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!
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:
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...