I'm back, and I admit, it's bittersweet. I'm so thankful to be home and sleeping in my own bed, but there is an ache in my heart at the beauty and fellowship we've left behind. This trip has definitely impacted my life, and I pray I never forget all that I learned. I thought I'd take the next couple of days to give you a brief summary of what took place during my absence from you.
Thursday, May 10th - We arrived at the airport somewhere around 12:30 and waited around the airport for two hours to board our plane to Atlanta. Once aboard, we were told that they were having to reboot the airplane computer (not a comforting thought) and our flight would be slightly delayed. Several minutes later, the captain announced that the weather in Atlanta was quite bad and we would not be able to take off until they received word that it was safe. We sat on the stationary plane for nearly an hour. From there, the flight to Atlanta was relatively smooth and we were able to transfer to our flight to Manchester, which was also delayed, adding to our already VERY long flight of eight hours.
Friday, May 11th - We arrived in Manchester at 8:30 in the morning (their time, which is five hours ahead of my time here in South Carolina). Tired and achy, we exited the plane and made our way through customs and then baggage claim. We hopped a bus over to pick up the rental car, and finally, by around 10:30 or 11, we were on our way. Being so fatigued, the day wasn't the most positive. Driving on the wrong side of the road from the wrong side of the car on narrow, narrow roads was a challenge, as was trying to navigate the MANY roundabouts. (Did I mention navigation is not my thing?) We attempted to do some sightseeing but got lost enough times that we decided to simply make our way to Wales, where we would be staying with some missionary friends. We arrived that evening around 5:00 or so, just in time for dinner with our friends and some other friends they had invited to join us. It was after 10:00 by the time we finally made our way to bed, and let me tell you, my body was feeling it!
Saturday, May 12th - Today began in a positive way. We had breakfast and jumped in the car with our missionary friends to visit the city of Cardiff, which is about two hours south of where we were. On the way, I received the news from the boarders that Barnabas had run away and could not be found. Not the news I wanted to hear. I did my best to give the matter over to God and enjoy the time at Cardiff though I admit to checking my messages several times in hopes of receiving word that he was safe and sound. Amazingly, even with the weight of that on my shoulders, I was able to enjoy the many sights and sounds of Saint Fagans, a quaint Welsh village that had been torn down and reconstructed piece by piece. After a long day and a good meal, we headed back to the Downey's home and went to bed (again, much later than what was good for us).
Sunday, May 13th - Hallelujah, we received word that Barnabas had been found and that other arrangements were being made for his care and well-being while we were away. Though I was still apprehensive about the situation, I was relieved to know that he was safe. We had the privilege of attending morning service at a little chapel just down the road from the Downey's home. The service was lovely though there were fewer than twenty people in attendance (which, from what I understand, is the norm). In the afternoon, we were treated to a tour of some of the beautiful dams along the countryside of mid-Wales, and we arrived home just in time to get ready for the evening service at Bethania Baptist Chapel. The service was their biggest one of the year and made up almost entirely of hymn singing. I was the "special" singer of the evening and was able to perform four songs for the congregation. Though I sing often at church, this was a very different experience in that there was no microphone or amplification of any kind. And, I had to accompany myself on the piano. It was difficult to sing that loud while sitting down at the piano, but evidently, I did okay. There was a very sweet spirit in the church, and I had the opportunity to meet and speak with many different people.
Monday, May 14th - Early in the morning, Tennille and I left and made our way toward the city of Matlock, England, where the pre-retreat was to be held. We picked up a friend and fellow worker, Sam, on the way, and the communion on the long car ride was sweet and enjoyable. When we arrived at Matlock and found the converted police station where we would be staying, we were dismayed to find that the only parking was at the bottom of the hill and across the street. This was not good news for three women with a lot of luggage! Still, we worked it out and got all of our belongings in. At that point, I had the opportunity to meet the rest of the pre-retreat team, and I immediately realized I was going to love these women. For the sake of time and space, I won't give you all the details about getting settled into the house, figuring out who got which bed, and taking care of some of the meeting "stuff," but I will give you an idea of how the day went and share with you a couple of hilarious details. I'll start by saying I haven't laughed so hard in a long time, and it felt wonderful. These ladies made me feel so comfortable, and that's unusual for me when surrounded by a group of people I don't know. They even insisted that I take the nicest and biggest of the rooms, which really wasn't necessary, but I appreciated the gesture. Anyway, much of the day was spent in laughter and merriment though we did manage to get a little bit of work done. As for the funny bit, the house we were renting was supposedly fully equipped, but it didn't take us long to realize there were a couple of small problems. There were eight of us, and there was only one shower. Worse yet, there was only one roll of toilet paper in the entire house! I guess you can figure out what one of our first stops was, right?
Tuesday, May 15th - After some breakfast and a bit more humor, we split up into groups to venture out for different activities in the area. I, along with three other ladies, had the opportunity to visit Chatsworth House. Words cannot describe the beauty and splendor of this place. It was enormous and grand, and we had a wonderful time exploring all the nooks and crannies. Oddly enough, we had just as much fun touring the grounds where there are fountains, waterfalls, farming areas and a hedge maze. (It turns out I'm not the only one with a bad sense of direction, and we had to ask for help in getting to the center of the maze. Fortunately, we found our way out easily enough.) After spending over five hours in this amazing place, we headed back toward Matlock hoping for an early dinner since we had been so preoccupied that we missed lunch. After dinner, we talked and did more planning for the retreat, finally getting to bed in the late, late hours of the evening. . .again.
That takes you up to the mid-point of our trip, so I'll pick up there tomorrow. As you can see, nearly every minute of every day was filled with activity, and the hours of sleep were few and far between, but we were having a great time and ministering to others, and that's all that matters.