I'm so glad to be back home I nearly kissed the ground when I walked down the steps from my little SB puddle-jumper last night after being gone for six days at Urbana 09 in St. Louis.
What an adventure... if you followed my daily entries on my Facebook page, you've heard the details (and my whining) already.
The hardest part was simply getting there. My flight path was Santa Barbara to SF, SF to Chicago, Chicago to St. Louis. The flight from SF ended up being delayed for 4 hours (I comforted myself with sushi, Peets lattes and Ghirardelli chocolate... but stuck with decaf per my new nutritional demands...)
Then, due to weather, my flight to St. Louis got canceled. OF COURSE. By then it was 10pm. No hotel voucher either. Providentially, a couple who had offered to help out in the booth, with whom I'd been emailing frequently this fall, happen to live in Chicago. So they came and got me. I slept all of 4 hours (didn't go to bed till 12:30am), because it was still snowing so hard that I assumed my standby connection from Chicago to St Louis wouldn't make it anytime soon, and technically I was supposed to be there by 9am on the 27th to set up the booth for Eden Reforestation Projects.
I haven't mentioned either that when I plugged in my laptop at midnight when I arrived at the home in Chicago that I discovered that water had gotten into the screen of my laptop. Great sleep that night, let me tell you (hear sarcasm in my voice). Anyway, we left at 5:15am on the 27th and drove to St Louis in snow and sleet in an old Astro van. I will admit that I feared for my life at points - driving on non-plowed highways, windshield wipers frozen up, early morning exhaustion, etc. But we made it by 10:30am Sunday the 27th thanks to Evan's great driving and God's hand on us.
At this point I had no sense of where my luggage was, and couldn't worry about it because I needed to get my tail over to the Global Conexions Hall to get our booth set up. I ended up not having my bag for two full days (Tuesday night, so three, really). I had just enough stuff in my rolly bag to help me last (and we had standard Eden Reforestation t-shirts we were wearing in the booth). But my jeans could walk by themselves by Tuesday. I made several irate phone calls to United and talked with some nice men from India on the baggage claim customer service line (every single one apologized profusely and each also promised me $150 travel vouchers for my troubles -- which I have yet to receive) who promised also that United would deliver my bag to my hotel. I gave up on that despite 3 heartfelt promises from my friends at United India --- a friend from Santa Barbara (thank you Ryan!!) saved me by driving the Astro Van to the blasted airport and retrieved the bag from United himself, signing off some dumb form acknowledging responsibility for the bag.
I LOVE Urbana. I attended in 1996, 2000, 2003, and 2006, and each one has moved me in a different way. This year proved to be no exception. But it was also quite different in that for the time since I was an exhibitor. What does that mean? Every afternoon, from 12:30-6:30pm, I was in the booth. I had absolutely no idea what to expect in terms of response. After all, there are over 250 exhibitors and 16,000 attendees We were told in the orientation for exhibitors that we need to follow up on our contacts from this conference by February, even if that means being in touch with 200 persons. OK, we can do that, I thought to myself....
If you got to look at my facebook posts, you'll know that I grossly underestimated the response. We ended up talking to at least 800 people! I basically lost my voice on the 3rd day and survived on throat lozenges. It was wonderful to have students come back and bring their friends. On the last full day, a pastor giving a seminar to over 400 pastors mentioned us twice as the first thing he's going to get his church involved with when he gets home (to So Cal). We got some traffic from that shout out too.
So the booth was exhausting but entirely worthwhile. Thank you to many friends and supporters of Eden who sent funds to assist us in paying for this adventure. I cannot wait to see what happens from here!
I would be remiss if I didn't mention some of my favorite quotes from Urbana. I cannot recommend enough that you set aside a half an hour each day for a week or so and tune in to some of the Urbana speakers now posted online. Go to the webcast link on Urbana 09. My favorites were Oscar Muriu, Brenda Salter-McNeil, Patrick Fung, Sunder Krishnan, Alec Hill and Shane Claiborne. But each one was fantastic in its right.
- "You have no idea what you unleash when you say YES to God." Jim Tebbe
- "God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply." Patrick Fung, quoting Hudson Taylor
- "If you can't give away your possessions, then they possess you." Shane Claiborne
- "We are saved to redeem all of creation, according to Genesis." Denise-Margaret Thompson
- "So much of our praying is telling something to God he already knows... what if prayer becomes spiritual defiance of what is, in order to bring about what God has promised?" Sunder Krishnan
Perhaps the most powerful word for me as a representative for Eden Reforestation was being reminded of this profound verse near the end of the Bible:
On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:2)