Now that the selection process was over and I knew I'd be going to Australia for the summer, reality hit and I knew I had some major preparations to make before boarding the plane.
I had never been on a long-term mission project before. I had gone on many one or two week trips, so I wasn't completely green. However, going to a foreign country, even one as American friendly as Australia, required that I have some major training. The Leadership Training Conference that the Mississippi Baptist Student Union holds every year is designed to jump start our learning process. It really helped me by getting me out of my comfort zone; the missionaries prepared for a few days to actually host the conference for the rest of the students who were not going on missions but were still in leadership positions at school.
The long weekend culminated with a commissioning service for all of us (there were a ton of missionaries, but only a handful were going international) that was really special, asking us to wash the feet of those we serve. Not literally, like Jesus washed His disciples' feet, but figuratively serving out of love for the people we would meet. Here's a picture of six of the seven missionaries heading to Australia:Hugh, Jill, Marty, Rowland, Heathahlee, Keith (and I don't know where Scott is...probably galavanting around somewhere)
(Would you look how long my hair is?) There were seven placements/job descriptions for Mississippi students, with the eighth position being filled by a sweet girl from Canada. Each team consisted of a guy and a girl, and each team had different job descriptions. My partner and I were the team heading to Sheffield, Tasmania for the puppet, drama, etc. work. The guy in front of me in the picture? He was my missions partner. Meaning we would be spending the summer in close proximity. Don't worry. The thought of getting really close couldn't have been farther from either of our minds. We were as different as night and day. (Would you please look how long my hair is? And how non-gray? Oh, to have 20-year old hair again.)
After LTC, we then had to head to Richmond, Virginia to the Missionary Learning Center for another long weekend where we gathered with dozens of other missionaries bound all over the world. The MLC is where missionaries on their way to other countries (as in to live for two years) are trained. The weekend was not a walk in the park. It was very intense and to say that I was a bit intimidated would be a gross understatement. Here is where reality set in. I would be leaving my country. Now, granted, Australia isn't the depths of the Amazon jungle or anything, but still.
At one point we (the 19 of us heading to Australia) had to come up with a play that would portray some of the difficulties we might face. We chose to act out witnessing to someone who doesn't really think he needs God. Thankfully, Marty (the redhead in the picture below) and I were just "campers along the billabong" and didn't have to say anything; we just had to sing "Waltzing Matilda" (or is it Mathilda?) until the play started while sitting around a fake campfire with fake marshmallows (do they even do that in Australia?) on fake sticks made out of pipe cleaners. I still have my fake pipe cleaner marshmallow/stick. See the orange stuff sticking up? Yeah, that's our fire. Pretty dang realistic, don't you think?
After filling our minds with all they possibly could, the International Mission Board gave us their blessing to head out into the world. I knew that was when it would get really tough...
to be continued...