Monday, December 21, 2009

The wait is over…but the busyness isn’t.



It is truly amazing to think that one month ago we were preparing to gather with friends and family for Thanksgiving and begin our anticipation for Christmas. Now, Christmas, the day of Christ’s birth is upon us and not a moment too soon. I can’t tell you how glad I am for all this preparation to be done and just get down to the reason for the season…worshiping Christ with friends and family.

I don’t know about you, but the moment I get to the point of being done and able to sit down and relax I am already thinking about the next day or week or even, God forbid, when I have to go back to work.

My hope and prayer for myself and for you is that we can all take time to bask in the glow of the light sent to us so long ago on Christmas. Take time as a family to read the Christmas story (Luke 2: 1- 20), share Christmas memories, put on some music in the background and just sit. We are so blessed and the greatest blessing of all is the birth of Christ the Savior of all.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family,

Dain Swanson

Monday, December 7, 2009

Spreading Holiday Cheer

The other day I was walking around a department store doing a little holiday shopping when I was overtaken by a voice on the loud speaker who proceeded to tell me that the music I was listening to was all in an effort to “spread holiday cheer.” This comment was one that I have heard often, but my mind is strange and one that tends towards over analyzing and trying to find out the “why” and the “how come” behind statements like this.

What is it about this time of year that causes us to think more about giving and caring and spreading good cheer? Is it something about the weather, the lack of sunlight, the end of another year…or is it something more? Why is it this time of year when everyone seems to be in great need and want? Have we conditioned ourselves to think that since it is November and December we must look more closely at the ads in the paper, searching for the best deal on the latest and greatest? Maybe it’s the big corporations who are controlling our minds somehow and make us think that our lives are no longer complete because what we received last year at this time is now a whole year old and the latest and greatest would be much better and faster. I don’t doubt this is part of the reason, but I still think there is something about this time of year that somehow changes the focus from ourselves and redirects it to others.

Another question is why this time of year is so important for spreading cheer? Is there a lack of it this holiday season? And can’t we spread cheer of the non-holiday variety the other 10 months of the year? There are lots of other holidays out there, but I don’t necessarily hear people telling one another to “spread some good ‘ol 4th of July holiday cheer.” Why is that?

I propose that this is nothing we haven’t heard before. Love was born on Christmas and I truly believe that there is a higher concentration of it during the Christmas season. The love of Christ and the fact that it was a baby who came to save us on a night like any other night of the year shows us truly how far God’s love for us extends. God loves. God is love. Therefore, the reason everyone is going around and buying huge amounts of gifts and running up the credit card bill is because we feel the need to tell people they are loved and we care for them. I would hope that we, as humans, are not just robots who automatically go into "buy mode" when December hits. But rather focus on the reason we are called to love one another.

1 John 4:19 “We love because God first loved us.”

Continually keep the love of Christ in your heart, make this holiday season a time of spreading Holiday Cheer and also pray the love and hope of Christ continues into the New Year.

Merry Christmas

dain

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Okoboji 2009 – Relentless

This year’s trip down to Iowa was one for the record books and one I will never forget. Not only was it a wonderful, powerful and very meaningful theme based on Revelation 3:20 the group of youth that came down was very special.

We began the adventure planning for around 90 youth to attend the weekend with a few chaperones as well. After a few conflicts were worked out we ended up with 84 youth and 5 chaperones on two busses leaving the parking lot of Word of Peace Friday evening. I took a bit of a straw poll before we left and on the bus about thoughts and expectations for the weekend and it was pretty level and consistent where everyone was a little reluctant and would much rather be doing something else this particular weekend. This was very normal and came to no surprise to me. But I also saw some hopefulness and excitement when it came to seeing their friends also in the group and that lifted my spirits. Either way I was going to have a great weekend no matter what the youth thought. I was just hoping that they would come along with me and have a good time as well.

Upon arriving the excitement to get off the bus and be at camp began to take over. The apprehension of the weekend already started to lift. This was fairly usual for a few youth to experience this, but to see it from an entire group was most unusual. That evening the “Relentless” theme was introduced, cabins were assigned, and bedtime was welcomed with open arms as we were all tired.

The morning came and it was like everyone in the group had stayed up late and created cardboard cutouts of themselves and placed them in Morning Chapel while they stayed in bed. There was no movement, hardly any singing and only a few open eyes. But I was determined that food would pick them up and lift their spirits. Boy was I right! As the morning progressed the 9th grades slowly gained momentum becoming engaged in the theme and all the activities that followed. One very poignant moment came when I came up to the dish window where a cabin filled with Word of Peace boys was busy cleaning all the forks and plates from breakfast. When I asked how things were going, I heard a voice from the back say “Dain I am having so much fun. I love it here and am so glad I came!” What!? This is a comment I usually hear during free time or dodge ball not the first morning on dish crew. This was a great sign.

The day continued with more chapel, games and free time where friends were made, songs were sung and most importantly God was met. And on top of all of that I couldn’t stay away from the kids. Normally, I take a little time for myself during the weekend during the free time or before dinner, but I couldn’t help but be around the excitement and joy that everyone seemed to be exuding. It was contagious.

By the time we came to the end of the weekend we had an opportunity to share thoughts we may have had during the weekend and/or funny stories. I was brought to tears when many youth from Word of Peace came up to the front and something like, “I wasn’t sure what to expect this weekend and was unsure whether it was going to be fun or not. But I had such a good time and am so thankful to Word of Peace and Okoboji for this weekend. I feel closer to God and am really excited to be involved in church when I get back.”

Wow!

I even get a little choked up now remembering the weekend and those comments. This was a weekend to remember and something that affected this year’s confirmation class beyond anything I could ever hope for. God truly answered my prayers with this group and now I am so excited to continue on in ministry to them and the rest of the High School grades.

May you relentlessly pursue God who is always pursuing you and encourage your friends, family, kids, co-workers and the world to do the same.

Blessings,

dain

Check out some of the pictures on my flickr page

Monday, November 23, 2009

How I love you Christian music, let me count the ways….

It was a few years back when I discovered Christian music (when I say Christian music I mean popular, contemporary or modern Christian music.) I wasn’t in on it from the beginning. Back when it all began in the early 80’s I was a mere 2 years old and didn’t know much about anything aside from what was in front of me. Meanwhile artist like Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Stryper, Kathy Tracolli and the Gather Band were playing at local churches and praising God through music. But it wasn’t until 1991 that Christian music entered into my world of music. I have nothing against the other artists but as I was growing up I had different tastes of music than my parents and I was looking for something a little more “in your face” and “edgy”. It was Michael W. Smith concert that I attended that introduced me to an up-and-coming band named dctalk as an opening act and my life was changed. Their sound was awesome and it was the combination of music that I was looking for. From that point on, I hardly listened to anything else and couldn’t wait for the next album to come out.
My life was changed again by music when I discovered a new band called Jars of Clay. They had an acoustic sound and feel that really spoke to where I was in life and was something that my whole family could love as well. It was then that I realized that there were tons of different styles and types of Christian music and even entire stores devoted to the selling and promoting of these bands. Form that point on I have immersed myself in Christian music.
I have always been a lover of music. I listen to every type of music and try to stay up on the popular songs because of my youth director position. But there is something different about music with Christ as its focus. Christian music is something that stirs me deep inside and a spring of emotions begins to overflow from me with the love of Christ at its center. If you think about it, this is what being a Christian should feel like. Understanding that God’s love for us through His son’s death on the cross is something so amazing that it should fill us with joy and thanksgiving to the point where it overflows into our life, work, play and rest. Worship should be in perpetual motion in our lives. But I am often distracted by what the world has to offer that I loose focus and begin to forget. But I am consistently drawn back to God through the music I listen to. It encourages me and allows me to worship him in some of the most unusual places like my car, while cleaning my apartment and wherever I may be with my Ipod. And the best part is no matter what style of music you like you can find artists that sing about God and praise Christ through their music.
This is what worship is: praising God anywhere and everywhere. This is what God deserves for His sacrifice and love for us. It is our way of saying thanks and through music is the best way I know how.

What does your music point you toward? Is it God?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ecuador Day 3

I write this after being home for a few days, but that is a good thing because we had a wonderful day 3 and no time to process or even rest because it was also time to come home.

The day began as usual, meeting our friend Dani (Danielle) for breakfast and processing what had gone on the day before. We loaded up in the bus and then took off on the longest drive of the trip. about two-thirds of the way into the drive we went through a tunnel that was described by Roberto (our guide) as a tunnel back in time. What he meant was this particular tunnel separates the new part of Quito from the old, the richer more modern Quito from the rural poorer version. And it was truly different. We traveled down one stretch of road for quite some time with construction in the middle and shops galore on the edges. It was very populated and quite the sight to see.

When we arrived at the church and project we were greeted by a large number of mothers and children under the age of 5. This was the essence of CSP or the Child Survival Program. Mothers who are pregnant or that have had children and they are under 5 years old can be a part of CSP.







In the program they learn about how to take care of their children and what young babies need in order to survive. We were shown all the curriculum and recording methods to keep track of and help the babies learn. We were even shown a traditional Ecuadorian dance and then were brought up to dance with them.









Next we went on home visits were we saw a mother of 2, the youngest of which was 1 year and 3 months old who was born prematurely and weighed about 3 pounds. He has struggled with being small for his age and also with breathing. But since the mother has entered the program the baby has greatly improved and received proper nutrition. It was so good to see and know that he was being taken care of.












Another short ride in the back of a truck and we were at another home visit and then headed back to a most amazing Ecuadorian meal of corn, corn cakes, a type of salsa, beats and carrots, and the most amazing chicken. It was so good.







But time was short and we headed back towards the hotel and an outdoor market where we purchased some wonderful Ecuadorian handicrafts to take home with us. The rest of the day consisted of packing up, eating dinner and processing the week that was.

I have so many more thoughts to share about this trip but I will save that for another post. Thanks for reading and check back for more on the trip.

Blessings,

dain

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ecuador Day 2

There is so much to think about right now. I have no real way of describing what happened today. It was wonderful and glorious. But how do I let you know what I went through today and have you truly understand what is going on in this country and across the world?

Today we spent time with the Leadership Development Program of Compassion International. This program has basically taken sponsored youth and put them in a program that will help them through their college years. We met Jonathan and Alexandra who are in their senior year of college and are already working in their profession of choice. Jonathan is now a math and physics teacher in a high school and Alexandra is a child psychologist in schools and hospitals.

We visited the schools and Compassion projects where they grew up and are now working. It was an amazing sight to see them come almost full circle in the Compassion world. Their hope is to someday become a sponsor themselves.

We played with children, gave hugs and gifts and listened to songs. We played soccer in the street, ate lunch with children that were being sponsored by people in our group. The youth encounter staff even began a sponsorship today and met with the girl. It was amazing.

There is so much joy in these kids. And I have realized that poverty really has nothing to do about money. Yes it is a cause of it, but these children and their families are not poor in spirit. They truly have hope and dreams far beyond just today.

What I have realized is that there are people that are poorer in my own community and church because they are so far away from God. They have everything in the world, they are rich by anyone's definition except their own. And because they have everything, they they have no need for God or anyone other than themselves. Stuff only gets in the way of our relationship with God. Take all of that away, like I have seen across the world in India, Mexico, New York, Louisiana, and now in Ecuador and God is the only thing you can really rely on. Family and God are what it is all about. Taking care of each other, serving the least of these and giving until it makes you uncomfortable is what God calls us to to.

Will this change because of my words. No, but it may plant a seed. You are loved by God. We all are. But in America, we are so alone. We surround ourselves with material things and hope they make us feel better. God is the only way that we will ever be loved enough. Through Him, knowing Him, and serving Him by serving others is how we show the amazing love and acknowledge God's grace that was given through Jesus Christ.

I am looking forward to tomorrow and telling more and more about this amazing thing God is doing in Ecuador.

Blessings and Love,

dain

More pictures are up on my FLICKR PAGE

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ecuador and Compassion International

We made it safe to Ecuador and are loving every minute of it. We flew from Minneapolis to Atlanta (where I searched out the Chick-fil-a in the airport) and then headed south to Ecuador.

We landed around 10:30 pm central time and so far I love it. As far as ease of travel for Americans this is the place to be. Same currency, same electrical outlets, and for the people in the midwest, same time zone! This is great. The only thing we have to really worry about is the altitude. We are in Quito which is about 9,200 feet above sea level. So lots of water and lots of sunscreen.

The city is beautiful and surrounded by mountains and a volcano. The volcano was last active in 1998 so no worries. We are traveling with a Compassion International group filled with speakers and event planners from around the United States. We have met some wonderful people and are having a great time.

Today we went to the Ecuador Compassion Headquarters and received a wonderful tour. The place is amazing and very hard working. Here is how it works.

Compassion finds children all over the word that need help to get out of poverty and get a good education. People from around the world can sponsor a child for around $38 US a month. This provides, for the children, food, education in addition to school, and leadership training when they are older so they may enter the work force. On top of all of this is the education about Jesus and preaching the Gospel to all of these children and parent of the children.

What we saw today was the other side of the sponsor money. We saw the children that were being sponsored and what facilities they learned in, where they lived, and some of the classes they take. It was amazing. They children were full of joy and so happy to see us. We played with the kids and sat in on their classes. They made gifts for us and we gave gifts to them in return.

We also did a home visit to some of the sponsored children's living space. For me, I went to Carlos' home where he, his mother Martha, brother, sister and cousin lived. It was so small and hardly enough space for all of them. One bed for 5 people, a stove, radio, and closet was all we could see in this one room.

But while we were there the children that were being sponsored received their letters from their sponsors in the USA and Canada. It was like Christmas and the joy was contagious. They received pictures, letters and stickers from their sponsors. I was a sight to see.

We also gifted, through Compassion, a grocery bag full of daily needs to Martha who was very grateful. The one room apartment they live in is $40 a month and Martha makes just over $100 in a good month. That doesn't leave much to live on. That is why Compassion is so important for the children.

I was amazed and so grateful to see and meet these children. It was a wonderful day.

We ended with dinner and a beautiful view of the city as the sun went down.

Tomorrow we meet older children in the Compassion program. I am very excited.

Blessings to you all!

dain


For pictures, follow this link Dain's Flickr

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Going down south.

I am headed down to Ecuador for the next week with a Compassion International trip. Heather and I are going down there with Youth Encounter (Heather's work) to see what they are all about. Youth Encounter and Compassion are teaming up to get more kids sponsored through each of their organizations. I think it will be great. Check back for pictures and stories from this short little jaunt to the southern hemisphere and South America!

Blessings,

dain

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Changing Seasons

Looking outside you can't help but think about the change in the seasons. The leaves are different colors and no longer on the trees. There is rain and snow, more coats and a forecast that doesn't look to get any better most days. Even in the stores there are obvious signs of the changing seasons. Fall colors, Halloween and even Christmas decorations are popping up everywhere. It's hard to miss.

This is also a time of life for High Schoolers where they may be changing "seasons" in life, but in a much more subtle way. Many times changes in attitude, grades, choice of friends and activities may go unnoticed by parents because of the natural business of society today.

In order to stay ahead of your High Schooler, be sure to take time each day to check in with them. And be truly intentional with you interest because the more authentic and caring you are towards what they have to say and are going through the more likely they will tell you about changes that are going on in their lives.

Have a wonderful MEA weekend and God Bless,

dain

Building Community

Building Community

Community is created in two major ways, naturally and intentionally. But my question is "How do you intentionally create community that seems natural?" Word of Peace is a place where community abounds. We share so many things in common, the greatest of which is Jesus Christ. But when it comes to High School, it seems like the communities outside of church are talked about more than the one they are currently a part of in church.

This is where my conundrum begins: Youth form groups of friends, let's call them "clusters" that are filled with people who have the same interests, likes, dislikes and activities. These clusters are generally around 8 people and they form in places where they spend the most time. In this case it is school. So by my reasoning, church is not a place where community is easily formed. But I view this as a challenge, not a hinderance.

Our theme for the fall this year is "From the Inside Out", and it is our goal to take the love of Jesus, which is inside of us all, and show it to others through our actions, decisions, and lifestyle. This is diffucult alone, but in a community, where we support one another, it becomes easier and more exciting.

I encourage you and your students to be a part of Word of Peace and all the programming it has to offer this fall and into the winter. I encourage you to look beyond your 5 or 6 best friends and reach out to those in other communities and build relationships with them as well. I encourage youth to get to know one another, not only in own their grade or school, but with everyone that walks through the doors of Word of Peace.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

For every ending there is a new beginning

This week marks the last week of our dear friend and brother of mine as Middle School Ministry Corrdinator. This is a truly sad time for me and the members at Word of Peace because of how we dearly love Derek and what he has done for this church. He will be truly and dearly missed.

But with every ending there is a new and exciting beginning, both for Word of Peace and for Derek as well. His plans are to go to Australia for 25 days with his wife Michelle and then persue God's calling for their lives when they return to Minnesota. Right now they are praying over a few different opptions that may take them to L.A. in California and then possibly on to Lincoln, Nebraska. Our prayers go with them as they leave us and go on some fantastic adventures.

As for Word of Peace we are getting together a search commitiee to re-hire someone for the Middle School Ministry Corrdinator position. We have yet to officially post the position, but it will be coming shortly.

I ask that you keep this process in your prayers and thoughs over the next month. I hope and pray that God is already preparing someone outstanding for this position and will give us clear and wonderful options when the time comes.

Thank you again Derek,

Dain

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Me Generation

A national study fresh out of SDSU is confirming that Generation Y really is Generation Me. The jaw-dropping conclusion? 57% of young people believe their generation uses social networking sites for self-promotion, narcissism and attention seeking. While it’s no surprise that social media would cater to a more self-promotional audience, it’s certainly interesting to note that not only does Gen Y think of their social behaviors as narcissistic, but almost 40% (39.27%) agree that “being self-promoting, narcissistic, overconfident, and attention-seeking is helpful for succeeding in a competitive world.”Jennifer Van Grove

Read the article here.

Does this surprise anyone really? It's hard to believe that an entire generation is falling into this category. What is even more surprising for me is that I fall into that generation. There are no real precise dates as to when generation Y starts and ends but by most estimates it is the people born from the 1970's to the 1990's. To give you some perspective, college freshman this year were born in 1991.

So what does this say about the adolescents that are coming up in the ranks? Will they continue the trend? Will they become more self centered and narcissistic to the point that no one cares for their neighbor anymore?

Comments that surrounded the article consisted of people thinking that narcissistic people might think themselves to good for the social websites and that people who us them are more bipolar by nature. I think there is some truth in this statement because every adolescent today is growing up a little bipolar.

The fact is, people are putting on different masks in order to be around or in their different groups. They have their close cluster of friends, one mask, they have their sports team, another mask, not to mention home, church, when they are with extended family, in class at school, or just walking the halls. Each situation is warranting a different personality. Throw on top of that what they put out into the world through facebook and myspace and it complicates matters even more.

So where is the real person under all of this? That is a hard question and the only way you are gong to find out who they really are is by getting to know them and really sending tons of time together. As a youth director I can't possibly spend all my time with every youth out there, there is just not enough time in the day. But if I strive....if we strive to make every encounter with youth a meaningful one we can begin to strip away the masks and hopefully see the true person underneath.

-dain

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What's next?

This is the question I have been asking every year at this time. What is next? We just went on this awesome journey to the southern state of Louisiana with bands, service and community building galore...what is next? Three years ago it was San Antonio that gave a spark to people wanting to serve. Mission trips followed for the next two years and we are back to a gathering again.

Yesterday Derek, my brother and co-worker, sat down for lunch with some of the Junior guys and talked about what they thought of the gathering. Their responses were mixed and over all good, but he also asked them the same question: what's next? They felt as though they wanted to continue serving, that the time in New Orleans was not enough. They wanted to go right back out into the community and be the hands and feet of God the next day and the next one after that. This is a great thing. So is the next step another mission trip? Where then should it be? In the United States, back to Louisiana, an international mission trip? When should it be? Spring break, summer, fall?

This may sound like a cop out answer but I really want the group of seniors this year to be in charge and plan their last event. To have ownership in what they are doing and what is going to make them grow physically, spiritually and as a community. I believe that they can do great things and with a little guidance we can accomplish great things. Now the question is where to start and how to build on the momentum we have created from this past week.

Dear Lord, be with us this next year as a youth group. Continue to help the community grow and for everyone to realize that they are a part of something so much bigger than their small group of friends and we can all serve together and change the world one person at a time. We love you Lord, amen.

Blessings,

dain

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Day 5 & 6: Worship and the trip home

What is worship really? Is it a set amount of time? Is it the right words? Is it when you stand or sit? Is it quiet and solum? If the worship service we attended on Sunday morning was any indication of what it is or can be then worship can be anything.

What we experienced Sunday morning was a blending of the fantastic Lutheran liturgy and the excitement of the gathering atmosphere. The house band was once again awesome and got us pumped up for worship. There was a processional of the cross but also items signifying the service we had accomplished this past week in the form of doors, cones, windows, work gloves, work lights and so on. The alter was carried in by sections: saw horses, 4 doors, and a tarp to cover it. It was the most crude and perfect alter I have ever seen.



The service itself was very familiar and the sermon was given by Bishop Hanson. He spoke to us about how we are now leaving this place and how we can take it with us. How we as a group of 37,000 people have made a difference and can still make a difference in our own homes and communities. That it is up to us to be the change in the world.

He also told us about the mayor of New Orleans, how he attended the large gathering last evening and when they entered in the Superdome he cringed a little because even though years have passed and the dome is fixed it still is viewed as a place of tragedy, sickness, death and pain. But the mayor when on. He said that this gathering of young people is a ray of hope. That it has made the Superdome a place of joy and happiness. He said that the community has seen a wonderful change in their lives and he wishes that we could surround the dome join hand and pray for the healing of this community. Well we didn't have the ability to do just that buy our service and prayer that morning was one for healing.

We also celebrated communion that morning. It is the most amazing thing to think that 37,000 people were communed in 30 minutes. It just shows that people are willing to volunteer not just for getting their hands dirty buy also for the clensing and renewal of our bodies. Every station had a yellow umbrella where we received the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We were also anointed with oil reminding us of the cross that is always with us.

The service ended and we were sad to leave. It was a time of renewal and an exhausting week. The rest of the afternoon was spent walking back to our hotel one last time, loading up the bus in a little bit of rain, and heading to lunch. We ate on canal street. Heather, Kim and I went to Mother's restaurant and had some good southern cookin'. It was fantastic.





The ride home was lots of fun too. We went across the causeway over Lake Ponchatrain which is the longest bridge over water in the world. 24 miles of water underneath us. There is even 8 miles of that where we couldn't see land.

That evening we ate dinner and watched a beautiful sunset, sang happy birthday to Tate Miller and loaded the bus for the long haul of the night shift. But I wasn't going to let this day go down easy. I broke out the glow sticks and but on the dance music and we had ourselves a bus rave! It was a lot of fun and apparently my butt called Pastor Ron a few times. How weird is that?





We all fell asleep to Pirates of the Caribbean part 3 and tried to sleep as best we could on a bus. Bodies were everywhere and there was not chance we in the front could get back to the bathroom because of the tangled mass of teenagers on the floor and strewn across the aisle. We did a did have a short stop at a few rest stops along the way and saw an amazing sunrise.

Breakfast was in Clear Lake Iowa at a Perkins. The look on the face of the woman when I said there were 41 of us in a group was priceless. Most because there was another group that had come in 30 minutes before us. The food was awesome and handled very well. We even saw Mari helping out with the drinks.

Then it was back on the bus for the final two hours of the trip. It went fast.

In the end this was a great trip. The youth of Word of Peace are amazing people and I know they will change the world, heck they have already changed the world. We wouldn't have trusted them more in New Orleans. They were fantastic and a joy to be with. My hope and prayer is that this experience will go with them always and they will never forget the love they felt in New Orleans.

Thanks for following this trip and this blog. Check back often for more Word of Peace youth group antics.

Dain

ps: we will be leading the worship services on August 9th and 10th with the Vacation Bible School kids sharing our experiences with everyone at the 8:30 and 10 am services. Come and check out pictures, video, the stories we have.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Day 4: Service with a smile

Today was our Justice day. This is something that God requires of us according to Micah 6:8. Look it up if you don't know it. It's a good one.

We started this day earlier than any other day before and we arrived at out bus right on time! This is a wonderful thing for anyone in charge of 41 people. We loaded the bus and I quickly realized that I had forgot the health forms we worked so hard at getting people to fill out. So, since we had a few minutes before we left I decided to run back to the hotel. (about a mile) By the time I got back we were ready to go and I was dripping. Wet with sweat I sat down with the papers and thanked God for and air conditioned bus.

After a rousing rendition of wheels on the bus, the hippo song and shark attack we arrived at Arthur Ash charter school. It was 2 weeks until the start of school and they just moved in to a new building. Our job: to get the place to look like a school not just a building.

I was amazed by the vigor and excitement to serve. The work was hard. We did everything from setting up rooms, leveling desks, putting together computers, painting, moving heavy objects, and organizing the library. By the time the day was done it was a change so noticeable that the people in charge couldn't believe it.









Our service time ended late because we were so into it that we didn't have time to eat dinner. We spent a little bit of time in the French Market again and then rushed back to the hotel, changed close and were back out the door by fuve so we could walk, again, to the dome.

The evening was filled with awesome speakers, jugglers, music in the form of a 7 year old accordian player that could rock out with the best of them and a 16 year old violinist involved in the IMAX film "Hurricane on the Bayou." We even had some special guests. The first was the mayor of New Orleans and the second was a letter from the President Barack Obama. Wow! The Katinas finished off the night with some energy filled praise and worship. It is truly amazing and awe inspiring to see so many people singing together.

The last thing we did was find dinner. The good thing was we had lots of time, the bad thing was we spent it all in line at McDonald's. Since we split up into groups, I was with only 11 and it still took way too long. The up side was we got to meet the 7 year old accordian player and his family and a wonderful gentleman named Ernest. The most amazing thing for me was that we had spent over an hour in line for food and we were next in line when the 7 year old and his family came in. They were in a hurry and so we let them go in front of us. Did I mention we were next in line.

We got our food and did our final Bible study for the day right there before we walked back.

What a day it was...WOW!

Bes sure to check out the pictures at my FLICKR page.

Thanks for reading and we will see everyone in Minnesota soon.

dain

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Day 3: Hot and Ready to Rock

Day three in New Orleans at the National Youth Gathering was once again a new experience. We began the day much like the last with breakfast and a long walk but this time it was into the interaction center. We entered a large room with a few thousand or so of our new friends and listened to a speaker talk about our service area which is literacy. We then proceeded into the massive grand hall for hundreds of different opportunities for us to learn and have hands on experience with taking action and being the change in the world.

Some of things I saw the youth doing included: letter and post card writing to our state representatives about poverty and the environment, painting, learning what it's like to be in a wheel chair, making masks, decorating murals, and signing petitions. But that wasn't all there was to do...oh no my friends. There was ping pong, beach and hard court volleyball, soccer, dodgeball, ultimate Frisbee, mini golf, karaoke, and a parade New Orleans style.

I could go on and on about all the awesome things but it is late. After our time at the interaction center we decided to head to the dome early to get floor seats for the evening program. Our path took us down some side streets and as we were rounding the corner for the dome a women approached us and told us that we didn't have enough beads. She proceeded to open up a box and pull out some of the most amazingly huge strands of beads for us as a gift. She even had the exact amount for out group. This was an amazing moment for our group. One comment made this evening was how we haven't even done anything yet as far as service and people are already thanking up for what we have done or will do. Amazing.


Our group and the woman who gave us the beads!

As we walked in the mid day heat I knew we were going to have a difficult time because the door we wanted to enter from was on the sunny side of the dome. Luckily, there was some shade we could share and the time went fast. One of the coolest things that happened while there was at 4:24. Every day we stop and pray at that time, so we did and people must have talked to God about the heat because the wind picked up and two frozen lemonade vendors came around the corner right after we said amen. Wow God is good.

The doors opened and we made a mad rush for the seats hoping to be on the floor. Not only did we make it to the floor we had great seats. The speakers were awesome and the music was powerful and rockin! Skillet played and lit up the stage with fire and amazing songs.

The night ended with a fantastic pool party where most of the chaperones were thrown in to the pool. I love it when the youth do what I tell them to. We had the nightly Bible study in the pool and it was off to bed.

Tomorrow we go out and serve!

Pictures are up on my flickr page so check it out.

Also, the national press for this gathering is amazing and you should read some of the articles that are out there. Here is one I ran across.

Peace,

Dain

Friday, July 24, 2009

Day 2: A unique look at New Orleans

Today was a day of learning and understanding more about the culture of New Orleans.

We began the day with a trip the one and only authentic Voodoo Museum in the world. It was quite the sight. I was introduced to John who is the only white man to come out of Africa as a full fledged Druid Priest and Voodoo leader. This guy knew his stuff. We went on a twenty minute tour of the little shop and two back rooms filled with different things t do incantations with. There were petrified cats, and bones and alligator heads and blowfish on the walls. We talked about hexes and how they work and that the voodoo dolls are a but sensationalized by Hollywood but are really used differently that what we would expect. It was a great experience and lots of new and different things were seen in that place. Thanks John for the great tour.





Then it was on the French market and Farmers market area. It was great and everybody bought tons of souvenirs, including myself.





Then it was off to lunch. Rick, Heather, Lauren, Cally and I went to Margaritaville for some virgin margaritas and good food. i had a cheese burger.



After that it was off the the hotel and then to the Krews Learning center for out Jesus day. People could choose from over 30 different workshops, self guided, and craft activities that brought them close to Jesus. It was a crazy but good afternoon.

Next was the whirlwind dinner and a brisk walk to the Superdome. Unfortunately we were a little late and our seats were not the greatest, but it was an awesome night once again. Each night gets us more excited for the next.

Afterwards we went separate ways in groups (with chaperones) and went to dances, concerts and well more dances. It was a great night that closed with some time together back at the hotel and prayer to close the day.

There was so much that happened it's hard to tell you all about it. But we will try when we return.

Thanks and keep up the prayers,

dain

be sure to check out more pictures on the flickr page.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

No Busting for Us! We made it!

After a fantastic start to the trip and a wonderful sendoff from the parent in Rogers, we made it safe. We stopped in St. Louis for a wonderful tour of the Western Expansion Museum and a trip up the Arch. Man is that high up! Most of the youth and people who are on the trip hadn't been there before so I enjoyed watching people enjoy the incredible view. Check out the pictures.





After St. Louis it was the night time portion of the drive. We had dinner and then left the driving up to the bus drivers and we did the best we could to fall asleep. Some got a few hours some got a few minutes. After a short stop in..actually I have no idea where we stopped because it was very early and very dark and looked like any other gas station out there. Rick and I threw the football and the students went into the bathroom and connivence store. Then back on the bus for another 5 or so hours. Let's just say that New Orleans was a welcome site when we could get off the bus and stretch.

When we arrived we saw lots and lots of water. it's no wonder that there is such a flood problem. There is tons of water. When we hit land again we arrived at Grace Lutheran Church. Word of Peace and Grace are partnering through our Vacation Bible School program and we stopped because of their amazing story. Check out their website and come to VBS in a few weeks to hear their story. http://www.gracenola.com/ We met their pastor and a few members that told us some stories. It was truly Amazing Grace.

We were still very hungry because we ended up a little behind schedule and so breakfast was the next stop. We found a great grocery store and purchased our milk and other perishables. Then to a park not far from our hotel for a much needed meal.

Finally it was on to the hotel and a free afternoon. The students took naps, swam and hung out at the hotel while a few of us went t register everyone at the convention center. While we were there we found out an interesting fact that the work that is done in New Orleans over the next three days will equal 3 years of work for normal volunteering efforts. Wow this is going to be amazing.

The walk back was interesting because we got caught in the rain. One second cloudy sky the next downpour. No wonder people carry umbrellas all the time. But after the typical five minutes it was done and we were on our way. I gathered the group when we got back to the hotel and we left for the Superdome we took a walk down Bourbon Street. The best way to describe the walk was an "eye opening experience," for most of the passer-bys.



The dome event was awesome and full of speakers, music, giant conga lines and the Bishop of the ELCA arriving to the gathering in a motorized bathtub and bathrobe. It was a night full of special moments and it seems as though everyone is looking forward to a great week.





I am tired as is everyone else so I think this is about it for today. Keep us and New Orleans in your prayers.

dain

check out more pictures on my FLICKR page

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

New Orleans or Bust!

Tomorrow we leave for New Orleans. But I write this looking at the clock on my computer realizing that we actually leave today. Which makes me even more glad that we decided to leave at 8 in the morning rather than 3am...yuck!

We will be off on many wonderful adventures learning about God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit and ourselves and the relationship we have with them along with 36,000 other youth who are presently descending on New Orleans. I am really looking forward to see the youth and how they grow over the next week.

Stay tuned for daily updates, pictures and stories from the road and our soon to be awesome trip!

Blessings,

dain and the word of peace crew!

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Last Day

Tomorrow I return to Word of Peace to prepare for our trip to Louisiana and the National Youth Gathering. I still have a month of sabbatical left but this was a trip that I could not miss. This return also marks the beginning of taking what I have learned and been taught by the Holy Spirit and putting it into action or at least of plan for action for the next years of youth ministry at Word of Peace. To be perfectly honest, I am really freaked out about what I have learned. How in the world am I, an individual working for the Lord going to effect the lives of the thousands of youth in the Rogers area? Well, one thing I did learn is that it is not about me doing it all. It is more about a community raising up and providing a safe environment where youth are able to be themselves, where they can forget about the pressure for one minute placed on them by their peers, society, coaches, and parents. I can't tell you how important it is for kids to be kids and youth to be youth. To not grow up so quickly. To hold on to that child-like faith we once had because before we know it parents will be placing their kids into advanced classes, higher level sports teams, and confirmation just so the accomplishment of achieving something can be held and had and shown off to everyone around. To me this seems like a very publicly lived life where the teens and twenties are being put in the spotlight while everyone else looks at them and says "wow, aren't they amazing".

When did this life become about becoming the best the earliest? Is it really that important that we get kids potty trained, walking, speaking, reading, and going to school before they are 1 year old? Or is it really important for youth to be married, have two kids, a PHD, a house, a nice car and be the boss of their own company by 25? In the same vein is it necessary for youth to be so mature in their faith that they can debate with the greats and understand what God thinks by the time that they are done with confirmation and/or high school? I personally can't believe that youth are ever done. The learning, questioning, discovery, wonder and imagination of youth should never leave any of us. But it does. We begin to settle realizing that we will never be able to grow any more than we have, that our efforts will be in vain and we best be happy with where we are. This never got anyone anywhere.

The idea that God can somehow be fully grasped understood and even predicted is a load of bull. God is by far the most confusing thing I have come upon and I believe that God is fully present in the youth of today. (Maybe that's why they are so confusing). And that God is working in ways that we will hardly understand until we are years down the road and can look back and see His guidance along the way.

God is in all of us and until we loose ourself and realize that fact we will never be able to be used in a way that is truly pleasing unto our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Think about it, really think, what is the ultimate goal in your life, in my life? Is it to make money, grow old and retire, invent something amazing, have a historical marker somewhere with my name on it, or is it to live this life as best I can loving everyone, caring for the least of these, raising wonderful children, loving my wife and family, and loving God? In my mind these things can't be measured or compared, they don't need to be because it is not about the accomplishment it is not about what we can do to please God or getting into heaven. It is taking the grace God has given us and turning right around and giving it away to someone else who needs it. It is forming and being a part of a community that is working for justice on earth and praising God. It is loving Jesus in the wonderful times and in the dark times. Using Jesus instead of relying on our own strength . It is loving Jesus from the inside out, loving others, praising God with others, worshipping Jesus with others, helping others, being the light of Christ to the world. Stepping out even when it may seem like you are alone. It is about loving everyone.

I love youth. I care more everyday for their lives and the decisions they make hoping and praying they do so with so much love in their hearts that it can't help but overflow to everyone they know and even to strangers they don't know. I pray their lives are examples not only Christ when it is convenient but in everything, everywhere, everyday.

My prayer is that I can effect one person in my lifetime, and that that person may effect someone else and they would also do the same. I pray that my goals and focus are not dictated by the pressures of the world but of the one and only Savior of my life, Jesus Christ. That my life would be lived from the inside out.

There is nothing stopping us, there is nothing that can tear us down, there is nothing that Christ has not overcome. Bring it on. Here WE go!

dain

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

More on "Hurt" by Chap Clark

It's really amazing to think that someone can write a book and basically say the obvious and have it be so poignant. Really, all the things that Chap is saying are very true and it all makes sense. I can see everything he is talking about in the youth that I work with. I can even see a little bit of it in me as well. Most likely because I am at the end of my adolescence myself. But I also feel like a bridge between the adult world that "just doesn't understand" and the new generation of youth who are redefining so many of the standards the older generations hold so dear. For example, the word "stress" is something that is well understood by generations who grew up with fewer commitments as adolescents than the current generation. So if a thirty-something says they are stressed it is most likely because there is more on their plate than they can handle and responsibilities are being piled upon them. The difference, as noted by Clark, is that adolescents of today are already so busy, so involved and so stressed that it becomes their version of normal. Imagine a life where stress at very high levels is normal.

There is another side to all of this as well Adolescents who don't think that they are stressed, who think that life this way is normal believe they are doing are going to run themselves into the ground. I am in the ministry of helping youth understand that Christ our Savior who takes our sins, burdens and even our stress and gives us salvation and rest in the arms of love. But there is a disconnect. Why would someone that fees like life is normal, that being tired being overcommitted and not getting enough sleep ever want someone that would give them rest? This is a huge dilemma. I find huge value in retreats and moments where we can have time one on one with God. Where we can experience God in the small and and the large. But to minister to a a generation that doesn't think they need something like that makes for an interesting time and quite a bit of trial and error.

It is going to take a lot of prayer, research and error to know what is going to work and help the youth of this generation and how to let them know what they need. Pray for the youth ministry of Word of Peace and the world that we may do the best we can and make Christ real to them.

Peace,

dain

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The final day in Sydney

Well we knew this day would come. Sad to think that we spent some great times with friends and are now headed back to the US, we wish we could stay longer. But rather than sit and be sad about the fact that we were leaving, we still had places to see and souvenirs to pick up.

Now, Heather and I have been married for almost a year now and we have found out a lot about each other and the family cultures that we both come from. One difference that I came upon this trip was the importance of souvenirs and gifts for the family. I think it might stem from one of Heather's love languages because she is much more into the fun little gifts than I am. With that said I do enjoy a good souvenir but prefer all the pictures I take to be what I bring back from places.

Anyway, the day began at Eva's once again. We saw a few familiar faces and lots of new ones as well. Thankfully we found a parking space on the same block so it wasn't far to take the luggage. We had breakfast at the first cafe' we ate at in Sydney, Joe's. It was so good the first time that we had to go back, that and we had to say thank you for the great advice for the walk we went on. I had french toast again with english breakfast tea and Heather had the eggs and toast with bacon, wow it was good!

We then loaded the car and went to find a post office to buy stamps and we found one right around the corner. Heather did a great job at parking the car with me spotting because the whole parallel parking thing is really different with the steering wheel on the other side.

Next it was off to downtown Sydney and a "quick" stop at a shop for some gifts. Problem was the parking place we found was really confusing and didn't look right and there was no street parking so after becoming a little frustrated Heather and I switched as drivers, she stayed to get the souvenirs and I drove around the block. That worked well. But we still had to find parking so we could go to Malny Beach on the ferry. We found a spot right near the ferry dock at a hotel parking lot and hurried to grab the ferry. We sat in the aft (back) part of the ship and watched as the skyline and Opera House disappeared in the distance.

We then switched to the bow (front) of the boat to see the Manly Warf come into sight. We also noticed that to our left we could see out into the open ocean. "Wow" I thought, "the next big thing that direction is South America". And with a little bit of the open ocean came some pretty good swells. The boat was rockin'!





We arrived at Many Wharf and walked the short distance to the beach where we saw a beautiful and very empty beach. Normally this beach is packed with people at all times of day, but apparently last night and this morning was one of the coldest days in Sydney on record so that made fewer people want to come and be outside. For Heather and I it was beautiful, cool and crisp. A beautiful day for a walk on the beach and some frisbee.

Our time was short on the beach because we needed to get back and catch the ferry so we could catch our plane eventually as well. So we started back and Heather wanted fish and chips so as she waited for them to be done I went and looked at post cards. Time passed and passed and I started to be a little concerned that we were going to miss the ferry. Out window of time was not very big and we needed to begin picking up the pace so we would make our deadlines. Heather agreed and we bolted as soon as she had her food. We crossed the street to the wharf and arrived just as the boat was pulling out...we missed it. This was not good. We needed to have the car back by 1 pm and the ferry ride was 15 minutes and the next ferry out was 12:45. Things were starting to look a little too tight for my liking. But there was nothing really we could do about it, so we walked back to the gift shops and bought a few post cards and Heather noticed that this shop in particular had all the things she purchased earlier in the day. We were not very happy with the way things were going.

We did make it on to the next ferry and got the prime seat in the front of the boat. We sat down and watched as the skyline came back into view. It was a beautiful day and the view of the harbour was amazing. I loved the ride.





But the moment we landed we were off and running again back to the parking lot and into the hotel to pay for the parking. We got back into the car and prayed that we weren't too late and wouldn't miss our plane. We punched in the airport on the GPS and we were off. We really needed to fill up the car as well but nowhere along the way could we find a gas station. It was frustrating so we bit the bullet and paid the refill fee as we pulled into the car return. We dashed into the ticketing part of the airport and realized that we had no idea where to go. It was totally different than anything I had ever seen and we most likely looked like a pair of chickens running around without our heads. We found the United counter just as they were getting ready to close check-in and said we were going to San Francisco. We got our tickets and express pass through security and were off again. It's a good thing we had been walking a lot this past week because we felt in shape for the rush across the airport. We arrived to a friendly looking gentleman who told us to relax and take a deep breath and that the plane was not going to leave without us now...whew we made it.

The flight home was enjoyable and seemed to go a little quicker than the way over. I saw three movies and a few shows, took quite a few naps and Heather and I witnessed a woman fainting wile we were up for the toilet. Heather almost caught her and I rushed for the flight attendant who was serving drinks. His cart was quickly parked and spilled at the same time. So I cleaned up the mess while he attended to the newly fainted women. I was glad she fell in one of the few open spaces in the plane so she could be helped. She was fine, but all I remember thinking was "where in God's creation are we going to land if we have to?"

The rest of the flight was uneventful and with a small layover in San Fran we were on our way home to Minnesota. It was a truly great trip and I really can't wait to go back and see more someday.

Thanks for everyone who kept up with our travels and pictures. I am still on sabbatical until the middle of July but I have lots of thoughts coming my way from things I am reading and learning. I will post some of them here. Check back often.

God Bless and I hope you are having a wonderful summer,

dain and heather

Monday, June 15, 2009

Canberra to Sydney

Our final day of traveling in the car and it proved to be a doozy. We said our good-byes in Canberra and realized that we needed to perform the age old Minnesotan ritual of "warming up the car" as the temperature had dropped to near freezing last night. We had a quality frost on the car, one that truly meant it was cold outside. So with the car warm and us on our way we found a petrol station and filled up.

Our next stop was Wollongong in New South Wales to meet with Pastor Fred. Now Pastor Fred is a friend of Heather's and was a contact of her Youth Encounter team when they were in Australia in 2004. They spent a week or so in Sydney at St. john's Lutheran Church and Pastor Fred made a wonderful impression on Heather that she thought it would be nice to look him up. Fred has since moved away from Sydney to a really southern suburb, if you could call it that, and taken an extended leave from the ministry so he had lots of time to sit and chat.

We made it into Wollongong around 12:30 in time for tea and lunch so we sat at the kitchen table and talked about all kinds of stuff, mostly having to do with the frustrations in Pastor Fred's life at the moment. We heard stories about how Fred felt empty spiritually and unfed. And when it came to reading the Bible or anything with spiritual connotations rather than filling him up he felt as thought it passed right through him and into something he could use for a sermon. He was more concerned about the spiritual life of others and had been neglecting himself. The amazing thing I realized while watching and listening to Fred was how true this was for most people in the ministry including myself. I felt sorry for all those wonderful people out there that never get the chance to recharge their christian battery like I am presently doing on sabbatical. So when Fred said that he was leaving St. John's it wasn't because of some big falling out or another calling per-say, it was because he felt the need to spend some quality time with God that he had been missing for who knows how long. It was a very refreshing statement to hear.

Fred said one thing that really stuck out to me in our conversation. He was concerned that even in the Christian church we have drifted away from a Christocentric and preaching a more universalistic mentality towards God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. One example he gave was in the songs we sing. He noticed that in a normal grouping of songs in a Sunday service it was a rarity to hear the name of Jesus sung. Now this is not really the problem, the songs are good and about our saving Lord but what about the people in this world of different faiths? Fred told us a story about how he was at a Lutheran gathering and he noticed an Indian woman at this conference he was attending. Fred listened intently and realized that Jesus specifically wasn't really being talked about by name. There were tons of references to God, Lord, Savior, Love and helping your neighbor but the name of Jesus wasn't hardly heard. So Fred approached the woman he saw before and found out she was a Hindu among other things and asked what she thought of the speakers. She said that she could agree with most everything that was said today, and that really made Fred think.

Fred continued to talk about how he felt the Christian church he a part of in Australia was so focused on being inclusive and "seeker friendly" that they had taken Jesus, the real reason we celebrate and are saved out of the picture. Wow, this was interesting and I could have listened to him talk for a much longer time, but Heather and I needed to be off. So after a quick tour of his house and new construction projects we were on the road again to Sydney.


View of Wollongong from the bluffs above!

But before we got to Sydney we had to make a few stops. The first back out in the Blue Mountains to pick up my tripod that i left in a cafe' we ate in and then to Hillsong Church for an informational night about the church.

The Blue Mountains were great again and we found the tripod, whew and we arrived just in time for the program to begin at Hillsong. We found out lots about the church and the best part for me was to feel very welcomed and even recognized from when we were there last week. It was amazing that a huge church that has 4 campuses in Australia and 3 others across the world could feel so small and wonderful. In the end it made me miss being at Word of Peace because even though it was a great experience I realized that I missed the community I was a part of back home.

We left Hillsong and found ourselves at the mercy of the GPS again and a few toll roads and the Harbour Bridge later we were downtown Sydney again headed back to Kings' Cross for one more night at Eva's Backpackers.

Have a wonderful day, tomorrow is Manly Beach, crazy downtown driving, and the trip home.

Blessings,

dain

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Canberra Day 2

I think the best way to describe this day was "nothing major really happened." For once we didn't head out the door at an early hour, or go to see all the sights, or even walk anywhere. It was so nice to have a day where we sept in and had a leisurely day talking with Tanya and taking care of Liam. The conversation was wonderful and the stories ranged from what has been going on in the Lutheran Church in Australia, to the local Bible camp happenings, to weddings to the death of Tanya's best friend Amy. It has really been an up and down year for Tanya and family but the Lord has really provided in marvelous ways.


Little Baby Liam

The two best parts of the day were the food and the movie we watched. First the food. For lunch we had pumpkin soup. This is a fantastic Aussie dish that is made from Butternut Squash or Yellow Pumpkins as the Aussies call it. It was so good and well worth the adventurous spirit it took just to imagine a soup made from pumpkin. Dinner was also good with a roast, steamed and baked cheesy vegetables and some really good soda drink.

Afterwards we looked at wedding photos and then sat down for desert and a movie. The movie we watched was a very Australian movie called The Castle. It was a movie mostly about a family who lived next to the airport and their house was going to be repossessed by the government to add to the runway. The court battles and family hyginks that ensue are rather hilarious and touching. I am looking forward to finding it and showing it to some of our friends.

The day ended after that knowing we were headed to Wollogong the next day to meet with Pastor Fred so it was off to bed with us. Another great day in Australia.

Melbourne to Canberra

Now begins the journey from Melbourne back to Sydney. We rented a car and under the instruction of Rory we are to get the car and head through the Roundabout of Hell to Jenny's place of work to drop off the key. No problem right? Well, we did get the car and we did manage to also get a GPS unit to help us find our way. The way was through the roundabout of hell and I was quite nervous. Heather was the first to drive and I had my head on a swivel so that we didn't run into anything or turn the wrong way.

We made it to Jenny's work place and then it was off to Rory's school to say good-by. It was a lovely and very modern looking school. Most of the classrooms were exposed to the outside and very open. So if anyone were to ask, "can we have class outside today?" the answer would be, "we are outside!" After a couple of hugs and some direction of how to get out of town and a quick stop at a cafe' for lunch, we were on our way north to Canberra.

The eight hour drive proved to be uneventful and very beautiful. We spent the first 3 hours looking at the countryside and the vast amounts of grazing pasture for cattle and sheep. We were told to keep our eyes out for kangaroos as they tend to hop across the road and be obliterated by cars. We were hoping that would not be us. Luckily, we came upon none to speak of.

We arrived in Canberra around 11:00 pm and found our friend Tanya's house with only a few missed turns. We stayed up talking and catching up while ogling over the new 5 week old Liam.

Finally after a long day we decided to go to bed and be ready for a nice day with Tanya and Liam in Canberra, the capitol of Australia.

Note: I am writing this from the comfort of the United States as we have returned on June 12th. Stay tuned for the final days of our trip.

dain

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Melbourne Day 2



Waking up and not having to share a bathroom or wait a really long time for one to open up is really a luxury. I really like staying with Rory and Jenny.

Today is Queen's Day, God save the Queen. Where Australia celebrates the birthday of the queen. God save the Queen. And it is a national holiday, God save the Queen. And you have to say God save the Queen after everything, God save the Queen. The funny thing is no one really knows why they do this holiday and even if it is her real birthday and nobody says God save the Queen. So basically it is a holiday that everyone loves because it makes for a long weekend.



We took the morning to have pancakes and got ready for a cold rainy day. Our plan was to make the footy pilgrimage to the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground). This is a fantastic stadium that holds 100,000 people and today Melbourne was playing Collingwood. We arrived just in time for the first bounce and the game was on. If you don't know anything about Australian Rules Football (Footy) then here are a few things to know. Basically the game is on a huge oval playing field (pitch) and there is a goal for each team. The game consists of each team working the footy (football shaped ball that is not as pointy on the ends) to their goal and kicking it through the middle part of the goal. You can pass the ball with a volleyball type bump or by kicking it and if you catch it off a kick that is called a "mark" where you receive a free kick or you can run with it. This game is full contact, which makes it rather rough. So in the end it is a combination of Ultimate Frisbee, soccer and hockey.



The game was not close. Collingwood smashed Melbourne who has not won a game this season. The rain fell hard and we were very thankful that we were under cover. We stuck it out for the whole match and had a great time rooting for everything! A great time was had.

After the game we headed down to the river and had a BBQ. The city has gas grills set up in the parks that are free so we took full advantage of the grill and cooked some fantastic food including veggies and kangaroo meat. It was all good! The meat was not as "gamey" as I thought it would be. It was actually very close to beef in consistency so I enjoyed it a lot.



It was then off to the Melbourne Center for the Moving Picture, which is a nationally and internationally known museum for movies, right up our alley. The museum was closed but we were there for something else, Fanboys! Rory, Heather and I are huge Star Wars fans so we thought it would be awesome to see it together. It was great and the ultimate Star Wars geek movie.

We spent the rest of the night walking around Melbourne seeing the sights and stopping in cafe's for some great coffee. We also saw the Crown casino, a huge casino that makes a lot of money for the city and is very lavish. They even have this fireball display in front that shoots huge balls of fire into the air. It was pretty cool.



The end of the night came when we arrived at home and warmed up with coffee and scones. It was a great day and we had a blast seeing and being "normal" Ausies for a day.

Tomorrow we drive in Australia up to Canberra...pray we don't forget to drive on the correct side of the road.

dain

Melbourne

For the second leg of our trip we headed to Melbourne to visit our friends Rory and Jenny. We got up crazy early (4:00 am) so we could catch the Sydney shuttle at 5. We were out and ready to go at 10 till and we waited and waited and waited till we started to get a little worried. There were plenty of taxis passing by the hostel but no shuttle. We were relieved when the shuttle rounded the corner and we climbed in with the other passengers. Turns out because of the holiday weekend everyone was out for the night and since Kings Cross is the "place to be" for dance clubs and strip joints and since the clubs were beginning to close, well that made for really bad traffic and a lot of drunk people. We eventually made it to the airport in plenty of time and had a great flight to Melbourne on Quants.

Once we arrived we were greeted with open arms by Rory who took us back to his flat in Ivanhoe. We spent the morning relaxing and catching up until the four of us headed out for the afternoon of touring Melbourne. We headed downtown to the markets and stores that were quite numerous. We tasted all kinds of fun food and almost bought lots of stuff...but didn't. We stopped at a cafe' and had some great coffee, something that Melbourne is know for.

Later that evening we headed to church with Rory and Jenny. We had dinner at a house nearby with some friends of theirs. The church service was quite good and fun to see a group of young adults worshiping together. Rory and Jenny really like this group and I can see why. After hanging around for a while after the service we went to the favorite pizza place, which was very active because of the long weekend. The pizza was great! I had a capsicum or red pepper pizza, Heather had mushroom, Rory had a salmon pizza, and Jenny an olive version. They were all good. I tried a local beer too, very nice. It was hard to carry on conversation because of the noise so we were homeward bound. Another hour of chatting and having fun and it was time for bed after a very long day.

It is great to see good friends. Tomorrow footy game and Fanboys!

dain

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Sydney Day 4

A truly fantastic day! I think we have finally had the good weather Australia is known for. It was beautiful, warm cloudless and a slight breeze from the ocean.

We started out the day heading over to the Harbour Bridge so we could climb one of the pylons that hold up this massive structure. Inside was a museum of the construction and history of how long it took just to get the thing built. In the end it is not the longest steel arch bridge (it missed it by 38 cm) but it is considered the biggest because of the sheer size and weight. It was build during the depression (yes the depression was not just in the US) and it was considered the thing that got Sydney if not Australia through it. It is truly an amazing structure. We climbed to the top of the pylon and got some amazing views of the Harbour, downtown and the Opera House. The number of sail and motor boats in the water was beautiful.



We finished the climb and headed to The Rocks, a quaint part of old Sydney just by the bridge where an outdoor market was taking place. We found all kinds of great stuff including some great food. And apparently there is a scent and a tree called the Daintree, who knew? Answer: the crafty people that made some awesome smelling potpourri.






After that it was off to the Paddy Market (the one I mentioned in an earlier post) for a time of souvenir shopping. I think we found something for almost everyone, and for those who we didn't find something for, it's not for lack of shops. We successfully saw every store and had fun listening to people barter and try and sell there wares. (with Lebanese accent) "I guarantee these carrots will last two weeks in the refrigerator if not you find me and I will give you $200!" That is a good selling point if you ask me.

Finally we had to get on a train for the Hills so we could go to church at Hillsong. We caught the train then hopped on the Hillsong bus and with some friendly people onboard we took the 20 minute trip from the train station to the church. We eve got a snack on the bus! We arrived to a parking lot full of cars and entered one of the buildings. We were not in the main "convention center" which was fine, because it was a smaller service.



The evening was great, we felt very welcome and met a few other people from the states. The music was good and the message was fun to listen to. The atmosphere was very laid back so it was just good to be there. Afterwards I met with Nick for a few minutes, he is the Youth Pastor for Senior High. I am looking forward to talking to him some more in the future.

In the end, it was a short visit, but a good one. We took the bus back to the station with another snack and arrived back at the hostel where we were greeted by a hoard of people in the kitchen/eating area. Tomorrow it is off to Melbourne to see our friends Rory and Jennie.

Blessings,

dain

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sydney Day 3

If we thought we had walked far before, day three proved every day before to be nothing in comparison! We began the day where we left off - back at Darling Harbour and the Wildlife World. But on the way there we decided to actually walk through the Royal Botanical Gardens rather than just around it. We were not disappointed. It was amazing. There were plants from all over the world and in such huge form too. I can't believe some of the things we saw. The cactus and tropical plants. The sheer number of different types of Rhododendrons was crazy. Some of the plants were in bloom but because it is "winter" most of the plants were not in bloom. But I could only imagine what it would look like. We even stopped to smell the roses. They all smelled different. Who knew? Answer: a rose connoisseur.



Next we walked to the Wildlife World where we saw some of the most amazing and dangerous animals on the face of the earth. The animals were all native to Australia. Some interesting facts. There are more dangerous animals than non-dangerous animals in Australia and 65% of the animal activity in this country happens at night. The highlight of the day was when we got to see Koala's being fed so they were awake and very cute! We even got to pet one. Very awesome. We continued seeing huge spiders, yikes and a number of Kangaroos. It was a great time.



When we finished at the Wildlife World we headed over to Chinatown for dinner and some needed rest. We found a food court in a "mall" and started looking at all the pictures of the food, thank God for pictures. I found my favorite (sweet and sour pork) and Heather found hers (Wonton Soup). Both portions were amazing and we didn't finish the soup because it was "the combination" with shrimp, squid, wontons, vegetables, beef, pork and a heap of noodles in this wash basin of a bowl. Truly well worth the money. "It was the best Wonton soup in the world" - Heather

Next was the walking tour but along the way we ran into an indoor flea market that put all markets to shame. It was quite the place with tons of booths and cool stuff. We hardly had time to look before it closed down. We are going to go back on Saturday.

So the walking tour was next. Sydney is putting on a night time walking tour called VIVID that shows off some of the great places in Sydney by lighting them in really cool ways and then having modern light art between locations. We started by getting lost and going the long way to the observatory but ended up finding some awesome views once we made it to the start of the tour. All in all we ended up at 25 different "exhibits" of smart lighting that were all very fun. The culmination was the Sydney Opera house lit up...well....like a huge work of modern art or a lizard. It was amazing to look at.





We finally decided that the day should be done and we should get home because of our extreme tiredness. We still had a few miles to walk to get home to the hostel but we toughed it out and despite sore feet, knees, calves, and bodies we made it and crashed. Hence the reason I am posting this blog a day late.

What a day and we got tons of more pictures that will slowly load over the next few days. Check out my Flickr page for more pics.

Blessings and Blue Mountains tomorrow,

dain