There are seasons when transitions happen to be the norm; times when life changes quickly and it’s best to have your head and heart ready to adjust. Tomorrow begins the fifth transition for the Nehemiah team. The first is when they arrived at Training Camp, ready to begin a spiritual adventure. It was a lot of physical work as they helped set up the camp in preparation for the other Royal Servants students arriving 10 days later. Training Camp also involved significant training and planning for ministry. And it was a time to get to know one another and bond as a team. With an alumni team like Nehemiah, that time can be a bit awkward because each team member brings the memories of friendships formed from their previous team. And the questions begin… “will this team be as close as my last one,” “am I as spiritual, gifted, or strong as the other team members,” “will I fit in and find my place”? These are important questions that thankfully have been answered.
The next transition occurred when the regular Royal Servants arrived and Nehemiah began the process of training them in the “skill groups” that Nehemiah had put together. Each afternoon for 2 ½ to 3 hours, they worked and stepped out to train and prepare the other teams, student to student, peer leadership in action. They were pretty tired when it was over, but they had the satisfaction of a job well done.
The third transition involved flying to Turkey. It would be hard for many to believe that the pace the team had at Training Camp could be increased. But it did. After a 10 hour flight and another 4 hours getting through the airport and settled in the hotel, we finally got to sleep at midnight. The next morning, we woke up and got ready for the first foray into ministry. The team broke into three groups (each with a guy) and spread out into the Grand Bazaar. During this time, they were looking to meet shopkeepers who were open to talking with the hope of engaging in deeper spiritual conversations. They did that twice that day - all the while jet-lagged and adjusting to a new normal. And again, they nailed it with boldness and a positive attitude. The following day (Tuesday), we were up and out of the hotel by 7:00am and caught a local bus for a seven-hour bus ride to Izmir. While in Izmir, the team had full days learning about and visiting some of the churches spoken of in the book of Revelation. Besides Izmir, which is ancient Smyrna, we visited Ephesus, Pergamum, and Sardis. And the hotel where we are now staying is only a few miles away from Laodocia and Colossae (as in the book of Colossians). The days were long and tiring, which led into the fourth transition.
On Friday, we took a train from Izmir to Denizili, Turkey, where we were met by a mini-bus (a bit cramped with all our gear!) that whisked us to Pamukkale for three days of R&R. I knew the team would be bone-weary by this time, so I made sure our hotel would have… a pool! There is something restful and healing about a pool. I don’t know the exact dynamics, but it’s happening right now. As I type, Katie, Ben, Trent, Lizzy, Karalynn, and Nathaniel are standing in a circle in the pool laughing like school-kids. Viola, Liena, and Keni are in the hot tub that is fed by natural hot springs that run through this area. Some spent over three hours in the pool yesterday. Why R&R? I have found that with the right encouragement, you can push a group of students hard and beyond what most adults can endure. But they also need time to take a breath and digest what they are experiencing and to prepare for the next phase of ministry. Nehemiah is an intense 53-day mission trip, with the intensity of 24/7 relationships and challenging leadership responsibilities. Not to mention all the while engaging in ministry in multiple cultures. I don’t want them to burn out or disengage due to exhaustion.
So for the last three days the team has had limited responsibilities, a minimal schedule (“I’ll see you in six hours tonight in room 106. Bring your Bibles”), and lots of rest. They can swim, sleep, or just hang around and talk. They look refreshed and ready to go again.
This is good because tomorrow begins our fifth transition. We will again catch a local bus from Denizili to Istanbul, which is a nine-hour ride. On Tuesday, the team will again visit the Grand Bazaar and follow up on relationships built last week. We’ll also get prepped for our flight to the North of Ninevah region where we will begin 19 days of intense ministry.
Which also brings me back to relationships. The team has come to understand that Nehemiah is not their last team; it is a distinctive family made up of fourteen individuals that God has brought together for just such a time as this. And we have a different type of closeness that God will use to blossom unique blessings in each of our lives. The rest times here at the hotel and the pool have accomplished their task and have been the last ingredients needed to draw us closer together and deeper as a team.
So as we prepare to embark on our next transition to ministry, I am encouraged. We still have a long summer ahead of us with lots of challenging ministry. But I believe the team is up for it and ready to meet it all head on!
For the Nehemiah Team,