Monday, February 22, 2016

Coast to Coast in 6 Days!

It's been about 11 days since the last day of Engage 5. The last few days in Georgia were wonderful. Even though we had the hard task of saying goodbye to all of the new friends that we had made during the last 5 weeks, we were still having some great conversations. Maintaining relationships online is hard for me, but I'm hopeful that I'll still be able to stay in contact with them. The last couple days were filled with a couple more classes, two more visits to the Mercer cafeteria, a fun visit with my friend in Clarkston, and saying goodbye to the people at Reach the Nations and the Encompass staff.

 Saying goodbye to my fellow Engagers, the people who I had lived with for the past 5 weeks was incredibly hard. I am so grateful to God for putting each and every one of them in my life. They were a huge encouragement to me, and also some of the most fun people I have ever met. I'm already missing their daily company.

 All of the trainers were amazing too! God really used them to challenge me and help me grow and I am so thankful for all that they were able to share with us from their years of experience on the field.

On Thursday, February 11th, I said goodbye to all of them and hopped on an Amtrak train bound for Washington, D.C. for the second part of this whole adventure! This was my first time using Amtrak long-distance, and I was very excited to experience it! I had about a 14 hour stretch overnight, reaching D.C. before lunch on Friday. Had a wonderful time exploring some of the monuments and memorials for a few hours. It was great weather outside: not too cold or too warm.

Unfortunately, they were doing a good bit of construction/maintenance around the Washington Monument and the Reflection Pool was drained, so it took a bit away from the "atmosphere"...but it was still really neat to get to see these places!

I definitely enjoyed not having to deal with a lot people since it was colder out! Took me about 4 hours to explore the Lincoln Memorial, Korean Memorial, WWII Memorial, Washington Monument, Smithsonian Castle, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. One of the biggest highlights for me though, was getting to walk right past the White House. Apparently, there's only fence around the front and back...the side is right on the street! Totally could have touched it if I wanted to...Haha I loved how everything was so close together. It made it very easy to get to a lot in a short amount of time.

 (Smithsonian Castle)

Spent the night in a hotel which was only about a mile away from the White House (no, it wasn't a fancy hotel) making it an easy walk. Enjoyed getting 12 hours of sleep that night! I figured I would probably need it for the rest of the train ride back. Woke up the next morning to find it snowing outside! Enjoyed getting to eat my waffle in the dining room downstairs and watch the snow come down in the street. Beautiful!

I don't typically use public transportation at home and it's been years since my mom had taken us kids on a bus, but since the Amtrak station was a couple miles away from the hotel and I wasn't thrilled with the idea of walking that distance with a heavy backpack, I decided to use the Metro. Their website had a great tool for figuring out where to go, which made it really easy for someone like me who didn't have a lot of experience using it and was on the opposite side of the country... I found a stop less than a quarter of mile from the hotel, right in front of a Starbucks! I learned that a hot mocha and a cold, snowy morning go really well together...

Thankfully, I was able to make it to the Amtrak Union Station without any issues. The station there in D.C. was huge and the inside reminded me a bit of an airport.

One thing that I found fascinating on this trip was the wide variety of station sizes, designs, etc. The ones in Chicago and DC were the biggest, with Sacramento being a close runner-up. But many of the stations that we stopped at along the way back to California were rather small. The boarding process was generally very easy and I didn't have too much trouble figuring out where to go, despite the various station set-ups. If I did have questions, I found that the employees both in the stations and on the trains were generally very friendly and helpful! There was also no security that needed to be passed, which made the process a lot easier. It was a great first experience.

From Washington, D.C., the train went to Chicago, IL, passing through states such as Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. A large portion of it was overnight, but I got to see a good bit of beautiful West Virginia before it got dark. Definitely one of my favorite states that I got to see on this trip! I loved all of the farms with the wide, snow-covered fields and big red barns.

Originally, I was planning to explore some of Chicago before my next train since I had about 5 hours there. I ended up walking about a mile to a nearby church, Soul City and caught the last half of their service. I really enjoyed getting to experience another part of the Church that morning. But on the way there, I was noticing that the city seemed really dead...there were hardly any people or cars out, and even the businesses seemed to be closed. I knew that it was early on a Sunday morning, but it was still a little disconcerting...and it was freezing (not as windy as I expected, though). So I decided to go back to the Station and enjoyed people-watching for a while!

In the portion of the trip from D.C. to Chicago, I had ridden coach, but from Chicago to Sacramento, I decided to get a room which I really enjoyed. It was much easier to have a regular-sized bed to stretch out on instead of curling up on 2 empty seats to get some sleep (it's not impossible...but it's not as comfortable either...). Meals were also included with the purchase of the room. I'm thankful that I took advantage of the first meal served in the dining car (dinner) since the dining car had to be taken off later that night because of some technical problems and was never put back on! It's community-seating, so I got placed with an older gentleman traveling to CA and another man and his 11-year old son who were traveling to CO for a ski trip. It was great getting to meet them and I really enjoyed talking with them. Talked a lot about travel since the older gentleman travels quite extensively for business and also knew some tips for building up reward points! That was my only community-dining experience and I really enjoyed it! They did provide meals, however, for the people in the sleeper cars for the remaining day and a half.

I really enjoyed this portion of the trip. The scenery was incredible, including both the Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas and provided for hours of entertainment. But it was also a great opportunity to do some journaling and reading and processing of everything that I had learned during Engage 5. There was so much good stuff that we covered in that short amount of time, so I was very thankful to have that time to think through it some more and to figure out how to apply it to my situation before I got home. Usually, that doesn't happen very easily once I get home and I end up losing a good bit of that information. So I was able to come back feeling a little more prepared to jump back into things. Super thankful for that time!

Once I arrived in Sacramento, I had two more trains and a bus and arrived in Anaheim, CA about 10:30 on Wednesday morning, 6 days after I had left Georgia. The whole trip was an incredibly awesome adventure and I am SO thankful that I got to experience everything that I did. God was so good to provide the people that He did along the way and was faithful to provide in other ways, as well.

It's been an interesting transition back to California. It felt really weird to finally be back home after spending 5 weeks living with completely different people and then spending a week traveling. And in a way, I'm a slightly different person from the girl who left California back in January. But it's so good to be home. I am so excited to be applying what I learned here and seeing what God does through it! I'm missing the time in Georgia, but am excited to jump into this new season!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Almost Done with Engage 5!

It's been a really good week here in Atlanta. There's been multiple opportunities to get together with people in Clarkston and at Mercer University, and I've met a lot of new people. This week in class, we've covered topics such as conflict styles, what makes a great team, and how to understand poverty.

Here are some highlights from the week!

-Watching Nepali movies with some people in Clarkston Station

-The Engaging Race: Similar to the Amazing Race! We got to drive/run/ride the train all over Atlanta in teams of three doing crazy things such as drawing attention to ourselves on the street somehow and taking a picture twice of at least 5 people watching us. Our team simply pointed at something in the sky and tried to get people to look. Other activities included one team member eating grass jelly, climbing over trashcans and under picnic tables without touching the ground in an obstacle course, directing a blindfolded person through a maze, and looking for answers to questions in the Martin Luther King Jr. visitor center. My team came in second place. It was a really fun day! Great chance to practice being a good team member in a somewhat stressful situation.

-A catered lunch with the Encompass staff. This was supposed to be done at the end of Engage 5, but since Bruce and Karen are leaving a week early, they did the meal early too! They did a little ceremony for all of us, with each trainer sharing about the person they mentored and presenting an award and gift. My award ended up being the "Gutsy/Sucker" award because of the worm, and they gave me gummy worms! They did taste a lot better. ;) This was a really neat time.

-Meeting with Kent and Becky Good for a few hours to talk about Cambodia! It was so neat getting to hear their stories from their time serving there and they gave me some good tips about serving there. This was such a blessing and I'm so glad that I've been able to get to know this couple while in Atlanta!
 (PC: Kent Good)

-A game night at our house with 7 students from Mercer University! I had only met some of them this week, although other members of our team have been building relationships with them for a couple weeks. It was great getting to meet them and hang out! My cheeks were hurting afterwards from laughing so hard and so much! They're a neat group of people.

It was hard saying goodbye to this sweet couple on Thursday! Praying God blesses their ministry in France. They've been a great blessing to our team!

God's been doing a lot this week. He's been exposing a lot of things about myself that I need to think through and it's been really good. I'm super thankful for this team that God's placed me with that's really challenging me to grow!

I now have less than a week left in Atlanta. The next couple days will be spent wrapping things up with people we have met here in addition to classes and thinking through how we will apply all of this. I'll be leaving on Thursday night and beginning my 6-day trip back home on Amtrak. It's going to be hard to leave, but I am looking forward to seeing everyone back at home. =)