Monday, August 25, 2008

Our Switzerland Adventure - Part II

When this whole Switzerland trip started, our thinking went something like this: “Well, somebody has to do this missions trip. It just happens to be in Switzerland. It might as well be us.”

Truth be told, my motives for going on this trip were not entirely altruistic. We’re talking Switzerland here, not Eastern Outer Mongolia, and if you have a heart to serve missionaries (as we do) is it so bad to do it in a place that’s . . . well, shall we say . . . cushy?

I think not.

I’m the girl, after all, who proudly sports on her denim jacket a pin that says, “I love not camping.”

To me, heading to Eastern Outer Mongolia would be a bit like camping. Or worse. And God knows I would not serve Him to my fullest ability if I were worried about having enough lighter fluid or toilet paper.

Now, if God called me to EOM, and I knew in my heart that He was calling me there, I’d be there in a heartbeat. Who am I to ignore God’s call? But so far, He’s been merciful and has allowed me to serve Him right where I am. And in Switzerland.

So we followed God’s call to Switzerland, and our time of service was filled with blessing upon blessing.

Our “job” on this trip was to plan activities for missionary children for a week. Basically, we needed to keep the kids busy—meaningfully busy—for 10 hours a day while their parents were in a conference. For months before we left we met together as a group and planned our activities which would include a traditional VBS program in the morning and excursions in the afternoons.

(I said "meaningful" right?)

We had planned to end each day with an hour of “Olympic Games” in honor of the Beijing Olympics which were being held while we were there. Unfortunately, the Great Swiss Olympic Games never happened because the weather was so bad all week, and also because there was no level playing field on which to hold these games. We were, after all, in the mountains. Where they ski. Downhill. There was not a flat surface anywhere to be found. What were we thinking?

We arrived a day or two before the children started arriving, which was good because it allowed us to get over jet lag pretty easily and to check out the area. We had planned various excursions for the afternoons, and the two extra days allowed us to get a lay of the land.

We checked out the local tourist office to get as much information as possible. Some in our group walked to the local pool to check it out. A couple of people “practiced” hiking up the mountain to see if it would be too tough for some of the kids. Others “practiced” taking the Gondola to the top.

The missionaries, kids in tow, arrived on Sunday night, and the place started buzzing and bustling with activity. Before we knew it, our kids were meeting the missionary kids and playing with them on the playground. By bedtime Sunday night the kids were acquainted with each other, and we were all eager to get started on Monday morning.

Every morning we ran a traditional Vacation Bible School, complete with singing and Bible stories and games and crafts. Boy, did we have crafts! See??

I learned so much about God’s family just by watching how He put our group together. See, I did not get the crafty gene, and my biggest fear, as I agreed to lead this trip, was that I would have to do something craft-wise with these kids. But God knows my many weaknesses and He brought Sandi to do the work that He knew I couldn’t do.

Sandi is craft goddess extraordinaire. She amazingly put together the VBS crafts, bought all the supplies we needed, and then put together a full roster of “afternoon” crafts just in case the weather didn’t cooperate or some kids didn’t want to go on excursions. Boy, did we ever need those afternoon crafts! Not only did the weather not cooperate, we did have a handful of kids who just wanted to hang out with Sandi and do crafts all afternoon.

I pretty much stayed away.

Even though the weather didn’t cooperate fully, we did manage to take the kids out every day but one (on Friday it just rained and rained and rained all day so that’s when Sandi’s crafts really came in handy). One day we did a scavenger hunt through the town that my daughter, Kate, put together with another girl on the trip. The kids had a blast running around town finding little landmarks and getting the reserved Swiss people to give them high fives.

On two of the days, some in our group (the ones who drew the short straw, I’d say) “got” to take the kids to the local pool. Even though it was a heated pool, it was still outdoors and proved to be quite chilly. Still, the kids enjoyed the adventure.

And on the other day, Sandi and I got to take a group of kids to a local bakery for some marzipan molding and cookie decorating. The tourist office in town arranged this for us, and it was really a special outing for me who loves to cook and bake. At one point I looked at Sandi and said, “We are standing in the basement of a real Swiss bakery! Pinch me!”

After the bakery tour we met up with some more of our kids and headed up the mountain in a gondola for the most spectacular view of the valley.

Even though we had some pretty fun activities planned for the kids, I’d say these weren’t even the highlight. For me, the highlights of the week were watching the faces of the missionary kids as they connected with our kids. So many smiles. So much laughter. So many hugs. It was beautiful to watch children who had never met before, and who will probably never see each other again on this side of Heaven, connect in such a real way.

We already miss those sweet kids—well, maybe not the one who peed on me because he was crying so hard, but, yeah, probably him too—and look forward to one day seeing them again. Saying goodbye at the end of the week was hard.

And that’s just one of many lessons my kids had put before them last week. Saying goodbye is just part of the missionary experience, but we have a strong and sure hope that one day there will be no more goodbyes.

Only hellos. And hugs. And smiles.

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