Monday, June 1, 2009

Topeka, Kansas

I went to bed the night before somewhat believing that we'd be okay the next couple days. That night I had my third big pang of fear so far this trip. The first occurred the night before I left, when the difficulty of this journey was made more clear (because I would start the first day sleep deprived and saying goodbye to my family was too fast). The second occurred before leaving for Cope as the desolation between Byers and St. Francis was described in horrific detail (well, it wasn't as bad as I pictured it based on conversations). The third time was due to the uncertainty about the big city (Kansas City), which was accentuated by the falling through of arrangements for a place to stay there. Nonetheless, I tried reassuring myself that I was in God's hands and all would be okay. Before I fell asleep I thought about God's provision for all His creatures (e.g. the birds) and thus how much more He would provide for me and Tom.

Before we rode, it felt appropriate to pray. I was aware of Tom's fear at that point too. I prayed aloud and we left. Tom and I spent a lot more time on breaks than usual on the way to Topeka. I guess for that reason, it was a blessing the roads were flat and we had a tailwind all day. We averaged over 15 mph and only had maybe four hours in the saddle. We took the route out of Manhattan that Zach advised and got on highway 24.

There were a few bad hills early and traffic was heavy (which was foreign at that point because we'd been so isolated for so long). We stopped at a closed gas station and made calls. We snacked. We left. Our next stop was Wamego. I turned on my phone after we went inside the McDonalds. This was when I started to ask Tom about his spiritual mission for the trip. My fears that I was in this alone, that I was seeking God and Tom was not, were made foolish. I need to stop assuming things and getting worked up about those things I really don't know. Tom is quiet and not easy to read. If I want to know something, I need to not beat around the bush and just ask.

I was just starting to get some meat out of the conversation when I received a phone call! It was Ja'Zan in Shawnee, Kansas returning a call from that morning. Praise God! She was so excited to welcome us into her life and her home. Simply amazing. She gave us directions to her home and told us to make ourselves at home when we arrived (she was expecting us to beat her there since there was a big city-wide service project going on that Saturday that her family participated in). Unfortunately, I got to business right after talking with Ja'Zan instead of continuing the conversation with Tom. I called the only church we had reached prior to that day in Topeka, the Faith Family Life Center. Dean (from Cope) recommended we call that church because of a connection he had to the pastor there. I spoke with the pastor (Phil) while in Junction City the day before and I received no indication at that time whether they would be able to help. When I called again in Wamego, the secretary, Vicki, answered warmly and said that they had found someone to take care of us for the evening. In a matter of minutes, any residual fear from the night before was blown away. How great is our God!

We took two hours for lunch in Wamego instead of the usual one trying to make phone calls to the upcoming cities' churches. There was nothing new. We left and made good time. Our next big stop was in St. Mary's, where we were going to relax in a park and make... you guessed it, more phone calls (you see, we really were trying to give as much advanced notice as possible. It just hasn't worked out according to our plans). As I was taking some pictures of historical artifacts in the park, a man approached Tom and asked him what we were doing. Tom's response was that we are riding to the east coast on a spiritual journey! I was so impressed that Tom was straightforward in telling this man about the spiritual side of our mission when just a couple days before I hadn't believed in Tom's commitment to the spiritual mission at all.

So, we met Karl. I got to learn about Karl's sons and his interest in biking. I learned about his job and his men's ministry at church. It was awesome to share our story with him and to hear about his walk with the Lord. Our common interest in living in a relationship with Christ should bring Christians (even strangers) closer together like this all the time. I felt encouraged by Karl. Karl prayed for us and even helped Tom on the route planning (as I made more phone calls, der). Before we parted ways, I asked Karl if there was anything we could pray for him for. And he did share some things he's going through that we could pray for. On the next leg of the ride, I remember being full of joy and wonder at God's amazing ways of bringing people together. In my rejoicing, it was easy to pray for Karl and for others I have met on this journey.

Time flies when you're having fun. We reached Topeka. It was a scorcher (up to 92 degrees?). No worries, I drank a lot of water. Topeka was scary riding. The highway was fast and furious with cars. I'm glad we didn't get hit. We went north on Topeka Blvd and found the church. After going inside we sat and waited with Vicki and a young man named Jamon (and his three nieces) as arrangements for the evening fell into place. The first family Tom and I were supposed to stay with ended up having to cancel. So, Jamon's mom was going to take us in (but she lived all the way back in Wamego). Jamon's mom was going to feed us dinner, however. Vicki made a phone call to some people, ultimately choosing to call Bill and Michelle. She knew that Bill had experience bicycling and thought it would be a good fit. Bill agreed to have us (and it didn't seem to take much convincing).

Bill drove to the church and waited for us to finish our dinner (chicken and salad, yum!) before taking us and our bikes to his home. What an interesting home! The first thing I noticed was his son, Solomon, playing with his BB gun in the backyard (it looked like a young boy's dream - a place for adventure and imagination) and a really cute black puppy. We brought the bikes in the yard and took our bags in the house. Bill's wife Michelle did not seem phased at all by our presence even though she couldn't have known for long that we'd be staying there. This house looked like... uh, I don't even know how to describe it. Maybe eclectic. It was free from rules. There was creativity bouncing off the walls. The atmosphere was relaxed and cool.

Tom and I took showers and Bill drove us and two of his daughters (Isabelle and Arynne) to the worship service at church. It was a good experience. I was drowsy (so the message did not stick with me extremely well), there's no denying that. That makes the passage about the spirit being willing, but the body being weak (Matthew 26:41) so much more real to me. Bill played a soprano sax on the stage and that was sweet. Afterwards, several of those in attendance prayed for me and Tom. God has used those such prayers as such great encouragement for me on this journey.

We stayed up a while that night just hanging out. The family definitely had a special relationship. They were not your typical family... they were just so open and playful with one another. It was a lot of fun. Bill and Michelle have definitely instilled many great values in the lives of these youngsters. Bill gave me and Tom a lot of advice on our upcoming travels. He shared some of his stories (he's ridden great distances across this country about six times) and encouraged us to buy new tires in the morning (which we did, thanks to him driving us to the shop and waiting for us to get ready) and lose some weight (from our packs, that is). Bill also volunteered to ship the unnecessary gear (he had us take a gander at our loads and think about whether we really needed some of it) back to my parent's house. The time we spent there was invaluable. We tuned our bikes up and got some great advice and new parts (the tires and a little valve converting piece for pumping our tires). I don't know how things have worked out so well for me and Tom. In regards to the people we've met, the safety we've had, and lack of major issues.

One thing that Michelle suggested is that I look into is the Messianic Jew explanations of the New Testament and Jesus. She said it can shed new light on a lot of different passages that meant something very different in context than what we have interpreted them as. It should be interesting. I will definitely keep it in mind.

Before we left the house in the morning, the youngest daughter, Isabelle, annointed us and Michelle prayed for us. Bill drove us to Lawrence (halfway from Topeka to Kansas City) to save us some time since we went shopping for the spare tires and were far behind schedule.

We rode to Topeka, Kansas on Friday, May 29, 2009.

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