One year ago, my life changed. I had no idea at the time how much it would be different in the following weeks, months, and even now.
I drove myself to the airport that first morning, parked my car in one of the spots close to the doors, taking advantage of the airport’s free parking, and hurried inside. It was a cold morning and the sun wouldn’t be up for another hour or so. I was glad I had checked myself in the night before and had printed my boarding pass. Straight through the short line for security, I waited in the small waiting room for my flight.
Waiting rooms are great places. I looked around at my fellow passengers, wondering where they were all going. I remember that there were an unusual number of children on this flight. I hoped they were going somewhere warm and with fun on the way! On the plane, I sat next to a former teacher and colleague. It was nice to be able to talk about my destination and long weekend ahead, even though I had no idea what was really coming.
A couple of waiting rooms and airplanes later, I landed in Florida. It was Wednesday evening and no one else was there yet. I called and caught a shuttle to the hotel where I was spending the night. I was meeting someone else there, someone who also couldn’t catch a “red eye” to arrive Thursday morning. We had an advantage over many of the others. We were getting a full night’s sleep!
As we took the shuttle back to the airport to meet the others the next morning, my nerves were on high alert. What had I gotten myself into? What would the others be like? Would they like me? Was I really here? How would we know where everyone was? What was going to happen this weekend? So many questions, none of them with answers.
It didn’t take long for me to begin thinking of the people I waited for and with as “My YASC Friends,” instead of only “The Other YASCers.” Throughout the weekend we spent a lot of time getting to know each other, getting to know the program, and eating. Every moment was carefully planned to allow the best use of our time.
We did a lot during Discernment Weekend, and it really did allow for discernment. I was encouraged to think about what I wanted to get out of YASC and out of a year of service abroad. Through small group discussions, I was able to learn a lot about the others who had applied and to share about myself. We went deeper with each other in a shorter amount of time than I had ever done with people who were complete strangers even a couple of days earlier.
Hanging out the last evening. This is one of my favorite memories of the weekend.
We talked about what mission is, and what a missionary does. Before the weekend, my definition of “missionary” was very close to “evangelist.” I was relieved to discover that there is much more to it than that. We also got a short history of mission in the Episcopal Church, specific information about YASC, logistical information, and heard from former YASCers about their experiences and life after YASC. We were also given the opportunity to worship with each other on a daily basis, and spent free time talking with each other and getting to know each other even better. My short answer for when people ask about Discernment Weekend has always been “They flew us all to Florida, stuffed our heads full of so much information that nothing else fit, asked us to think about (and talk about) ourselves, fed us, then sent us all home.”
Sunset. It was amazing!!
The little chapel at Camp Weed, Florida.
When I left Florida, I was a different person. It was incredibly difficult to say goodbye to the new friends I had met, knowing that I may not see some of them again but not knowing who that would be. When we got to the airport, we exchanged last-minute hugs as we all found our gates and met our planes. I have an incredible amount of respect for the extraordinary people I had spent the last few days with. They are the kind of people that make you better just because you know them.
Before we left on Sunday morning, we had been given one week to let YASC know if we were still interested or if it wasn’t the time for us. I was determined to give it at least a couple of days before I let them know. I wanted to be sure it wasn’t the incredible weekend that made my mind up for me.
My answer came to me at about 10:00 on Monday morning. I was on the playground at school during a Kindergarten and 1st grade recess. After a late flight in the night before, a conversation with my parents who were curious about what I had been up to for the past 4 days, and a short drive home, I was exhausted! I looked around the playground at the kids I loved teaching at a school that I don’t ever remember not being a part of. I remember thinking to myself “I absolutely love my job and my life here, but I’m going to Africa next year.” The rest, as they say, is history.
The whole group!