I'm probably not going to answer ALL your questions about our trip to Florida, but my time is limited and I will try to answer what I can. :)
The trip as a whole wasn't a really great photo opportunity for us, but here we are flying *First Class* back home. Oh, and the windows aren't any bigger in First Class. Just Sayin'.
We arrived in Orlando barely before Midnight Tuesday. On Wednesday morning we were waiting at the door at 7:30 a.m. to be picked up and taken to Converge. I was nervous and not knowing what to expect...plus about to be introduced to a room-full of new people. Both Wednesday and Thursday were long, full days with us spending nearly the entire time on the church campus that hosts Converge. By the time we were shuttled back to our hotel, it was late and time for bed both nights. Friday we were dropped off at the airport not long after lunch, and we began our journey home (which was like a whole separate trip in itself...story to come).
What our time at Converge was (as we expected):
It was a time to learn about ourselves and what God has gifted us to do. We heard the results of 3 different personality profiles we had taken--the DISC, the Pearson Golden, for Mitch the Strengths Finder 2.0 and for me the Strengths Finder 1.0. Jerry and Steve Dahl from Strategic Team Makers here in Minnesota were our "guides" (for lack of a better word) through this, and they were phenomenal. I'm skipping ahead a little bit here, but after we had heard all the results, we were grouped together to work on a "missions project". This project was actually just a strategy development rather than something hands-on, but it was fun to hear about our personalities then jump in together and try to form a team and accomplish a goal. We met with Jerry alone as a couple and received positive encouragement about our individual mental health and our health as a couple. It was really fun because he was doubting our test results based on his observations of seeing us work in the group--while Mitch tested on paper to be more of an extrovert-leader and I more of an introvert, our roles in the group seemed flipped. Alone in the meeting with Jerry, however, our roles seemed to be right where we had tested. He said that given our personality types our marriage can be more difficult, but also much more interesting and fulfilling. From our exit interview we were also encouraged that based on the wonderful referrals sent in, they felt our ministry here in our community is thriving. We are effectively sharing the Gospel and using our talents well.
What our time at Converge wasn't:
It wasn't exactly what we expected. This is harder to put into words. I think we went into the MAC expecting to leave having a better view of what our ministry options are based on information we would receive there. It was more of an elimination of options than opening of options (at first appearance). I think that the assessors actually interpreted this as a lack of focus or calling. Because our ministry here is thriving, they questioned why we would want to go overseas. Mitch's question back was, "What would you say if we did not have an effective ministry here?" And I think that is a valid question. But to say we have a lack of vision, or even zeal, was kind of startling. This is something we have discussed at lengths on the way home, wondering how we could have done/said things differently. I also kind of thought we might get more insight into things that we need to do better in our lives/ministry NOW, where we are. I think that information is there, but it will take a little more work to dig it out rather than just having it given back to us in assessment format. We also learned a little better how Converge is focused, and that is a different picture than we expected. It gives us a better frame of reference now. Converge is actually a small organization and doesn't send out that many missionaries (Converge is also committed to taking excellent care of its missionaries, and from everyone we have talked to this is true). They are focused on spreading the Gospel through church plants. This is also a GREAT focus. But when you translate this to what Mitch and I are called to do, it doesn't make us a really good fit. We eventually want to serve overseas in support roles--Mitch as a teacher, and I anywhere else I am able to serve (outside of taking care of our own children, and I have LOTS of ideas). This is not a focus of Converge. It led to many deficiencies in our own resumes (if you will) that shaped the advice we received from our assessors. As we walked away, it felt that their main concern was whether we were a good fit for them (which we weren't) and that was the end of it. Don't get me wrong, Converge sends support missionaries and I can give you examples of who they have sent, even teachers. But where they are now as an organization and where they are headed does not line up with where we are now...and who knows where we are headed, but it was clear where we are not headed.
What happens next:
Our initial feeling was that this is rejection, and we also felt frustration because we felt misrepresented in a way (because we didn't realize the terms of what we were actually being assessed for). That quickly gives way when we examine our belief that God brought us down to Florida for a reason, and we need to continue to work on fleshing out what that reason was. So we take the information we were given (especially the info from Jerry Dahl) and piece together the picture God wants us to see. We plan to pursue other options. There are many other organizations that send missionaries, and we have learned that we need to examine those organizations just as thoroughly as they examine us, so that we can find the right fit. We suggested some ideas that we have and our assessors actually encouraged us to pursue these--even giving us the names of missionaries to contact. There is more that I'm leaving out, but it gets a little too deep. I need to make a final note that this is a long process and we went into this with a very long-term mindset of the entire process taking AT LEAST two years. So if this is the first time you have heard of this from our family, don't be worried. We're not uprooting anytime soon.
Our trip home:
This part was the craziest, it was like a whole separate trip in itself, yet God also used it as a time of growth and encouragement for us. We arrived at the airport at 1:30 p.m. but our flight didn't leave until after 5 p.m. We were in a loooooong line to go through security, and it would be our first time going through the full-body scanners. I know this is stupid, and thousands of people do it every day, but I was having a bit of anxiety about it. Just as we rounded the corner and were getting close to the end of the line, the guard in the special needs line next to us opened the barrier and said, "Why don't you guys come around through here." I got to walk through a standard metal detector. Stupid little thing, but yes, it was pretty cool for me. We spent part of our time waiting for the plane talking with another couple that had been at the MAC with us. It was a good time to debrief even though it was hard at first to be honest about the assessment we had just received, I felt very vulnerable. Our flight ended up being delayed. While we sat, we talked with people (remember I am an introvert). You know the best conversations happen when you are flying (or waiting to fly).
Because the flight was delayed so long we missed our connecting flight in Memphis by just a few minutes. We literally ran to the gate to see the plane backing away. I was bummed, and there were no more flights to Minneapolis leaving that night. (I was also coughing after that little run...so now I suspect I may have a little asthma?) We approached a Delta kiosk and handed them our boarding passes, he scanned the pass, and the machine automatically printed new boarding passes for the next day (they had already rebooked us), a hotel room, and vouchers for food. I was impressed with the seamlessness of this procedure. We had to exit the airport and wait for a hotel shuttle. We were hot and sweaty and a group of 30+ people soon gathered. We called the hotel numerous times, and finally asked how many people their shuttle could hold. I think it wasn't 30. :) Mitch approached the Enterprise bus that was sitting at the curb and asked if he could give us a ride. He said "sure!" and we started boarding just as the shuttle showed up (a 12-passenger van). Way to go, Mitch!!
The hotel was nice, I think nicer than all of us were expecting. (Memphis Airport Hotel). There was a very long line naturally, and we were behind a couple with two young kids. Someone from the front of the line approached the couple and said, "We all voted and think you guys should go to the front of the line." SO cool to see people caring for each other! We dropped our stuff in our room and made our way down to dinner. At this point I think it was about 8:30 p.m. The restaurant was starting to fill and there was only one woman to wait tables and to host. She was BUSY. We crowded around a small table with a retired couple (actually they have retired 4 times and are currently working!) close to the one t.v. in the room playing a basketball game, and enjoyed an evening of pleasant conversation. A young man sitting in the room jumped up and began serving drinks, bussing tables, and even bringing out orders when they were ready. We learned that he and his wife were on their honeymoon. :) (And yes, we made sure to leave a tip just for them).
The next morning we got up early and arrived at the airport just after 6:30 a.m. Just as our place in line approached the full body scanner, I was again pulled out of line and sent through a normal metal detector. Just try to tell me that God doesn't care about little things. Go ahead and try. We teamed up with a young airman who was returning to duty in Spokane, Washington. We chatted with him all morning while we waited for our 8:30 a.m. flight. Which was delayed. When it finally came time to board, they announced over the p.a. that they were overbooked by 4 seats and were looking for anyone willing to give up their seats and wait for a 2:00 p.m. flight in exchange for $400 delta dollars (to be used toward a future flight). We jumped at the opportunity--so we not only received $800 (total), we also received $50 gift card to spend and we were bumped to First Class for the ride home. Whoohoo!
As it turns out, the next 5 hours we spent in the airport were sorely needed. We had so much good time to talk together. Flying first class was a lot of fun. We were in row 1, so we joked that we made it back to Minneapolis before everyone else. Did you know the engine sounds totally different from the front than it does from the back? The flight attendant who was working first class was so sweet. She was reading Shepherding a Child's Heart (for the second time she said), so I wrote down the name of the book Don't Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Plowman and suggested it for good application. She gave me some candy to stuff in my bags and bring home to the kids--awesome. :) We arrived home 20 hours later than we originally had planned, but it was sweet time together. The biggest drawback to our delay was that Grandma Karen and Grandpa Marc had to leave literally within minutes of us getting in the door. :(
It has been busy trying to transition back to home. The kids missed us and are glad to have us home--yay! Besides candy and some blankets from Delta, we didn't have anything to give the kids for souvenirs. Oh well! It's good to be back. I'm glad there's only 2 weeks left to the school year, because I'm ready to be done and get on to summer. I've sat here trying to type all this out for long enough so I should get moving. There's lots of good stories and details I'm leaving out. It was a really great time and I'm glad that we went. The people we met were amazing. I'm going to have a lot to think about for a long time. :)