Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Journey Continues--Life in the Interlude, Part 4: A Time of Fellowship

The setting sun cast lengthening shadows as we traveled into the land of Canada. Our rental vehicle, containing five people and their luggage, sped closer to our final destination. Overhead, road signs promised the oncoming Canadian border’s proximity. Cars continued to accumulate, as the border crossing came ever closer. Douglas firs, largely unknown to the Midwestern United States, were intermingled with pines along the roadside. Signs for the ferries presented themselves, revealing the remaining distances before we would travel by sea.

Multiple lanes of traffic slowed to a halt as we waited to enter into Canada. Security guards monitored traffic, and police cars had set up a checkpoint in order to catch a motorist they needed to interrogate. Looking to my right, I caught my first glimpse of Canadian waters. Looking directly ahead, I could see the Peace Arch. Erected in 1921, it has symbolized for over 90 years the peaceful, friendly relations between the United States of America and Canada. Driving further, a large bed of flowers arranged to picture the Canadian flag further announced our entrance into Canada. As we stopped at the border crossing booth, the crossing occurred quickly and without incident. We were now in the land of Canada—a nation I had not visited in over 8 years.

Remembering my time in Ontario in the early 2000s, I set about to quietly observe this new region of this nation. The topography was unlike I had previously seen. In my travels in the United States, I have seen many varied landscapes. From the flat plains of Indiana to the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee to the lakes and seaside villages of Maine, I had yet never seen mountains like these lining the roadways. While not much larger than the Catskill Mountains or the Appalachian mountains, it provided a new background to our travels.

Before long, we saw signs directing us to the Tsawwassen ferry port. Various ferries took passengers to different locations on Vancouver Island, and our destination was Duke Point. We drove further, until we came to the end of the highway. With the sun having set, the wind blowing gently, and the temperature moderate, we all got out of our vehicle and enjoyed the chance to walk and view more of the activity around the ferries. Lights glittered on a pier where giant cranes loaded box cars onto barges. People read newspapers, ate food, or talked on the phone at the tables outside the service center. A ferry pulled up into the dock next to the one we were waiting for. Having been the first in line in our lane, we would be among the first to board the Coastal Inspiration.
A short time later, we drove into the second vehicle deck of the Coastal Inspiration, and I was struck at the massive size of its interior. Semi-trucks, RVs, SUVs, vans, and cars all easily fit inside. Later, I would learn that the Inspiration’s carrying capacity was 370 vehicles, including 32 semis. Built in Germany in 2008, this ship boasted 21,448 horsepower and a maximum speed of 23 knots, with a displacement of 10,034 metric tons. We traversed our way up the decks until we reached Deck 6. After settling in, we then proceeded to rest (as we were able) during the ride from 10:45pm to 12:45am PST. I did not rest, as such efforts proved futile. Instead, I watched TSN around an hour, wryly noting that the majority of it consisted of American sports and highlights. Major league baseball highlights and scores took the majority of the screen time; however, the CFL highlights and stories also presented themselves. After seeing everything there, I then went out to the observation deck. Due to the darkness of the night, I determined which land masses were from the island and from the mainland by the number of lights on one side, and the pitch black silhouettes of land on the other. I was surprised by the force of the wind at the bow and stern of the vessel, as well.

Finally, we arrived on Vancouver Island—a rather surreal moment, as we had traveled many thousands of miles at this point to reach this destination. Now nearing 1 AM local, we had lost most sense of time, for it was rather late in a time zone far different from Eastern Standard Time. As we drove past the city of Nainamo, I was somewhat surprised that it was larger than I expected. While the city life of Grand Rapids spreads out much farther, Nanaimo was not the small town I had expected. While I did not know its location at the time, I would have enjoyed the opportunity to tour the Acklands-Grainger branch in this city; Acklands-Grainger being the Canadian arm of Grainger.

We pressed in in the dark and in the early morning hours, finally turning aside from the main road to the country roads leading to the Stroink’s residence. No street lights existed here, and most of the homes were enveloped in sleeping darkness. However, we found the address without difficulty, and we were greeted by the barking of the family dogs from inside their home. Finally coming to a halt, Mr. Stroink and Kaleigh stepped outside to greet us at long last. The rest of the family soon followed, as we all respectively exchanged handshakes and hugs 1:15 that Sunday morning. My family then piled in to the Stroink’s trailer, and I threw some blankets over me as I crawled into a tent.

I awoke a few hours later, and then prepared to get ready for church that morning. While some of the Strionks prepared breakfast, I improvised a few hymns on their upright piano. I have not formally practiced piano in over two years, but I still enjoy the opportunity to play when able. I also was interested to peruse their piano books, as well. I was also able to better see the layout of the Stroink’s home and property, being able to see it in daylight as opposed to the nighttime of early morning.

After breakfast, Mr. Stroink, my dad, and I all travelled in their Ford minivan, while the girls all travelled in their own van. Sitting in the back, I was able to listen and observe the following conversation and selection of topics between the fathers. Both of them described various experiences in their careers over the years, as well as the dynamics in leading and raising a family. I watched the scenery outside the van window, my thoughts keeping me occupied, as well as entering into the conversations when timely. When the conversation turned to the subject of church, I spoke of the importance of Acts 2:42 as a definitive text on the worship and purpose of a biblically-defined church.

When we arrived at Grace Baptist Church in the small town of Courtenay, I observed that it was nestled in with other buildings of the downtown area. Entering in, the church testified to the smallness of its size and the closeness of its fellowship. Our family was introduced to some of the church-goers there, and some of them came up to me and entered into conversation. Answering questions about CollegePlus and work, I was able to fellowship with some of the adults there. I was able to talk to one of the mothers of a past visitor to the International Christian Bible Fellowship, and one of the pastor’s sons introduced himself to me. Soon, the service started, and I sat back to observe and to learn from the Word of God being rightfully preached.

Singing hymns and psalms with the accompaniment of a piano, Grace Baptist Church was then blessed with special music on the part of some of the young people of the congregation. Paul Johnson, the pastor of the congregation, preached a message entitled Biblical Traditions from 1 Corinthians 11:2. This primarily served as preparation for future weeks of preaching this often controversial passage in Paul’s first letter to Corinth. Drawing from different letters of Paul, as well as laying groundwork principles in understanding this chapter. After the church divided into different groups for Sunday School, he spoke on The Father’s Will—Your Resurrection.

Sunday afternoon was marked by conversations at lunch, before the majority of us piled back into vans to attend the evening service. After having an audience selection of hymns, Pastor Johnson spoke from 2nd Thessalonians on Withdrawing from Disorderly Brethren, part 2.  Afterwards, some of the young people rehearsed for an upcoming church concert. The ride home consisted primarily of listening to continued conversations between the dads, where I was able to reflect on what was said.

Monday morning, our families went to Parksville Beach. The rocky shoreline reminded me very much of the coastline of Maine, with the exception that many islands here blocked a view of the horizon. Small crabs darted between the rocks, and many seashells could be found. I stood on an outcropping of rock, surveying the landscape and observing the people as they walked along the shoreline. The temperature was moderate, and the sun was shining. However, the wind—as expected—was strong enough to prove a challenge as we all began playing ultimate frisbee. After showing them the basic of playing the game, as well as going over the rules, I then broke the group up into two teams and created two endzones. The teams consisted of my dad, Kaleigh, Schuyler, and me on one; the other had Mr. Stroink, Hannah, Sarah, and Carrie-Grace. Our team won 5-4. I had four assists and Kaleigh had two goals.

Afterwards, our caravan split up as the two vehicles took separate routes to return to the Stroink’s home. The remainder of the day largely centered around activities at home. At night, I played ultimate frisbee with the Stroink girls and my sisters in their backyard. Curious to see who the best receiver would be, I ran an experiment while playing each game to 5. The first game I played with Sarah, and she and I beat Kaleigh, Schuyler, Hannah, and CG 5-2. Next, I played with Hannah, and our team won 5-2. Carrie-Grace was next, and we both won 5-3. Kaleigh was my final receiver, and we won with a score of 5-1. Afterwards, I played soccer with Hannah, Kaleigh, Sarah, and Carrie-Grace. Sarah and I beat Carrie-Grace, Hannah, and Kaleigh with a score of 7-5. We all ended the evening sitting around the fire, eating sausages, playing music, and being occupied by our own thoughts.

Tuesday was spent in Cathedral Grove and Englishman River Falls. Boasting some of the oldest Douglas firs and redwoods on the island, this spot is considered a rainforest. Affording many picture opportunities, we walked along the various trails that wound their way through the park. The evidence from straight line winds in 1997 still presented itself, as many fallen trees now lay on the forest floor. I still remember the straight line winds in Michigan around that same time, and the damage they did on some of the forests and trees here. Englishman River Falls reminded me of the waterfall we visited in Washington; various members of the party got more soaked than they had intended.  

The evening was spent playing “Kingdoms”, also known as “the family game” and “empire”. This time, we played it with character qualities instead of inanimate objects. Later, we ended our time together playing “Have You Ever?”, which everyone enjoyed. 

Wednesday, we all ate breakfast together before we said our final goodbyes. The majority of my time was spent thinking over the trip as we travelled back; we arrived at the ferry around 10:30 AM. In contrast to the first ferry ride, the sun shone brightly, illuminating the surrounding coastlines. We then drove from the ferry to the border, where the wait was somewhat longer than it had been entering Canada. We drove back to Bellingham, where we stopped for gas. We now had a two hour car ride ahead of us back to the Seattle airport.

Heavier and heavier traffic threatened to cause us to miss our flight out of Seattle, for we dropped the car off at the rental place late. We then waited for two taxis to take us to the airport, as we were not able to charter one in time to pick us up immediately at Enterprise. However, we did indeed arrive and check in at the airport just in time, and we then got in line to go through the TSA screening process. Our flight then left at 6:30pm from Seattle to Denver, Colorado.

As we neared Denver, I observed the city lights stretching out as far as the eye could see—in fact, we flew over the city lights for ten minutes before we landed. After finding our departure gate, we all ate supper at the airport McDonalds at 10:30 MST. Our next flight from Denver, Colorado would be a long one, for we would be flying all the way to New York City/Newark. Sleep was elusive, so I mostly sat and occupied myself with thoughts during the long night. Most people slept on the airplane, but a few worked on their laptops or tablets. Relatively little could be seen outside the windows due to the darkness, but lights from cities flew underneath us from time to time.

When we arrived in Newark, New Jersey, it was difficult to tell the sense of time. It was now Thursday morning at 6 AM, yet it still felt to be the same day as when we left the Stroinks around 8:30 PST. We took a shuttle to our terminal and departure gate, and then boarded the flight that would take us back to Grand Rapids. As we banked over the city of Newark, I could see New York City and the Statue of Liberty lying underneath us. The flight home was uneventful, and it occurred relatively quickly. We arrived back at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport around 9:20 AM EST—I had now travelled 22 hours non-stop from one side of the North American continent to the other and back to Michigan. By air, land, and sea, we had travelled several thousand miles in two different countries that day, and coming home felt as if we had never left it.

Overall, the trip proved to be a very interesting one. Highly anticipated and prayed about beforehand, it provided many new experiences and times of fellowship. I visited areas of the United States and Canada I had never seen before, and I was able to visit friends for the first time in person. Some of my favorite moments from the trip included the times travelling by airplane and playing ultimate frisbee in BC—and hopefully one day, our families will be able to meet again.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Journey Continues-Life in the Interlude, Part 3: A Time of Travel

Mount Shuksan 
Flying over the Rocky Mountains
July of this year marked a period of travel in my life. From July 10 through July 18, my family and I travelled thousands of miles by air, land, and sea. Airports, 737s, taxis, rental cars, and restaurants marked the progress of our journey from Michigan to Washington state, and eventually to Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. This journey marked several firsts, all of which melded together to form a wonderful time of adventure and fellowship. Recounting every detail from our experiences during this time would take more pages than would be entirely possible; however, this post will narrate the story of our time spent travelling and visiting family and friends.

The months leading up to this trip presented quite a journey of faith on the part of our family. Flying a family of five from Michigan to Washington (and then travelling into Canada) was an endeavor that required a lot of prayer. Not only prayer, but waiting on the Lord to provide in ways we could not have imagined. We had no firm plan or idea as to how the logistics of travel and time off would work, so it was a journey of faith as time went on.
The impetus for the trip began when a family member announced their pending marriage in Washington. Many relatives would be travelling for the wedding, so we decided to attend the wedding as well. The first step, naturally, was to procure flights—but that proved to be a journey of faith over the next few months. Three months passed during the search of looking for ideals flights and tickets. A few times, we wondered whether we would ever find any that would accommodate us—however, after a few months, God blessed us with the tickets that proved to be best for us.

I had recently started working at Grainger, but I was allowed unpaid time off for this trip—for which I was thankful. While seeking employment, the trip to Washington and British Columbia continued to present a challenge in finding work, for I would need to take time off soon after starting at any company.  While sitting at my first interview with Grainger, my interviewer was uncertain as to whether he could hire me as a result of the time off. But by God’s grace, I was granted time off, and my coworkers accommodated my schedule.

Finally, the day of travel arrived. A neighbor kindly transported us to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, where we would depart at 7:40 AM. Getting at the airport at 6 AM, we checked our luggage and went through security. We then waited until boarding, which began at 7:10. After waiting 30 minutes for take-off, we then began our ascent into the wild blue yonder. We would have three flights that day, so I settled back for the journey.

The flight over Lake Michigan went quickly, and we arrived on schedule at Chicago O’Hare at 7:45 CST. The sun poured through the oval windows of our plane as we taxied along the runway. Walking into O’Hare at terminal C, I was struck by the size of it. Far larger than the airport in Grand Rapids, we navigated the busy thoroughfares inside the airport to find our boarding gate. While we remained in O’Hare, I sat and observed the masses of people passing by. Some were businessmen and women, hurrying to catch their flights. Others were families rambling along, taking time to look at all the shops and restaurants in the airport. Some were foreign students from China who read Chinese newspapers; others were Mexicans waiting to board a flight to Mexico.

We departed Chicago at 10:30 CST, and settled in for our longest flight of the day. But it proved to be the most scenic flight of the day, for we flew over the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the deserts of the western United States. At 35,000 feet, I observed a rather interesting fact—the geological work of the Flood across the United States. Layers of sedimentary rock, sand dunes, and deserts testified to the colossal restricting of the Earth’s geology from the cataclysmic Flood of Noah’s day. Along the way, I also listened to several editions of Renewing Your Mind, the radio program of Ligioner Ministries and R.C. Sproul.

Nearing San Francisco, I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. San Francisco sprawled out beneath us as we descended over San Francisco Bay around 1pm PST. Not only was it my first time being on the west coast, but it was my first time being in the Pacific time zone as well. The airport at San Francisco showed great ethnic diversity, while not being as opulent as the airport in Chicago. We did not stay long, for our next flight was to Seattle, departing at 2:26pm local time. And neither was the flight to Seattle long, for our pilots arrived 20 minutes early than planned. It was surprising to me, however, that the flight across the vertical axis of the western United States took 90 minutes, for I had thought it would take longer.

Stepping foot on the concrete of Seattle, we had arrived in the northwestern most state of the United States. Our journey was not over, however—we still had a two hour drive north to Bellingham, Washington to meet the rest of our family members. After a meal at McDonalds, we drove our rental car through downtown Seattle, which I had always been curious to see. The Space Needle pierced the sky of the Seattle skyline, an iconic sight of this city. The traffic later cleared, and we continued to drive north to our final destination. The landscape reminded me greatly of the Appalachians in Pennsylvania, or the Catskill Mountains in New York.

Our arrival at Bellingham, Washington was in many ways surreal. We never thought we might one day travel to this region of the United States—and yet, here we were. Our uncle’s spacious home accommodated our extended family well, and we soon settled in. Of the utmost importance was to obtain a good Internet connection, for I had traveled 17 hours with no means of checking email or updating friends regarding my travel status. After spending several minutes trying to enter the correct password into the network, I succeeded in obtaining Internet access. It was past midnight back home, but only past 9 local time. An experiment I would conduct while in the Pacific time zone was how soon I could adjust my biological clock to a time zone three hours different than my own, and the experiment proved interesting as the trip continued.

Thursday morning, we all packed into two vehicles and drove to tour the iconic mountains in this geologically-diverse region of the nation. Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest testified to the affects of the Ice Age following Noah’s Flood; glacial rivers continuously watered the plant life in this region. The water itself was not clear, but resembled the appearance of milk—glacial water does not exist in Michigan, so this was a new discovery. Whereas Michigan testifies to the affects of the Ice Age with sand dunes, Washington testifies to the Ice Age with glaciers and ice-covered peaks.  Another interesting item was a a tree stump on display; being over 8 feet in diameter, it had been preserved after living several hundred years.

Afterwards, we continued on up winding mountain rounds to stop at Mount Shuksan and Baker Lake. Pictured at the beginning of this post, this spot is one of the most iconic in American photography. The temperature had plummeted many degrees; there was still snow covering the ground in the middle of July. One photographer was taking pictures as our three generations ate our lunches on the shore of the lake. The gray jays aggressively sought to eat our food in a manner similar to sea-gulls. The clouds eventually rolled in, covering half of Mount Shuksan. So, having finished our lunches, we all moved in to reach the scenic overlook of the mountain range.

We drove higher and higher, and the temperature turned colder and colder. The snow grew higher; in some places, it spanned as high as the top of our vehicle. When we stopped at the scenic overlook, the public restrooms were completely buried under 20 feet of snow. Driving down, however, we were able to clearly see the vista surrounding us. Snow-capped peak after snow-capped peak split the cloudy Washington sky. We could clearly see the forest line, where trees ended and snow and bare rock began. The sun peered through the shifting clouds, casting some mountains in shadow and bathing others in sunlight.

Friday morning, many of the men in the family left early in the morning to play disc golf. I have had two years experience playing ultimate Frisbee, and had played disc golf twice before. However, I was glad to receive helpful tips from one of the players in the group, for he had played extensively in tournaments. I played relatively well, and definitely was interested in playing disc golf again.

I also spent much of the day Friday studying for week 5 of the Equipping Young Adults series. That particular week, I would do Bible study live on Vancouver Island, so I took time where I could to prepare for it adequately. Studying Psalm 127:3-5, I prepared according to my standard procedure: research the historical background and setting of the text, study the text in the original language, gain from the illumination of men gone before, and reflect extensively on the text. Grateful for the use of laptops and USB flash drives, I was able to finish studying for it in a timely manner, before the next day would bring momentous events.

Saturday was the day of my uncle’s wedding. The weather promised to be ideal, especially during the oft-rainy month of July for citizens of Washington. Held at Boxx Berry Farms, the wedding party continued to make the preparations for the ceremony that would take place in a few hours. The landscape was idyllic for a wedding, for Mount Baker was directly in view from the seating. The temperature was moderate, and the humidity was non-existent. The sun continued unabated the entire day, and the ceremony was conducted flawlessly. My grandfather and another uncle both performed the ceremony, as they are both are ordained ministers.

Afterwards, the reception began. After eating a meal catered by a Mexican restaurant, I then played yard games with my young cousins. Showing them how to play ladderball and frisbee, that occupied the rest of my time at the wedding reception. Around 8:00pm, we then proceeded to the next phase of our journey—travelling to see the Stroink family on Vancouver Island. That story will be the subject of the following blog post.

The newlyweds