I’m leaving the “City of Champions” feeling like a champ. And it has nothing to do with how well (or not well) the retreat went, rather because of the number of blessed encounters I had on my trip.
Despite arriving to the airport relatively early, I was one of the last ones on to the plane. I was not-so-gently reminded by the Westjet employee at the gate that I was supposed to be there much earlier, especially because I had an exit row seat. As I boarded the plane, I hustled to my row 10 window seat and I recognized the good-looking guy seated in the aisle seat.
“Mr. Wayne Thompson!” I exclaimed.
“Skippy!” he replied.
And thus we commenced a non-stop, hour-long conversation that I’m sure everyone sitting around us appreciated. We had last worked together at PwC in 2002, and we have seen each other maybe once since then. Needless to say, we had a lot to catch up on, but it felt like we hadn’t missed a beat. I even got an explanation for Wayne’s nickname for me.
“It’s because of how you run” Wayne said, mimicking me with his arms.
“Uh, thanks I think. I thought it had something to do with peanut butter or something.”
I’m not used to having long conversations when flying, as I’m usually asleep even before the plane takes off. I have it down to a routine: listen to safety instructions, pray, fall asleep. Except when I’m seated in an emergency exit row. Then, it’s listen to safety instructions, pray, stay awake while plane takes off, fall asleep.
During Wayne’s restroom break, I looked across the aisle and spotted an attractive young lady reading a bible (making her even more attractive). Trying not to have it come across as a cheesy pick-up line (and a religious one at that), I asked her “Is that a Bible you’re reading?”
“Yes it is,” she replied. I was relieved she actually answered me and didn’t pretend her headphones were too loud.
“I presume you’re a Christian?” I asked.
“Yes, I am. I’m guessing you are too…I noticed your APeX Ministries shirt and your cross.”
Angie and I had a quick and pleasant chat, swapping as many faith and family stories as we could before Wayne returned. After the plane had landed and I had said good-bye to Wayne, Angie and I continued our conversation and promised to find each other on Facebook.
I then spent a wonderful afternoon catching up with Andrew and his wife Colleen at their beautiful home. I knew they would be wonderful hosts when Andrew opened up his fridge and showed me a dozen Pepsis on the lower shelf. We reminisced about my family’s road trip to Edmonton and visit to them back in the summer of 2006. We also talked about ministry, sports, and put the final touches on the next day’s retreat. All while demolishing a package of pepperoni sausage, crackers and cheese. He then took me to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, where I ran a training session for Sharon, their youth ministry coordinator (and formerly a youth ministry coordinator in Abbotsford).
The session went well, and it was great to catch up with Sharon. In particular, I was moved by Gerry, one of their volunteer youth leaders. Gerry was wearing a button with a picture of a young man’s face on it. When I asked about it, Gerry told me that the boy is his son…tragically killed 3 years-ago by a teenager. As Gerry teared up while telling me about his late son, I found myself getting emotional as well. To make matters worse, it would have been his son’s birthday in the next couple of months, and the young man charged with the murder will be released from prison later this summer, after only 3 years in prison.
I barely had the right words to say, so I didn’t really say much. Instead, I put my arms around Gerry and give him a hug and thanked him for sharing with me so honestly. He didn’t have to say it, but I knew that his son (and what happened to him) is his motivation for being involved in youth ministry. My conversation with Gerry really helped me put things into perspective, and was a perfect final motivation for Saturday.
Saturday’s retreat day for youth ministry leaders was abundantly blessed. The theme for the day was “Joyfully Reflecting on the Image in which we were Created,” based on their Evangelization program called Nothing More Beautiful. We started off with Mass with Archbishop Smith and then launched into the retreat day, exploring the theme through 3 primary sessions, on image and imitation, prayer, and trust in God. After each session, participants had the chance to pray and reflect for 45 minutes or so. It made for a nicely-paced day and provided wonderful opportunities for prayer.
Earlier in the day, I gave someone a $10 bill, and I instructed the participants to pass it on to someone else who was being nice to them or lending a helping hand. I joked that they weren’t allowed to leave with it (after all, that would be stealing), and that I would need it back by the end of the day! I checked in on the $10 bill a couple of times throughout the day, the hope being that the bill would pass through many hands.
As Dale, one of the youth leaders was leaving, he thanked me and then handed me a $10 bill. I asked him if this was the same bill from the game. His non-response suggested to me that it wasn’t. I urged him to tell me the truth.
“No,” Dale responded, “it isn’t.”
I handed the $10 bill back to him and asked him “Well, who has it then?”
Dale reluctantly confessed “Andrew. He was hoping you’d forget about it and then he was going to take you out for ice cream later and pay for it using the $10 bill.”
I thanked Dale for the inside information and vowed I would scheme a way to get it back from Andrew later. More importantly, I was extremely touched that he was going to give $10 of his hard-earned money to me, just so I wouldn’t be short for the day. It was such a simple gesture, but it made a huge impact on me. It was indeed a joyful reflection on the image in which we were created.
The day was full of blessed encounters like this as I heard stories upon stories of successes and challenges in youth ministry. And behind every story, every struggle, every miracle, was a humble, faithful youth worker just trying to do his or her best for the Lord. It was humbling, affirming, and inspiring.
After a quick clean-up, Andrew and I headed back to his place. I told him that I foiled his ice-cream plan (with Dale’s help) and he mentioned that he was indeed going to buy me ice-cream with my $10, and then give me back the change! Funny guy, that Andrew.
We ended up having a quiet night, watching “The International” with Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. Good movie for the first three-quarters, but the ending was brutal. ‘Nuff said.
On Sunday morning, I was able to speak to Gail and the kids for the first time during my trip. It took them about 5 minutes to greet me a Happy Father’s Day (my lovely wife Gail claims they were talking about it all morning before they talked to me and just forgot on the phone), but it was sure nice to hear their voices. Jake told me that they had surprises waiting for me at home. I decided against explaining to him what the true definition of surprise is.
Then, Andrew’s daughters took us out for Father’s Day Brunch. It was a nice meal, and admittedly my first Father’s Day Breakfast where someone else’s kid paid for me! Maybe that’s why it tasted so good!
We had a bit of time to pass before my flight, so Andrew and I hit a driving range for an hour or so. Once I got there, I was hitting everything in sight, including the golf balls, the side-fence, the netting, and unfortunately, some golf carts parked about 100 metres to the right (my ball actually had to clear the 100 foot high fence that was supposed to protect the people taking golf lessons). I’m not sure if it’s common to hear someone yell “FORE” from the driving range!
It was a great way to end off a great weekend: a weekend full of blessed and joyful encounters. As I finish this blog about 5 minutes before take-off, I am looking forward to more blessed and joyful encounters in about 90 minutes from now, when I will see Gail, Sean, Jake and Kayla and also get my surprises from the kids!
Editor’s note: Upon landing at YVR, it turns out that the boys were having too much at the parish Family Fun Day to come pick up their dad…on Father’s Day no less! At least Kayla came with Gail to pick me up…but likely because she didn’t have a choice!