We are “all over” this life, yo!

19 days ago, we sat in HQ at Val’s house, writing on our blog and attempting to pull our lives together post-graduation. Here we sit again at HQ, on the other side of the trip, updating the blog once more. Our lives are not necessarily more pulled together than before, but shaken up by the ideas and examples that we have seen, talked to, and thought about.

Along the way, we have learned a number of valuable, albeit incidental, things. Dirt weighs a lot, especially when placed in a shovel. Living on English muffin-and-cheese sandwiches and trail mix is neither possible nor advisable for more than two days at a time. Pancakes cooked over an open fire taste superb. Warped front car roters make driving down mountains unpleasant. Gas money can be stretched really far by not running the air conditioner (even if it does reach 80 degrees outside!). Shouting, “Stop!” from the backseat while the driver is attempting to merge does not provide adequate guidance as to what one wishes the driver to not do.

Someplace along the line, between shoveling dirt and sharing pancakes, we learned so much more. Life issues–whether big or small–are best dealt with by gaining perspective. Stepping back from a problem in order to see it differently can be an invaluable action. We have witnessed hospitality across the country, each time in a different way than the last. There are no cookie-cutter life journeys. Each is unique and subject to change. This is both exciting and scary, especially since we’re not entirely sure where we’re headed right now. We got a lot more than we bargained for on this trip, in a good way. Ideas, hopes, dreams, and questions came at us as quickly as our hosts along the way offered us cookies (we ate a lot of cookies and turned down offers for a lot more. Trust us–it was a lot!).

Thanks for reading the blog and keeping up with our travels. However, we must apologize for its incompleteness. We really can’t fully document everything that we’ve experienced. Words and snapshots are a poor substitute for what goes on in the human brain. The four of us have shared common adventures, but have gone through them and understood them in our own ways. Please, help us to continue to process this trip by asking us about our travels and by reminding us of what we’ve learned during this time.

We have started out many days by saying to each other, “We’re all over this day, yo!” Now, we say to you, “We’re all over this LIFE, yo!”

Love and prayers to all,
Faith, Val, Megan, and Kelly (in absentia)

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Final Interview: Serve the Lord, Serve the Poor.

1230 hrs:
Having braved traffic on the Capitol Beltway and Philly, going on roads which have stop lights every 500 meters to avoid paying tolls, we realize that we are going to be LATE for our much anticipated interview with Ron Sider.
Butterflies are flying around in my stomach.

1300 hrs:
Me: Hello, may I speak with Dr. Sider please?
RS: Speaking.
Me: Hi Dr. Sider, this is Valerie Ong. My friends and I were suppose to be at your house at 1pm for an interview. We’re calling to let you know that we’ve hit traffic and will be about 15 minutes late. Is that ok?
RS: Yes, that will be fine.
The butterflies are doing back flips, I just spoke with Ron Sider, and he now thinks that we are not punctual 20 some year olds.

1315 hrs:
Me: Maybe he’ll think I said 50 minutes.
Butterflies are fit for the circus trapeze act.

1330 hrs:
We missed Logan Road.
Megan: Now we can tell him that we got lost!
Me: Great, and now he’ll think that we can’t navigate, and did not allocate enough time for our impediments!
Butterflies are dead now from all the strenuous activity.

As you can tell, I had been overly excited about this interview. Sider’s book “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger” spoke (or shouted, rather) truth about the role (or lack) of Christians in todays world where the majority of our neighbors go to sleep hungry. Rich Christian explores the realities of poverty and the biblical perspective on how Christians should act, among others.

In Sider’s foreword, he mentions that he does not claim to live out all the implications of his book, but that he has begun this pilgrimage. It was especially encouraging for me to see this reality –Sider and his wife live in an interracial, modest section of Philadelphia. Moreover, Sider is in his late 60s, showing us that it is not just our generation that seeks to live as “ordinary radicals” (Claiborne).

How do we get people wherever they may be their stage of life to act?
Love Jesus.
I am not a social activist. I love Jesus & actively seek His will. From that, comes the drive to bring change.
What a challenge.

Beginning and ending our interview in Philadelphia with Claiborne and Sider were perfect bookends to our adventure. But the unpacking and processing continue on.

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Reminiscent Entertainment

Day 16: Life happens when you sit still, or when you drive, but riding is the best!! This is what I think as I crawl into the backseat as we head off for Mammoth caves. I’ve driven the first leg and am completely content to let Megan and Valerie take me wherever they wish (in this case on a tour de Indiana and Kentucky). The cave proves to be quite the tourist trap, and a turkey strutting across the road provides significantly more excitement. We are easily amused.
Extracting entertainment from thin air continues as we head off to Mt Juliet to spend the evening with the Stone family. Regina (Messiah ’07) guides us to her home (since Mapquest has failed.) We enjoy our evening reminiscent of a teenage sleepover (pizza, icecream, girly movie, bridal shows, talking into the night.)

Day 17: The next day, after an excellent southern style breakfast made by Mrs. Stone, we make our plans to go into Nashville. A country music extravaganza is taking place, and our team (with Regina and sister in tow) decides to soak up the local feel by touring the state museum and wandering the packed streets. Nothing like some live music with cowboy hats and matching boots! Needless to say, no one changed their music preferences, and we left the city really grateful for free parking.

Day 18: We decide to spend an extra night so we can attend church with the Stone family on Sunday. After church we hit the road again for a long drive to Kelly’s home in Aroda, VI. We practice our timely pit stops, lose an hour with dignity (transition from Central to Eastern time zone) and arrive safely at Kelly’s home. Her family has reserved a local clubhouse for us, and supplied us with all the creature comforts. We swap stories about Kelly and lament her being in New Hampshire as we enjoy burgers, dogs and birthday cake from a celebration for Kelly’s niece earlier in the day.

Day 19: With Philly hours north and east of our current location, the morning begins bright and early. We leave our spacious accommodations and meet Gavin, Kelly’s adorable year old nephew, and her mother for a quick breakfast before getting back on the highway. It has been wonderful to see Kelly’s area, but bitter sweet because she’s not here to share the joy.

As we zip in and out of homes, I’ve been struck by the diversity apparent in the families we met throughout the trip. Watching daughters and sons interact with their parents, husbands and wives talk to each other, their children, and us, along with their unique hospitality responses to our team’s need for room and board. They’ve come from a variety of backgrounds, with some connection to our team, though it might be a friend or a relative who knows one of us. No two families respond in the same fashion. Some sit and talk with us extensively, some give us space and solitude. Some cook dinner, some buy us breakfast, and some order pizza from the local shop. I’ve loved each experience, and sincerely appreciated the gracious hosts who accepted our flaws (and frequent tardiness) with open arms. It encourages me to see people using their homes to welcome guests, and I look forward to the day when I too can open my door to a weary traveler.

My house!

I realize that this is a few days late, but here it is anyways: After leaving Lincoln, Nebraska, we traveled to my house in Greenville, IL. After a final frantic night of last minute preparations, Kelly had completed almost all the paperwork she needed, ordered textbooks for her class this summer, and just generally caught up on life a bit. Early the next morning, the three of us drove her into the St. Louis airport to see her off to the camp at which she’ll be working this summer. For me, that was perhaps (ok, definitely), the hardest moment of the trip. The four of us have planned for this adventure since February. We have spent untold hours on the road, at all times of the day/night. We have shared our deepest fears with each other, discussed our dreams, and made amazing new memories. Suddenly, there we were sending off 1/4 of ourselves. It was incredibly hard, but necessary. Kelly has made it out to the camp (in New Hampshire) and it sounds like she has been met with an awesome staff and wonderful opportunities. Even though she hasn’t been with us in body the past few days, she has certainly been in our thoughts and prayers.

So, after seeing off Kelly, we returned to Greenville for the day. Faith and Val spent the day at my house, catching up on journaling and getting our car a much-needed oil change. I spent most of the day making medical visits of different sorts, in preparation for my entry into the Peace Corps in January. It served as a good reminder to me that life (and paperwork!) continue even when all we can think about is getting back on the road.

As you may have noticed, I haven’t blogged in quite a while. That is due in part to the infrequent internet access that we have had during the latter part of the trip, and in part to allow me some time to process everything. As we wind down our trip, I’ve begun to realize the vastness of what we have heard and what we have yet to learn. Perhaps what has most stood out to me has been the way that faith and vocation have connected in the lives of the people we interviewed. I know that discussions on “faith and vocation” are a popular topic in Messiah college classrooms/conferences, but I have begun to realize how impossible it is for me, as a Christian, to try to separate the two. In many of our interviews, we didn’t focus so much on why an interviewee changed jobs, or what led them to their present job. Instead, we talked about their faith–how it colors everything they look at and think about, how it gives them hope for the problems that they see while still acknowledging that those problems exist. That’s just the tip of one of the ideas that have repeatedly surfaced during our travels. Again, sorry for not blogging more frequently, but often when we stopped driving for the day, I felt so overwhelmed by all the thoughts swirling around in my brain that I couldn’t quite put anything into words. Chao!


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Day 13: In the Middle of Everywhere!

If you think that Lincoln, Nebraska is in the middle of nowhere — BEEP– you are incorrect. Lincoln is the middle of everywhere. We had originally hoped to meet and interview Mary Pipher, author of a book titled “The Middle of Everywhere” which describes her experiences with refugees in Lincoln. They have come from everywhere, and we could tell as we drove through the city –there were restaurants of all sorts, and kids let of of school reflected a diverse body. Mary was in Colorado, but we got to meet Pat Fuenning who happens to be Rhonda Brubacher’s college roommate, and the “less famous Mary Pipher”. Pat has established relationships with refugees in the area, having spent a semester in Argentina on a high school exchange program which led her to understand some of the challenges and difficulties of being in a foreign place. We were privileged to meet with her friends Mama Grace, her son Benjamin and friend Justin, from Sudan. Grace’s husband was in leadership in Sudan, but left the country, only to return. Pat expressed concerned for his life, but clearly, Grace and her family are resilient in all the challenges present to them.
We also had the opportunity to tour around the very ornate capitol building of Nebraska (unique in that it is the only capital in the US to have a unicameral legislature/one house) and spent the night with Deb Berke’s (Prof of HDFS) aunt. She too had many stories to share about her life. She rents her basement to researchers/grad students, and so we met Roberto, a physician from Colombia on Fullbright studying statistics. We appreciated his insight about the system of education, specifically pertaining to the field of medicine in Colombia. As we left today, Roberto said it was nice to meet us and that we were “interesting girls”. I continue to be fascinated by the fact that people seemed to be “impressed” by us and what we are doing on the road. There is much to process about the impact of the people with whom we have come in contact with, but I did not think we would have such a positive impact on them. Everyone we have met and spoken with have shared their lives with us, and we are so thankful, that it is odd to think that they are thanking us.

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Day 12: Shout Out, the Hypocrites!

Advice given to us by James Fry, a gentleman we interviewed today in Colorado. James began Mean Street Ministries, a Christian outread ministry founded to serve the working poor and homeless in Denver. It was encouraging to hear James’ testimony of how he “ran away from God”, only to run back to Him later in life and to an unexpected new life. Originally a student of plasma physics turn successful businessman, James lost everything (material) but found God. Fast forward: James began to see the needs of the marginalized in the city and could not turn away from the needs in his backyard. He started this ministry by going up to people, offering a sandwich from his backpack. Today, Mean Street feeds up to 400 people sandwiches weekly! Additionally, James spoke about the fall of the church, but encouraged us as we encouraged him, as we reminded each other that our generation must step up and be the church & the change.
If you encounter a hypocrite, SHOUT!

If you know me, you know I like to talk. But I’m not talking very much. I feel very encouraged by the life stories that have been shared with me, but I’m overwhelmed by the responsibility that I have, that we, as the current generation has. I hear a lot of regret expressed by the older generation mixed with various perspectives and perceptions on how my generation can work to improve things. I pray for strength and wisdom for our generation to be fully prepared to be instruments of God. It’s a little intimidating.

Day 11: Rockies & Mountains.

Rocky Mountain National Park was breathtaking, to say the least. And it was high up. We drove up to an elevation of almost 12,000 ft, holding our breath as Faith brilliantly maneuvered the car along the narrow roads which was void of barriers.

When we thought our high elevation day was over, we found ourselves driving up another mountain where we spent the night with the Wright family. I cannot describe the Wright Residence. I’ll just say that it was featured in Colorado Home’s Magazine, and that I’ve never set foot in any home like this before. We enjoyed getting to know the Wrights and their church friends. It is wild how much one can learn about another even in such short periods of time. This must be how community works –we open our hearts and lifes to all, trusting that they will love us, not judge us, as we do the same onto them. Not so easy, but things that come easy aren’t as rewarding.

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Day 10: Surprise, surprise.

We cut out Salt Lake City and Arches National Park, Utah, because we decided we wanted to have time to explore Yellowstone & some time off the road. I was especially disappointed about giving up Arches, but it all made sense.
We left Grand Teton to get to Grand Junction, CO to stay with a friend’s family.

Hi Mrs. H, we are about 150 miles away, but we probably won’t get to your house until 9pm ish (Call made at approx. 5pm). I’m not sure why these words are coming out of my mouth, but the girls tell me to relay this information.

We seem to drive through Utah on route to Colorado forever. But the landscape of rocks and such are pretty neat and I comment that it’s almost like we’re at Arches.

Faith, may I look at the atlas, please?
Hmm, no I kind of need it.
Megan, may I drive? (She’s driven for 6 hrs now)
Hmm, not now, maybe later.

Great, I’ll just go back to reading. A few minutes later, I see a sign that says:
Arches National Park
1 Mile.

The girls had recalculated and decided we had the time to see Arches, but chose to keep it secret and surprise me. It made our visit all the better. Perhaps my favorite, thus far.

Oh, and we arrive at 319 Dakota at 11pm, to ring the doorbell and LEAVE, realizing that we were suppose to be at 319 Dakota COURT. Megan thinks that the babysitter was hiding the kids in a closet instead of answering the door…
Once more, we are thankful for the flexibility and graciousness of our hosts. Good thing first impressions don’t always count!

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Rotten eggs + Pancakes + Grand Teton = One day of fun

So, you’ve not heard from me yet, but I am the 4th member of grads without borders. (Yes, indeed, I have been going on this adventure, too. You’ll see me in the pictures.)
Day 9 for the Grads without Borders was a long one, filled with lots of excitement and good times. Originally on this day, we were going to continue the push west on to Salt Lake City. For various reasons, we decided it would be more beneficial to slow down and enjoy a day in Yellowstone National Park.
So, this is what it looked like:
We started out the morning at 5:30ish, at which time we awoke to catch the sunrise over Yellowstone Lake in Northwest Wyoming. The views were spectacular to say the least. Our early-morning sight-seeing transitioned into firewood-gathering time. We were quite ambitious this particular morning…
We gathered all the necessary wood and attempted to start our very first campfire as a team. Well, about 20 matches and 15 minutes later, we had a fire! (I hope having matches did not mean we broke the Messiah Community Covenant…)
Faith, our skilled fire-tender, cared for the precious embers while the pancake preparation began. It was tons of fun making whole-wheat-banana-and-honey pancakes over a campfire at Yellowstone. It was even more fun to eat them, as we’d had peanut-butter-and-honey and/or cheese english muffins for the past few days.
After all this, we went out to explore Yellowstone. We had a good amount of time, as it was only about 9:30 (never underestimate the value of getting up early!).
Yellowstone offered us many fantastic options, but our time was limited to one day, so this narrowed our options significantly. The first thing we did was visit the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This site was recommended to us by Scott, the brother of a Messiah professor. The place was stunning! It is home to one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen! The whole canyon was colorful and powerful and displayed the glory of God in it.
We spent about a half hour at Grand Canyon before moving on to see many geysers of Yellowstone, including the famous Old Faithful. It was awesome because we approached just as this 100 ft + wonder was beginning to erupt. We rushed over only to find that the wind was not in our favor. Within minutes Old Faithful was misting us with a not-so-refreshing rain of sulfur water, leaving us with the lingering rotten egg smell for which it is notorious. The crowd began to scatter in a movie-disaster type way. It was quite amusing.
Later we decided to hike one of the many trails within the park. The one we chose was called Mystic Falls. I, personally, love waterfalls, so I was intrigued. The hike was a good distance, as well, for the time we had. The trail took was about 2.5 to 3 miles round trip. At the top of the mountain we saw Old Faithful spraying its waters toward the heavens again. Coming down the mountain, we finally encountered the mysterious Mystic Falls that seemed to be ever-present by ear, but hidden from sight. The waterfall was definitely worth the hike.
Later that evening we departed Yellowstone for Grand Teton National Park. For me, it was like the history of my major taking form. I remembered Dave Tanis’ stories of Paul Petzoldt and the Grand Teton and it all became real. The park was beautiful and the mountains so majestic. The campsite we chose gave a splendid view of the Grand Teton. I woke up seeing the beastly wonder towering above welcoming my gaze and haunting me with wonder. It was very surreal.
Phew…what a packed day. This day is typical of our trip–nonstop. I have definitely learned tons about flexibility, communication, and patience. It has been wonderful, tiring, and energizing–all at the same time. I know that I will take from it many skills including relating with others, being organized, and valuing sleep and exercise.
I hope to give you more of my thoughts. For now, I should sign off. Until next time, friends.

Day 8: A Brief Narrative.

Go carve a rock:
We caught a glimpse of Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota and I must say the Rich family (Richie’s) looked better in stone than them Presidents. It was quite something, but parking right under the President’s noses wasn’t included in our super golden national parks pass. So, we decided to invest our money elsewhere.
Where the $ went:
Jim’s Automotives and Tires. Jim & Chuck to be precise. Driving up the mountains of Wyoming proved to be a challenge for dear Megan who is used to driving on the flat lands of Illinois. Concerned that we had car problems, we back-tracked to the town of Buffalo, WY for a visit with Jim. Chuck took the car for a test drive and claimed that this was the best accelerating car he’d driven in a while. This story is worth the price. Plus, we are reminded to move on, and that Jim & Chuck were kind enough to not make up stories about car problems and keep us from continuing our journey to the much anticipated Yellowstone.
Warning: You are entering Bear Country.
We had a bear (we’re not sure if it was a grizzly or black) greet us upon our arrival at Yellowstone. It’s true, we have footage. It got a kick out of it, and we continue to be thankful for our diverse dose of wildlife –bison (Kelly and I swam a few feet away from them), elk and a moose. Camping at Yellowstone was heavenly, safe for the fact that it was bellow freezing.