Growing up, I spent all of my summers at Trinity Lutheran Camp on Flathead Lake. Every year a traveling band called Captive Free came to camp and led all of the worship music and the games. They were undeniably cool and so much fun to be around. Inevitably all of the teenage girls would get crushes on at least one of the male team members. I loved camp and I loved the band, and it was always in the back of my mind that being a part of one of these bands was something that I wanted to do. After I came back from Austria in 2004 with a passion for Jesus that I’d never had before, I started applying to be a team member in one of the international groups through the larger organization Youth Encounter. The biggest scare factor was that I’d have to raise $10,000. The year I did it, there were a total of 12 teams, seven of which stayed in the country while five traveled internationally.
- Captive Free – USA
- Watermark Denmark – Denmark
- New Dawn – Singapore, Malaysia
- Crossfire – Togo, Benin, Cameroon
- Rainbow of Promise – India
- Watermark Germany – Germany, Romania, Poland
This August marks 10 years, A DECADE, since I met my six Watermark Germany team members for the first time. Bryan, Jim, Ben, Katja, Cristina, Melissa and I would be living in a van for the next year, traveling around the country and around the world to share the message “Jesus is the Rock.”
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. Matthew 7:24-29
Seven very different people converged in St. Paul, MN to go through an intense month-long training to prepare us for an intense lifestyle. The year was every bit as intense as they promised it would be. We were often on the road for eight hours a day, setting up and tearing down our musical equipment in a new city every night or even multiple times a day, leading programs (we weren’t supposed to call them concerts) and meeting 10-300 strangers at each location. The training brought us together to practice our music and establish our programs.
A typical night would have us opening with a few songs, sharing a Bible verse, performing a skit, singing more songs, doing a puppet show if there were a lot of kids in the audience, one person would be designated to share a personal story and tie it in to the overall message, and then we’d close with some songs. The ministry didn’t stop when the program was over. The time after the program was often what I found to be the most exhausting. We were a mission group and representing Jesus on earth, so we could never be introverted, grumpy, tired, sick of each other, or homesick. The churches usually threw a potluck before or after the program, and after a year of church cooking, it took me a long time before I was ready to eat lasagna again. As a group, we read the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman as a way to learn how each of us likes to be loved and show love. Seven teamers in one van for a year was compared to a marriage between seven individuals, all with our different emotional needs. I know I could have been better at showing love and understanding.
After the training was over, we hit the road with our 15 passenger van and trailer, starting in northern Minnesota. We traveled to 23 states in four months, counting ourselves lucky if we ever got to stay in one place for three days. We relied on our hosts for everything: food, laundry, shelter, toiletries, and a touch of home. We stayed in churches, mansions, trailers and everything in between. Once, the seven of us were put up for the night in a dojo. Wow, did it stink! We weren’t often all housed together — more often we were divided into twos and threes. The boys were usually all together, and in America everyone wanted to host the European girls, where in Europe everyone wanted to host the American girls. At each of our programs, we had a basket at the front for donated items like shampoo, deodorant, toothbrushes and the like. A lot of food was also donated, most of it junk food with an occasional piece of fruit. It was no wonder that I gained weight. Time spent in the van became ‘alone time,’ even though I was still surrounded by people. We did a lot of sleeping, listening to music on headphones and reading, with books passed from one to the other. This was all before Facebook and Wifi, so we had to wait for our hosts to offer us an internet connection before we could make contact with our friends and family. We received a treasured mail packet once a month, as everything was sent to Minnesota, then forwarded to us.
Ever the chronicler, I recorded where everyone sat in the van and how the rotation changed over the year. We never talked much, other than going over our specific team jobs if there was scheduling that needed to be done. I was the coordinator with all of the churches, so I’d call ahead and get an idea of what each church was looking for, and then I’d meet with Jim and Katja to go over the needs for each location. I got tired of everyone constantly asking me where we were going next, so I made a calendar and hung it up in the van with the cities we were driving to and what we would be doing in each place. In addition to musical programs, we also led youth groups, retreats, Vacation Bible Schools, visited nursing homes….we had to be flexible and ready to tailor our skills to whatever was asked for. If we didn’t have the skills, we had to learn them right quick.
I made a list of our most frequently asked questions, the most frequent of the frequent being, “Where did you just come from?” and “Where are you going next?” We moved so often that my internal response was always, “I don’t know where I am NOW.”
We chased autumn across the country, staring out the window as landscapes flashed by. We swam in the lakes of Minnesota. We had two teamers get trapped in the mountains of Colorado. We visited a desert prison in Arizona. We were caught in a flash flood in Nevada. We marveled at the beauty of Utah. We ran into a zombie convention in Washington. We had our trailer stolen in California. We got lost in Oklahoma. We had Thanksgiving in Montana. We diverted to Kansas, just to add it to our state list. We got caught in a tornado in Wisconsin. I caught the flu in Missouri. We got Melissa a goldfish for her birthday in Illinois, and Gunther traveled in the van with us for our final four months on the road. We played baseball in a field of corn in Iowa. We jumped from cliffs into a river in Oregon. We stayed at a camp in Idaho (I liked it so much I worked there the next summer). We went ice skating in Nebraska. We played frisbee in New Mexico. We stayed with friends of the Clintons in Arkansas. I found a tick on my arm in South Dakota. We shopped at Cabellas in North Dakota.
We developed our routines for setting up, tearing down, loading and unloading the van. My arm muscles strengthened from lifting amplifiers every day. We were heavily booked on the weekends, so Monday was our cherished day off. The day off was a chance to get personal errands done, but sometimes our hosts would take us on excursions. In the US, we were taken on an excursion to Sedona, AZ. In Germany, we were taken on an excursion to Prague. My favorite free day was in Montana, where I joined my host sisters in their ranch tasks. We started at 6:00 am by bottle feeding an orphan calf, herded cows on four-wheelers, transported cows in a trailer, (“The cow’s going to come at you. Stand your ground and don’t move.”) went to the far pastures to drop off some kind of medicine for the cows, moved irrigation pipes, and then rounded out the day by shooting some crop-invasive gophers.