On Thursday, April 7th, my parents and I got on a plane headed for France. Since this was the first time that I would be visiting another country since 2008, and only the second time leaving the country ever in my life, suffice it to say, I was pretty excited.
But even before we had left the States, the spiritual warfare had begun. You see, we were going to the International Christian School of Budapest in Hungary, to teach, mentor, and love on some middle school and high school kids, many of which are the children of missionaries in Europe. And so spiritual warfare was simply inevitable.
Multiple sicknesses, stress with school and work, and a host of other things plagued our family as we got ready to head out for ministry. But it was with a ready heart that I flew out from O'Hare in Chicago, ready for another adventure. Of course, four hours into our flight, I was already horrendously sick. After hours of nausea, incredibly uncomfortable attempts at sleep at what was the middle of the night back in the States, and a host of other minor inconveniences, we finally landed in Paris and I promptly vomited twice.
I jokingly remarked to my parents: "Well, at least I can cross 'throwing up in an airport in Paris' off my bucket list now."
Our journey continued with a two hour flight from Paris to Budapest, and though it started off well, with a rather beautiful take-off that reminded me of how amazing God was and gave me some strength back, soon my exhausted body just couldn't take it anymore and it was back to nausea and almost delirious dozing. After an excruciating shuttle ride to the hotel we'd be staying at for two nights before we headed to the host house we would be staying at for the week, it was with enormous relief that I stepped out of the car, checked into my hotel room, and promptly collapsed into a dreamless sleep.
I tell you of all this to preface what was one of the best weeks of my life. Funny how those things work out sometimes.
After spending most of Saturday and Sunday recovering, it was time for the Sunday night meeting with the staff we would be working with at the school that week, and I have to admit, part of me wished I didn't have to go--it was baldly selfish, but I was still exhausted and slightly uneasy from the trip to Europe. But as we drove home from that meeting at a Hungarian restaurant (one that serves very good potatoes, let me tell you), I was so glad that I went.
The first impression that I had of the leaders that served at this school was that they were some of the most solidly Christian people I had ever met. From their love and friendliness, to their servant's attitudes, and on through to their firm stand on the Gospel and scriptural authority, I knew right away that I was going to love these people. And I did.
After hours of discussing how the week was going to play out, we adjourned and went back to where we were staying with the Thompson family (missionaries in Budapest--just wait, I'll get to them soon enough), attempting to get a good night's rest before we started ministry full swing in the morning. My mom and I succeeded--Dad, not so much. But the day made up for it all by itself.
I was immediately impressed, not only by the efficiency, helpfulness, and continued friendliness by the staff at ICSB, but by the overwhelming welcome we got from everyone at the school, from the staff to the middle schoolers to the high schoolers and beyond to everyone involved in helping the school stay up and running.
The middle schoolers, as they usually are, were full of energy. But they weren't disrespectful--they listened, they engaged with the lesson, and afterward, talking with some of them at lunch and then going out to play tag with a few of the boys outside, I was treated to just how friendly and welcoming this group of middle school students truly were. And it made me want to cry. Still does.
The high schoolers were just as friendly and welcoming. They took the lesson seriously in the right places, and had fun with us when it was time to have fun. And it was so encouraging to see how they were being leaders at their school--role models for the other students to look up to.
Encouragement followed us all throughout that first day as we got so much positive feedback from the students on how much they had liked the lesson and my song. We had a long conversation over lunch with Austin, one of the leaders at the school in charge of the chapel time, and a worship leader and youth leader to boot. His razor-sharp wit and easy going nature made us feel at home, and we left the school that day feeling so ready for the rest of the week.
It only gets better from there.
I could go on to describe every situation--every laugh, every encouragement, every reason that I have for why I fell in love with this school. But it would take too many words. Over the week, I came to see these youth the same way I see the youth at Faith Community Church back at home. Like family. And no, I didn't have that long to get to know them. I, truly, don't know them as well as I feel like I do. But hey, that's what Facebook is for, right? And maybe I'll go back someday. I sure would like to.
All in all, every laugh I enjoyed with these students or the staff, it reminded me of a time not too long ago when a group of us silly teenagers used to get together on Sunday afternoons and go walk around the mall. All in all, every encouragement I experienced from the students or the staff made me feel like I had so much purpose, so much definition, to my life in a way that I rarely feel nowadays.
All in all, every reason that I could give for falling in love with this school, it's enough to bring me to my knees in thanksgiving for the work the Lord is doing there. This school is going places, it's impacting people. These students are going places and they are impacting people. And the leaders at this school are letting the Lord use them to teach, mentor, and send out these students in powerful, powerful ways.
And that's from only a week being there. I cannot wait to see what God does with these kids the rest of the year and beyond. If what happened during Spiritual Impact Week is any indication as to the spiritual power surrounding these kids and the staff, then God has an army in the making. And that makes me so thankful to God. So in awe of Him.
Besides the leaders and staff at the school, there was one more group of people that made our stay in Budapest the best it could have possibly been--the Thompson family. They let us barge into their home, sleep on their beds, eat their food, be vegetables on their couches, and all around be incredible nuisances all week. And they did it with a smile on their face and a helping hand always there. They drove us all over, they encouraged us and gave us advice and did so many other little things that I can't begin to express my gratitude to them.
Really and truly, Brian and Barbara Thompson feel like my uncle and aunt now, and their high-school age daughters Sarah and Chloe feel like they're my cousins. Part of me thinks that they really must be distantly related to us because of how much I enjoyed their company and how much I have in common with them. I so wish we had known them back when they had lived in Janesville (yeah, it's crazy--they lived in Janesville before moving to Budapest and my parents just met them like last year during a Europe-area missions conference). I feel like we would have been great friends even then.
I could go on. For hundreds, if not thousands of more words. But I feel like it's time to bring this blog post to a close. Writing this out definitely helped me to give some closure and clarity to the week. Friday was so very bittersweet, and though I'm still in Europe, enjoying a few days in Austria on our own penny before heading back to the States, I feel like I'm part of another world. The routine of ICSB is gone, snatched away from me suddenly like a Christmas present that I only got to have for an hour. Part of me feels like all the spiritual energy in me is gone, unsure if I'll ever have it again.
But my God is faithful, and my time with ICSB is done for now. I leave it all in His hands--it's time to move on, get back to the routine of Life As Caleb, The College Student, and live for Jesus Christ one day at a time.
Coming off the "spiritual high" can sometimes be bumpy. It has been for me. But life is not lived according to weekend retreats or Spiritual Impact Weeks or even the normal Sunday-Wednesday church thing. Life is lived, for Christ, with every passing moment, being intentional about the gratitude and servitude that you can offer the One who took away your death to give you life.
I guess it's time to say goodbye to this school I've fallen in love with, knowing that I still have, and forever will have, my First Love.
Lead the way, Jesus.