"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29: 11

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Our last few days in Texas

Well here we are almost at the end of our time in East Texas. I'm not sure what I was expecting of our On Boarding course before we came. I don't think I had really considered it too much. In the chaos of finishing work, packing up our life in Sydney and preparing the family for 2+ years living on a ship in West Africa as unpaid volunteers, I think I had dismissed On Boarding as a hoop we had to jump through to serve onboard as long term crew.
Now looking back I can see the value and wisdom in attending. Five weeks ago we were strangers - except of course I knew Tammy - from all over the world. Now I have 25 friends for life and importantly 21 friends who are joining the ship with us. On day 1 as we introduced ourselves it was awesome and re-assuring to hear so many similar stories of wanting to follow the model of Jesus helping others, of the amazement of friends at our decision, the concerns of close family, the struggle of support raising, of giving up full time stable paid employment and volunteering to come to serve in Africa - and pay crew fees on top to do it.
What has been most amazing for me has how well our boys have managed the transition. This was our greatest concern and our number one prayer request so thank you for all your prayers - they have been answered. Thank you to our classmates for making them so welcome. Thank you especially Nikki, Ali, Dave and Brian for putting together the Kids On Boarding program - especially Dave and Ali who gave up their summer holidays to run this program primarily for our kids. What awesome hearts you have!
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Other answered prayers have been the renting of our house in Sydney, fully furnished, and thus saving us storage costs, and the re-credit of almost $8000 skimmed off my credit card two days after we arrived. 
I thoroughly enjoyed every session with Dr Andrew Clark. He was both entertaining and insightful. I would pay to hear him speak. So many words of wisdom including the following:
in-2-me-u-c (intimacy)
Francis Chan's balance beam. (check it out on YouTube)
"All around you people will be tiptoeing through life, just to arrive at death safely".
"None of us is as smart as all of us". 
"People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed". 
"It is too easy to sit up and take notice but much harder to get up and take action".
By week 4 I was flat and intimidated by the large number of facilitators brought in for the Simply The Story sessions. But by Friday morning I was looking forward to the next preparation session. I enjoyed dissecting each short story and would love to do this regularly in a small group on board the ship. Tammy is probably asking who is this man? Whether by design or chance many of the stories we studied during STS focused on faith and how God maintained his covenant despite the sins or failings of men and that he continued to provide for those who had faith. This simple message found again and again, helped cement my conviction that if I maintain my faith, God will provide.
The final highlight was the Silent Retreat. Any parents will really get this. It is a fact that kids can take up all your available time. My mental in tray is always full and I never get to the bottom of it. Multi-tasking is a constant and if you have a free moment, you always have something to fill it with. In short, I never see the bottom of my in tray and thus don't take the time to just find a silent place to listen to God. We had the opportunity to spend two hours during the Silent Retreat just contemplating what was in our hearts. I had a real sense of peace and felt in my heart God saying "I have brought you here; it is the right decision for you to be here; I will provide for you and protect you and your family".
And the IOC staff here have been wonderful, giving freely of their time, inviting us into their homes, driving us on excursions, answering our questions and praying for us. We have had some great excursions thanks to them to Cross Brand Cowboy Church, Canton First Monday Markets, Tyler Zoo and Splash Kingdom.
Our Aussie friends onboard - Jodie, Andrew and Jess Rothwell - have sent us photos of our cabin this week and we are chomping at the bit to join. The ship has completed the shipyard period in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria and has safely moved to Santa Cruz. We feel like we are treading water but are trying to use the remaining time in Texas to relax before life gets real busy again! this time next week will be at be at sea on passage to Pointe Noire!
Some pics to be added - having a little trouble accessing our blog during the sail...

Monday, July 8, 2013

What do our days on course look like?

By the photos we have posted on Facebook, it may occur to you that it is all zoos, pools and ice cream here. So i thought I might take the time to explain exactly what we are doing.
The Onboarding course here is for four and a half weeks.  Classes go from 8am til 4.30pm with a one hour lunch break.  We also have a 15 minute break for morning and afternoon tea. The topics we have looked at have included:
  • Conflict resolution,
  • Relief vs development,
  • Personal values and motivation for service,
  • Cultural viewpoints and worldview issues,
  • Working with those we serve,
And a series of bible studies on prayer, faith foundations, kingdom principles and The God we serve.  Everything is based on the Biblical world view of being called to serve, understanding the challenges that go with that and being as prepared as possible for life Onboard. The course can be undertaken as an intellectual or contemplative exercise - since we chose the latter, by 4pm our heads are full as we try and glean every pearl of wisdom from the exercises. Dinner is at 5pm each night. The pool is open til 10 pm so we sometimes swim after dinner too. It's still light until almost 9 o'clock.
As well as individual homework each week, we have group exercises most days. We are also preparing for life Onboard by living in dormitories with communal laundry, kitchen, family room and bathrooms. I'm glad we brought our bathrobes for the dash to the showers! Luckily, we are all swept up on conflict resolution as well..
The boys are attending the Kids Onboarding Program (KOB) which is held at the same time as our classes. They are long days for them where they have a lot of fun activities interspersed with ship familiarity. In this area, our prayers have really been answered - they have got on well for the most part (3 boys = lots of testosterone) and it has been a blessing to us to both attend the classes.

KOB Program for this week
We are down to our last week in the classroom now with next week set for basic safety training. I'm looking forward to firefighting again and all those pool activities. Fortunately, it's been really hot in Texas so no freezing exercises that I have experienced in the past.

The best part of the course is getting to know all the other participants. There are people from Holland, Germany, Norway, South Africa, New Zealand, USA and us Australians. Some people are staying to work here at the International Operations Center but most are going to the ship. What is even cooler, is when we arrive Onboard, we'll already know some familiar faces.
Mick and I have been getting up early each weekday to exercise so I'd better get to bed. Another day of drinking from the firehose of information before the weekly run to Walmart - a cultural experience in itself.