International travel might just be one of those essential life experiences. It’s eye-opening, humbling, and even life-changing for some. As you probably know by now, I spent two weeks across the globe, first in Budapest, Hungary, and then in various places throughout Turkey. I asked for support, both in prayer and financially, and God followed through in the most incredible ways, even before the trip started. But now that the trip’s over, I’ve seen the Lord work in countless other ways, through every step of the way.
I’ve been racking my brain for about two weeks, trying to figure out how to put my experience in words so that I could share it with you. So here goes a jumbled mess of what happened, because I can’t seem to keep it in one cohesive thought.
My mom and I arrived in Budapest in the evening without our luggage. My mom and I were racing through the airport to catch our connecting flight from Istanbul to Budapest, so we expected our luggage not to make it. (One of the perks of international travel). We took a taxi to our hotel, ate some dinner, and went to bed, in an attempt to beat jet lag. The next morning, luggage still having not arrived, we decided to explore the city before the conference began later that evening. We used public transportation to get to the second largest synagogue in Europe. The synagogue has been through many trials, having withheld through World War II. Thousands of Jews who either starved or froze to death in the ghetto were buried on the property. It was a massive, gorgeous place, filled with rich and heavy history, and I couldn’t help but be filled with awe. This temple was just the beginning of the incredible architecture I’d be able to witness in Europe.
When we returned to the hotel, my mom began to encounter people she knew from work, and I retreated to our room, suddenly a little panicked at the fact that I had made the crazy choice to spend a week with a bunch of strangers. Dinner rolled around, and I reluctantly went downstairs. I had been invited to sit with the other kids my age, but decided I’d join them the next day and just play it safe by eating with my mom the first night.
However, much to my initial dismay, a girl with bright red hair and a giant smile walked up to me, introduced herself as Molly, and invited me to sit with her and her friends, girls who have known each other for years. I felt like the new girl in the middle of the year at school. Molly followed me around the buffet line and asked me questions about my life, appearing genuinely interested. By the time my plate was full of food, she had convinced me to join her. Well played, well played.
The dinner conversation was filled initially with awkward greetings, exchanging where in the world (literally) we were from. But it didn’t take long for me to be talking and laughing like I’d known these girls for years. Dang, they were good.
Over the course of the week, I had the opportunity to get to know all the members of my group– 11 teenagers from across the globe united solely through Christ. We bonded over music, Star Wars, and everything in between. We joked about weird culture differences (ex: soccer vs football, the metric system). We stayed up until 2 in the morning playing Mafia. We debated various theological issues and discussed how we, as followers of Jesus, can be a greater light to the world. They welcomed me into their family, as if I had been there all along.
I recall that during one of our morning sessions, we began lamenting about how much tragedy and brokenness our world is consumed with. One girl, who lives in France, spoke of how ISIS has declared war on the country she lives in. Those of us in the states talked about the Black Lives Matter movement, the police shootings, and our current political election. Another spoke of the Syrian refugee crisis. When we were starting to become overwhelmed, a member of our group interrupted to read a passage from Isaiah. She asserted that God created each of us to be a part of this current generation–to play an active role in spreading Christ’s kingdom amidst the current events occuring in our world. I was flooded with a newfound peace and assurance.
Because of this trip, I have a lifelong family spread across the earth, and I think that’s pretty rad.
Then came Turkey. As opposed to days in Budapest filled with ultimate frisbee, water parks, playing mafia, and talking for hours upon hours, I spent most of Turkey observing. Not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but rather, there was so much to soak in that all I could do was be a sponge. All at once, I was flooded with a new language, unfamiliar landscape, a different worldview, and just plain culture shock.
Whether in the San Francisco-esque Istanbul or in rural provinces throughout southern Turkey, I spent my days soaking in all the information and sights, while my parents asked questions and engaged. My nights then were spent rapidly journaling and reflecting all that had happened throughout the day. Mornings then were a time spent in the Bible and in prayer, equipping myself for the day. There was a noticeable difference in my mood and behavior on days when I neglected to begin my days with God. Walls would go up, I’d grow distant, and I was much more likely to be consumed with homesickness.
One of the best parts of Turkey for me was being able to see the pace of life. The couple that we stayed with near Antalya took us to the market and bought my mom and I some awesome local pants, showed us around their village, and even took us to one of their favorite isolated vacation spots. They have an established rhythm of work, pray, and rest, something that I am praying the Holy Spirit will continue to keep fresh in my mind each new day. As I’m about to enter into a season of incredible busyness, God’s commandment to slow and be still will ring in my ears.
The most intense day, however, was visiting with a Syrian refugee family. A couple living locally who speaks both English and Arabic were able to translate for us, and we had the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about their situation. I’m not sure that I can even come close to describing the experience. I felt so removed from myself and simply overwhelmed with how different our lives were and how much tragedy they had faced.
In light of the recent picture of the little Syrian boy in an ambulance, my heart aches even further than I thought it could. Omran’s story reflects that of millions of refugees. To think that I was able to be in the home of even just one family is mind-blowing. I am filled with gratitude that God would allow me to personally witness the result of the Syrian war, as it is incredibly easy to feel distant from this horrific war that is occurring. But I saw it.I was invited into the home of a father who had to uproot his family from their comfortable home to live in a cramped apartment without AC (and this was a best case scenario). I kissed the cheeks of a mother whose house was fire-bombed. I sat next to a daughter who won’t be able to exercise her right to be educated because she must provide the sole income for her family. I saw them.
But God sees them too. He sees these children, these mothers, these fathers, and His heart aches. He sees them, just as He sees me, and He loves them.
As the trip was winding down, as incredible as it was, I was eager to be home. I longed to be sitting by the Pacific Ocean on East Cliff, smelling the sea, feeling a cool ocean breeze, watching surfers, and running into about 10 people I know within the span of five minutes. I wanted to be with my friends who were going to be heading off to various colleges within days that I returned home. That 12 hour flight from Istanbul to San Francisco felt like days.
The moment I got back, I threw myself back into everyday life. Forget jet lag– there were friends to hug, olympics to watch (dang overseas copyright), and work to be done! I told the long, drawn-out version of my trip to the first few friends I encountered, but as you can see from how long this post is, it became too long a story to tell a million times. The beautiful, eye-opening, worldview-changing journey that I had experienced got reduced to “It was really good!” and a quick change of subject.
So that’s why I’m writing this. The most tragic thing that could happen with this trip would be for it to become only an experience– some fun European adventure vacation that is easily forgotten. On the contrary, I want those two weeks to change me and to continue to live through me. But please don’t be offended if I direct you to this post instead of sitting down over a cup of coffee about the trip. (But I’d never turn down a coffee date…)
I asked you to join me on this journey, and I am forever grateful for the ways you have supported me. The impact of this trip will certainly last a lifetime, and I look forward to updating you on the many journeys that God leads me on in the future.
See below for more Turkey pictures!