Last weekend proved to be a big one for many of us. Of course, there was the Super Bowl which, to be perfectly honest, I only ever watch for the food and commercials. This year I had a valid excuse for missing it, as did a slew of others participating in International Service Project this summer. We all continued our training and investment in a strong group dynamic at Intensive Training Weekend.

I’ll be honest and say that I had absolutely no idea what to expect from ITW. We had been given various hints about what to bring and what to expect, but these preparations failed to fully alleviate many apprehensions. The weekend seemed like it would be an edifying and informative experience, and in many ways, it was. We all gathered as a group an hour before to prepare for a full weekend of little to no sleep, limited food and intensive simulations of circumstances one might encounter in a closed country. By the end of the weekend, we all walked away with more than what we entered with.

The main influence that ITW had on me was the reminder of the goodness of our God and our freedom that we have because of Him. This was seen so clearly through the simulations and long stretches of time that we got to spend further getting to know our leaders and team members.

We were given uninterrupted time to just be and adapt to various circumstances, and through this it became abundantly clear that the Creator is constant throughout different cultures and circumstances. Several of the simulations included placing ourselves in the situations of the less fortunate, recognizing that schedules may change quickly, and we will have to do whatever is required to keep each other safe and share the love of Christ through each and every action.

We were also given a huge amount of time that could be used to simply worship, pray and meditate on whatever crossed our minds, and this was beyond refreshing. I became so thankful for the opportunity to forget about my homework and meetings for the whole weekend and just spend time catching up with the One who made me. I had the chance to express my joy freely through music worship and focus on the blessing that it is to be here and study as I spent time prayerwalking with my team members. These became such beautiful expressions of worship that were unhindered by any outside factor, and that was such a wonderful opportunity. Doing these things after going through simulations of circumstances found in a closed country made us more aware of the privilege that it is to practice our faith so freely. Many do not have this honor and knowing this made it all the more exceptional to do so over the entire weekend.

I won’t lie and say that the weekend did not exhaust me – it most certainly did. But this only came from the fullness of time spent. Throughout ITW, I found myself exactly where I wanted to be, doing things with those I have come to care deeply for, and I would not have it any other way. The biggest blessings came through the unexpected turns, the exhaustion, and the stepping out of what we know to practice bringing love and hope where it is not yet found. This, if nothing else, makes me excited to take in each breath and step in line with wherever God wants to take me. I’ll say once again: we are so richly blessed so that we can richly bless others. Let’s honor our Maker in that. Friends, I will find you here next time.