case!”
Later that day, another staff member found me and asked, “So about that passport, were you serious? Are you free?”
Dreaming of Uganda or India or one of the more exotic trips, I hesitated only a second before answering, “Yes! I mean I would have to figure out if it would be possible. Why, where do you need me to go? Uganda?”
He shook his head, “No, but we desperately need another leader for the Mississippi team, and we will cover all the expenses if you can go.”
Oh, I thought, travel to the hottest region in the country in the middle of the summer to do construction on roofs? Hmmmm- totally not as exciting as Uganda. I decided to talk to my mom and think it over while TTW tried to see if they could get me a ticket.
A VERY SPECIAL, UNUSUAL TEAM
Later that day, the Mississippi team (all forty of them), arrived at the Drama tent for training. The team was unlike any team I have ever seen before (TTW teams are usually small). They came into our tent and filled up every chair and then scattered out on the ground. I looked at this huge team and stood in awe at the diversity.
(Disclaimer: I do not work for TTW so this is not accurate, but this is just what I’ve gathered from observation).
TTW teams usually hail youth and teenagers from affluent communities surrounding the metro area. Although there are always some exceptions, most of my teammembers from previous years have been white kids from affluent backgrounds. But, here sat this team of youth of all different ethnicities (is that the politically correct way to say it now? I don’t know. I’m trying to say we had a diverse selection of the human colors represented- especially if you count me as red—in color).
Anyway, the diversity surprised me, and my heart filled and my spirits lifted. Yes, this is the way Touch the World teams should always be, I thought. Yes, I feel more comfortable here now. Yes, the potential for this team is so HUGE. Yes, I want to join them and take on this unexpected challenge/opportunity God has given me. Yes, yes, yes!
After a few minutes of observing the team, I saw past the diversity and could see that again, this was no ordinary team. Some of the kids looked like adults, while some of them looked like really little, little kids. When I asked the leaders, one of them answered, “Yep. The ages range from 11-18!” Wow. What a challenge! (How one leads eleven year olds is very different than how one leads an eighteen year old, and TTW usually splits them up, 11-13, 14-17, 18+).
Long story (and it is a VERY long story) short
I joined the team.
Contrary to what one might expect with me, it was not an easy decision. In fact, it was a really difficult one. I had a lot of work to do at home, my family was planning a vacation to see my elderly grandparents, and I was nervous about health issues. After praying about it, and talking with some friends, I decided that I was really meant to join the team.
There were too many coincidences and things that were just randomly “working out.” I told myself, “Julia, come on, you can do anything for two weeks, and they need you.” So, I joined the team. Honestly, there was no nobleness here, just: I can do anything for two weeks.
The trip was a lot more challenging than I ever thought possible. Harder than Kenya+SouthAfrica+maybe ever other trip I’ve ever been on… combined! The first week was hell. We were disorganized, unprepared, and overwhelmed with the sheer size and inexperience of the team.
NONE of this was our fault, or our kids fault, but by the end of the first week I was read to quit. So I sat down and had some serious conversations with the other leaders and with some of the kids on our team. I wish I could share what happened, but for security reasons, I really can’t. I’ll just say: the team changed direction 180 after some much needed crying, a trip to the hospital, and for me, some real food.
Although I left completely exhausted, I also left feeling like, WOW, what else can the world throw at me? I’m ready! Whether this is true or not… well, I guess we’ll see.
Here are some pictures of our team/trip until then! (The quotes are from Brian Andreas)
“I don’t think of it as working for world peace, he said. I think of it as just trying to get along in a really big strange family.”
When do you get to be a grown-up? she said. When you can read & write & lie without laughing, I said & her eyes got big & she said she didn’t know it was that hard
There are things you do because they feel right & they may make no sense & they may make no money & it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other & to eat each other’s cooking & say it was good.
In the end, I think that I will like that we were sitting on the bed, talking & wondering where the time had gone.
What if we all got along & people loved each other & sang songs about peace? he said. Would that be a good world? & I said I didn’t know about that, but it would be a good summer camp & he looked at me & shook his head & said, It’s no wonder you’re leaving us with such a mess.
has some sort of disease where you hallucinate & start to not believe in love, but after a year or two, or even sometimes ten or twenty, it cures itself & all that’s left are a few little red spots that twinge & ache whenever you get too near someone else that has the disease & it’s all you can do to stop from reaching out & holding them close.
She said she usually cried at least once each day not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful & life was so short.
I held him close for only a short time, but after he was gone, I’d see his smile on the face of a perfect stranger & I knew he would be there with me all the rest of my days.
I also need to update with fall plans that I am SO EXCITED about! All this- coming soon.