As Shannon has already said, I was a backpacker at the time we met. More specifically, I was part of a group that was doing something akin to anthropological cartography. That’s a fancy way of saying we were looking for people. Specific people. Have you ever seen those ads in the paper where the government has “lost” or “unclaimed” money and if your name is on the list, then call this number? Or perhaps a better example would be the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes. Have you ever wished they’d come knocking at your door with some great, big news that would change your life forever? Well, that’s kind of what I was involved in. We had some great news to share with a group of folks, but first we had to find them. I was one of the finders.
We would take public buses to the end of the bus routes (small country towns that would be similar to county seats), and then from there we would hike all over each area, going to every village we could find, and determining if the people we were looking for lived there. We compiled this information in a way that would be easy to use and follow.
This was a big job that required a lot of manpower (By our estimates, there could have been as many as 250,000 people we were looking for!), and we would often have people come and help us look for our people.
The day before I met Shannon, one of the busiest months of my life was coming to a close. I was on the road for about 20-24 days that month, leading a volunteer team of mountain bikers that discovered along the way they were being re-tasked as backpackers. That discovery, along with food, health, language, and culture adjustments made for a challenging trip for them (and, by extension, for me). We had accomplished quite a bit, but we were physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually drained.
Yet hope was rising within me! I was going to take a scouting trip with some co-workers up to a really cool, way-out-there border town that a few of us were about to move to and use as a base of operations. It would be my first city adventure in this Big Country, as well as the first time I got to see where I’d be moving to. My bus ticket was purchased, and I was packing up my things when I heard a knock at my door….
My team leader was there, and he had a favor to ask: would I be able take on a little project the next day? He had two volunteers who had a pretty rough few weeks and needed a nice, relaxing, fun day to end their trip on a positive note. Could I play tour guide for two female seminary students, taking them to see the local sites, do some fun stuff, and help them sort out all that God had been doing in them and through them on this trip?
Well, I told him, I already had a project I was involved with; could he use someone else? (I even offered a few suggestions) The short answer: no one else could cover this assignment, and he would find a replacement for me on the road trip (which, by the way makes no sense in hindsight).
If I had known that I was meeting her, I would have paid money for the assignment. A lot of money.
I felt kind of trapped, actually, and wasn’t happy about it, but agreed to do it. (Thanks be to God Who saved me from that awesome adventure my buddies had with the cool crowd in the border town. And I absolutely mean that.). I prepared for the next day, packing my backpack, setting an itinerary, making sure of bus schedules, etc., and then had a relaxing evening before heading to bed. It seemed like a disappointing assignment, but I was going to make the most of it. I had no idea, really, that the next day would be one of the most profoundly significant ones of my life…