Saturday morning we packed the van and drove for more sightseeing. Our hostel in New York would not allow us to check in until Saturday evening, so we had about three hours to pa rouse the nation’s capital.
The majority of our group opted to visit the Natural Museum of History. That left three of us who went to the Capitol. Surprisingly, I was actually looking forward to Capitol.
Rewind to 2005. I was in 8th grade and on the annual sub-freshman trip to Washington D.C. We did the touristy things like the Jefferson Memorial, Smithsonians, etc. The “crowning” jewel was the tour of the Capitol building. My group was actually in the balcony of the Senate chamber when people began yelling and running every which direction. We were escorted out of the Senate and to the main floor, then told to run. When a U.S. Army soldier is holding a shotgun yelling at you to run, you do not ask questions. You run.
Long story short, a pilot had flew into restricted airspace over D.C. and all federal buildings were evacuated. Nothing actually happened. It was just a precaution.
Not hoping for a repeat, we took a tour of the Capitol.
We had the best tour guide. The only way I can describe him was that he was like a grandpa. He was probably 70 years old and knew just about everything you could know about the Capitol. He spoke 7 languages fluently (among them English, Spanish, Chinese, and Dutch) and could converse in 50+ more! He would find random strangers in other groups and ask them where they were from and speak to them in their language. It was incredible.
After our tour we power-walked to the bus to drive the last leg of the journey to New York. It would be another 5 hours before we made it to the city.
The ride included much of the same as before. A lot of laughs, jokes, minimal sleep, and bonding. By this time, we had time to come up with some inside jokes and really start cultivating these friendships. And it was only day 2!
We pulled into our hostel (which was off of 101st and Broadway, on the upper west side of Manhattan) around 7, speed unloaded everyone’s stuff out of the trailer, checked in, walked up 6 flights of stairs (because the elevator was broken), threw our stuff down, and collapsed. Who knew so much riding could make you so exhausted?
The plan was to rest for a little bit while the leaders looked for a place to park the van and trailer then, when they returned, walk around the city, familiarize ourselves with some of the area, and get comfortable doing some outreach. But, things did not go according to the plan.
The leaders actually spent almost two hours driving around, calling parking garages looking for space. Meanwhile, the thirteen of us are all crammed in a hostel room just talking.
As much as the van ride bonded us, this was definitely the turning point for our group–in my opinion. While the rows in the van separated people (especially the back two rows from the front of the van), being able to be in a circle, see faces, and interact directly added a new dimension to our relationships.
We talked about everything: Wesley Foundation (the organization on campus we were affiliated with), church, God, girlfriends, school… you name it, we probably talked about it. The beautiful thing was everyone listened to everyone. No one person dominated the conversations. We were all interested in learning from one another, hearing what kind of life we believed God had in store, and encouraging each other in those pursuits.
I think that if you asked the team what night our group began to take our relationships to the next level, most would say that first night in the city.
Again, we were without a plan. It had failed. The leaders were off trying to take care of the van. We did not know what to do. No one knew the city well at all.
But, God provided.
He knew we needed that time together. If we hadn’t, then some of the things we encountered the rest of the week would not have gone as well as they did.
But, I am getting ahead of myself.
Eventually, the leaders returned (after parking the van in Brooklyn). We grabbed pizza and brought it back to the room and had one, big family dinner. More laughing, joking, smiling, and a whole lot of joy.
We never did go out to do outreach. We never left the hostel. From a logistic standpoint, our plan for that evening was shot. But that was okay. God showed up despite our failed attempts. I think it was because of the parking decks being so full and the time it took the leaders to find a place to park that our team found a new level of bonding that was more than just mission trip bonding.
It was real bonding. We were no longer friends. That night set the foundation for our team to become a family. To be more than just guys and girls on a trip together, but be transformed into brothers and sisters who deeply, intensely care about each other and their lives.
I think we all went to bed with an anticipation we had not experienced before. We expected God to do some amazing things, now more than ever.
And He did not disappoint.