I'm sorry to say that it has been nearly 5 months since I have last written a blog. While multiple times I told myself I would write a blog, a few times I came up with creative blog titles in my mind, and once or twice I even sat down and began to write! Still, I never actually finished a blog post and published it. I know, I am a failure. So here is an update on the past 5 months, and hopefully the first of many regular blogs.
During the sail to Togo, I became very close friends with another crew member, and student who had spent all of her high school years on the ship with her family. Bethany Lyon, a fellow homeschooler from Virginia, served in the galley for four months and Emma Cole, a high school senior from England, had worked with Mercy Ships with her family for ten years. While the three of us had all been on the ship together for a while, it was not until the sail to Togo that the three of us really began to bond. Each of us are completely different in almost every imaginable way, but within a week we were practically inseparable. However, two weeks after arriving in Togo, Emma and I had to say goodbye to our dear friend Bethany. The five weeks between saying goodbye to Bethany and leaving the ship myself, Emma and I spent multiple nights together in a small closet on deck 7 where we could phone Bethany. At times we sat on the phone as long as 3 hours, into the wee hours of the night! The Lord has used our friendship over the past 5 months to grow me and teach me in incredible ways. To this day, we talk regularly on Skype, our conversations still lasting 2-3 hours! Without a doubt, Emma and Bethany have become two of my closest friends, and I absolutely cannot wait until the day that we finally get to see each other again!
Above is a photo of the three of us taken during the sail from Tenerife to Togo. I am on the far left, Emma in the center, and Bethany on the right.
During my time in Togo I also got to know several of the youth on board. After "chaperoning" a junior high and high school girls' sleepover, I fell in love with the energy and excitement of the ten 8th-12th grade girls on the ship. Most every afternoon and evening in March I could have been found assisting in pranks or watching movies from the youth room while quickly becoming best friends with these girls. When it was time to leave the ship, the ten of them were no doubt the hardest friends to leave. We still stay in contact due to my wonderful friend Mr. Facebook and I think about and pray for each and every one of them on a regular basis.
Above is a picture of me with the high schoolers. I helped them to throw a pizza party in celebration of the end of midterms!
On the right is a picture of me with most of the 8th-12th grade girls celebrating Emma's 18th birthday. We made matching t-shirts saying "Today is Emma's 18th Birthday!" and found party hats at a local Togolese grocery store! With the help of a few nurses, we surprised her while she was in the middle of work experience down on the ward.
Part of the reason that I failed to blog so much in Togo is because during that time, I felt that God's purpose for me on the ship was not so much to focus on those we were serving in Africa, but isntead to focus on my relationships with those living long term on the ship. This led to less stories about how I was working in the country of Togo, and also less time to write a blog as I spent most of my free time building these relationships. In some ways I at first felt that I was disconnecting myself from Africa and allowing all of my fun to cause me to lose sight of my mission for my gap year. However, I soon realized that rather than losing sight of my personal mission, I was following God's mission for me during that time. I was blessed so much by those friendships and I hope that I too was a blessing to each of them. As my time on board drew to an end, I also began to realize that this "new" mission God had given me would cause my departure to be much more painful.
On April 1 (ironically, April fool's day) I walked down the gangway for one final time, followed by a throng of over twenty friends wishing to wave me off. I was crying so hard that I could barely see my way down the steps. Once we stepped on the dock, my friends gathered in a circle and each took turns praying for me. Several of them proceeded to present me with cards and letters to read on the plane. As I hugged each friend goodbye, my heart continually sank lower and lower, still having difficulty comprehending the fact that I was actually LEAVING the ship for good! Heartbroken, I climbed into the Land Rover and we began to pull down the dock. All of the youth girls lined up down the dock and as the car drove past them they chased it down, waving and yelling until they reached the security guards. "They are like the Von Trap family!" Emma laughed as we pulled away. Emma and another dear friend, Kim Anna Kronester, a long term student serving with her family, came with me to the airport. They held my hands as we drove away; unable to speak a word, I sobbed silently throughout the difficult drive. Upon arrival to the airport I bid Emma and Kim Anna a final farewell, and my time with Mercy Ships drew to a close.
To the left is a picture of a few roomates and youth right before I left the ship.
The next two weeks were a blur of tears, depression, frustration, and confusion as I attempted to deal with culture shock as well as the pain of leaving all of my closest friends. Thankfully, the last week of April I got to take a road trip to visit Bonny Jean, one of my former roomates who left the ship in December. The four days we spent together were unimaginably paramount to my recovery of culture shock. After returning home from the road trip my brother told me, "Kendall, I am glad you are normal again."
Three days after coming back from my road trip, I was off for more traveling! Due to the discovery of an incredible airfare deal, and hours of hard work around the house, I was able to buy a plane ticket to visit Bethany in Virginia! I spent a week with her family in Danville, and they quickly began to feel like my own family. Over the course of that week I felt like the Lord finally gave me peace about being back at home, and really began to help me understand why April 1st was my time to leave the ship, not May 1st, or even August 1st. On May 11th, I flew back home to St Louis, finally feeling like I was ready to begin the next phase of my life.
This summer I am working as a camp counselor at a local YMCA. While the long hours have been incredibly exhausting, my work is fun and rewarding. Every day I come home with new stories about the silly things that kids say. I am also taking a couple of college courses online to get a head on my college work before entering as a freshman at Wheaton College in August. On top of school and work, I have decided to teach myself guitar as well as to begin piano again. I am also training for a triathlon with a few friends. This summer has quickly become a busy one, and I'm sure it will fly by! It has been encouraging to see that while it was hard to leave my work in Africa, God clearly had plenty of incredible things planned out for me back home.
Because this blog has become so long (5 months is a lot to catch up on!!) I will write another time to share what all the Lord has taught me over the past 5 months. Until then, I am just relieved to have FINALLY written what should have been done months before!