I was standing in line waiting behind my church’s youth group members. We were going to receive the name and address for a member of the youth group in the Living Faith church, close to Springfield, Illinois, which is where our youth mission trip was headed. The name was given to us to “pen pal” before the trip. As I stood in line waiting, Tom, the youth leader who scouted out the church and got the names, told me to wait just a second because, “I’ve got one for you!” Then he gave me a little slip of paper, and I was introduced to the name Jana.
That week, I set about writing my new pen pal. I knew nothing of this person, just a name and an address. My letter was about me, my life, the mission trip, and it was an invitation to be friends. Later, I discovered how God placed my letter in her hands at an important point in her life. She happened to be looking for a friend.
We quickly moved from pen and ink to the burgeoning new medium of the “internet.” We wrote back and forth on email. In 1997 we didn’t have smart phones to keep us constantly connected, and we worked opposite shifts. So, I would write, then go to bed during the day. She would write after work in the evening. We did this for several weeks from May until July when we met.
The mission trip took myself, other adult leaders, and the youth to Sherman, Illinois, which is where the church was located. We left from Republic, Missouri on a warm July day and caravanned east. I rode with my good friend, Darin, and my excitement for the trip, and meeting Jana, was evident. I wanted to meet this person that I seemed to be drawing nearer to through each written communication.
Before the trip, it occurred to me that I would like to give Jana a gift of some kind. My sister and I went shopping and I found a decoration of driftwood with two porcelain dolphins on it. Very nice, if all goes well, I will give this to her. I thought that if things didn’t work out with Jana, it was good enough to keep for my own home!
We arrived at the church and pulled up close to the front. I got out of the truck and coming out the front door of the church was a girl that I recognized from the few pictures that I had received in the mail while writing. She was beautiful. I was way to shy to go up and fully introduce myself, even though our relationship was moving along nicely at this point. I moved toward her, and, as she liked to remind me, spoke my first, well thought out words to her, “Where is your bathroom?”
Of course, after such a meaningful opening salvo, things could only get better from there! And, it did. We focused on the mission trip, the kids, and the reason why our group came up. I enjoyed the week with Jana and even met her mother at one of the dinners they prepared for us. Wonderful memories.
The last night was given to us as “free time.” Jana and I talked for a few hours. We found ourselves standing out in the parking lot of the church, under the stars, enjoying each other and this new thing God had begun in our hearts. We shared deep thoughts and secrets and took time to pray with one another out by the Illinois bean field that surrounded the church. The date was July 11, 1997…a Friday. I gave her the porcelain dolphins.