Pastor Dean woke up early on Thursday morning (before 5am) and started preparing breakfast. I haven't been able to sleep through the whole night since starting on this journey... I usually wake up once or twice for whatever reason (maybe just in anticipation of the day ahead) and check the time on my cell phone. Twice I've woken up 30 minutes before my alarm and in those cases I just get up and start my day earlier so I have more time to visit before leaving. Anyways, Dean cooked lots of eggs (over easy), toast, and ham that morning and sent us packing with apple sauce for a snack. It was a breezy, overcast morning and based on Dean's forecast I was anticipating the worst. And we got it.
We left Cope just after 6am and the wind made our trip more difficult from the get go. It was cold and my knees hurt. We made it the 11 miles to Joes pretty fast and I put on my wool leggings and underarmor (funny that the first time I didn't start off with them on I ended up needing them the whole day!) by the Joes volunteer fire station. It got colder just before we left. About a mile outside of the town the first raindrops hit. We stopped, Tom put on a jacket, and I brought out the trash bag to cover my sleeping bag. We rode a couple hundred feet and I stopped to put on my rain jacket too. After putting on the jacket, I was so warm that the raindrops felt like nothing on my face and my legs. The presence of the warmth actually staying inside my chest was just about all that mattered then.
About 8 miles outside of Joes we stopped for a break and I saw that the wind was blowing a sprinkler completely sideways. Tom and I teamed up against the wind by switching who was in the lead every mile or so. That way, one of us was somewhat more protected from the wind. I decided that morning that fighting wind felt different than fighting a hill. With wind you can come to a near stop when a big gust hits you. With a hill (assuming there is no wind) you struggle upwards, but you know what to expect.
About 12 miles outside of Joes the rain picked up. It was like God had turned on a sprinkler system over Tom and me. We rode through that for eight miles. I learned to love and hate "wind-carrying monsters." It all depended on which direction they were heading. If they were traveling the same direction as us, the monsters (semis or pickup trucks) left in their wake a vaccuum of air that would fill my jacket like a sail and carry me ten feet further with no effort on my part. If they were coming from the opposite direction, the monsters left in their wake a hurricane of mist and wind that made me thankful to be wearing my sunglasses... I just had to keep my mouth closed too. Every time one of those monsters came, I gripped my handlebars and bent my chest low to brace myself for the visibly impending wall of water.
We just chugged on. I don't know how, but we made it through the rain. The wind didn't stop. We stopped in Idalia, the last place with a diner before St. Francis. We ate the special, a bacon cheeseburger and fries, with chocolate milk. The folks there were very friendly and we got to share about our trip. Then we were off again. The ride was long coming into Kansas. It was a 79-mile day. Once again, I don't know how we did it. I remember seeing a lot of farmland and taking more frequent breaks.
The wind did finally let up by the time we reached St. Francis. We arrived in town and I hurriedly made phone calls to try to prepare for the coming days (calling Wynn in Colby, KS and trying to make a contact in Hill City) because it was already 4:50pm in Kansas (I was unaware of the time change before seeing the signs as we crossed into Kansas) and people would be heading home from work already. I didn't get ahold of anyone, but left messages trusting everything would be all right.
My next call was to Jeff, our host in St. Francis. Jeff contacted me when we were on our way to Byers. The strange thing about when Jeff first contacted me and left a message is that I could not recollect ever trying to call him. He said he was the pastor at the First Christian Church and I had never called there. I wasn't about to question however he had come to know about my trip, though. It turns out that the Methodist church in town relayed our information to him because he is the treasurer of a program to take care of visitors (usually vagrants, I suppose) to St. Francis. I told him my story via telephone on Tuesday after arriving in Byers and he said he'd see what he could do (and sometime before arriving in St. Francis he told us we'd be staying with his family).
So, he told us to meet him at his church and he'd escort us to his house. We missed a turn going there (I think the stop sign had no street name on it) and had to stop a police officer to get directions. Coincidently (or not), the policeman was an attendee of Jeff's church! He took us straight there. Jeff welcomed us warmly and we left for his house a few blocks away.
Outside of Jeff's house, his wife Becca and children (and neighbor's children) were waiting. Becca was wearing a Michigan (University of Michigan) t-shirt and I knew already we'd have something in common. We met the kids (and found out they had colds!) and brought our things inside. I got a tour of the house from Jeff and his son (a 4-year old boy) and I learned that they are trying to complete paperwork and prepare for becoming foster parents. We talked and caught up and I told him about the cities Tom and I had been in so far.
For dinner we had burgers and baked potatos (Becca was thinking "complex carbs and protein," she was nursing student in college) and baked beans (I couldn't have those 'cause I'm allergic :( ). She and Jeff have been married nearly six years (I believe) and got engaged about five weeks after meeting each other! They were our youngest hosts yet. They were fantastic. Becca didn't find out until 2pm that day that we were staying at thier house and understandably had some concern about two males staying in her house with her children, but Jeff reassured her that he had checked us out. I felt at home there and we were well-provided for.
Jeff was hoping to be in an assistant pastorial position in Dallas, where he's from, but ended up in St. Francis after widening his job search (and looking for full-time pastorial positions) and listening to God's plans for him (and that meant that he had to leave his and Becca's family in Dallas). It is a great story of how listening to God can be rewarding, but challenging. In St. Francis, they noted that the farmers in the area are social Christians. They are Christians because things have always been that way with their families. There is a lack of a personal relationship with Christ (and that is what I experienced before January of this year before God gave me this mission). So, Jeff and Becca regularly pray for a revival in St. Francis. I can sympathize with that.
The other thing that stands out in my memory from conversation is that people there are just so busy with all their activities that they have no time to spend quality time with one another in community (outside of family); just being with one another. Jeff believes that people are too busy to be very intentional to spend time with people outside of structured, regular (e.g. weekly) activities, and Becca said that people will continue to fill up their schedules with those activities because you are judged in St. Francis according to those activities you participate in. I think it's worthwhile to slow down and be intentional about spending time with others :).
We had a time of prayer before bed. I was thoroughly exhausted, but remained conscious in light of the importance of this time with them. I will continue to pray for their family (in general and for their foster care process) and their town. I appreciate the love they showed us and their concern for our well-being. Though we were strangers, we knew one another via our relationship with Christ.
Jeff and Becca took great care of me and Tom. They woke up early to cook breakfast (eggs, biscuits, bananas) and Becca gave me medicine for my sore throat (which I think just came because of all my exertion and lack of sleep). They have a beautiful family and beautiful hearts.
We rode to St. Francis on Thursday, May 21, 2009.