I’m on a mission trip! (Quit laughing.) PART 2

(You can read Part 1 here.)

**So here’s the Taff family, poised and ready to jump on Bus 30 and storm poor unsuspecting Muschette High School!

As we exited our bus in the small front parking area, we were greeted by a smiling school administrator named Perry who was to be our guide for the day. After a quick bathroom stop in one of the school offices (those roads were bumpy, ya’ll) our group sort of huddled together in the courtyard waiting to enter a double classroom that had been set aside for our “presentation”, as Perry kept calling it. In many ways it felt like any high school in the U.S., with groups of kids walking down the outdoor hallways carrying their books, laughing and horsing around with each other while staring curiously at us. We were told that this was exam week, so we would not be having a whole-school assembly because some of the kids were busy taking their tests, but the double classroom quickly filled up and there were kids standing outside the open doors and windows as well. They hastily set some folding chairs up on a small platform at the front of the room, and we filed in and sat down.

Now Russ had spoken briefly with Diane (the youth director from Chicago) in the van on the way to the school, but honestly, we knew very little about her except that she was the leader of the group of young people from her church. However, Russ told me later that just as we got ready to go into the assembly he had a strong feeling that he was supposed to give Diane time to speak. He barely had a minute to ask her if that was OK before it was time to start. The original plan was for Russ to perform some songs, (you know, dazzle ‘em with his middle-aged white guy mad skillz), briefly give his testimony, then Madi was going to talk for about 5 minutes. Russ greeted the kids and told them that we were a group of Christians from all over the U.S. on the Cruise With a Cause mission trip. He then sang “Amazing Grace” acapella, and after talking for just a very few minutes, to my surprise he introduced Diane and handed her the mic– and honey, was that ever the right call! What we didn’t know about Diane at the time was that A) she is an articulate, successful attorney, B) she is a dynamic, committed Christian with a heart for young people and C) that girl knows how to get a group of teenagers to listen to her!

**I didn’t get any good shots of her that day, so here are a few pictures I lifted from her church’s webpage (note to Diane– Forgive me for not asking you first; if you hate these, tell me and I will remove them IMMEDIATELY!):

**Isn’t she beautiful?

**Here she is in action at a church youth rally in Chicago:

Are you getting the picture, here? Russ turned her loose and she ROCKED it! Those kids sat up straight and listened. She told her story, she challenged them to take their faith seriously, to be a leader and not a follower, and she told them that they were valuable and loved and God had a specific plan and purpose for their lives. Then she introduced Madi, who calmly stood up and took the microphone

FYI, you need to know that Madi has never done anything like this in her life. Russ asked her about a month before if she would think about maybe talking for a few minutes in Jamaica, and she unhesitatingly said yes. Now, this is the kid who spent most of her elementary school years standing silently or just barely mouthing the words in every school assembly sing-along we ever attended. Her music teachers would always say, “She’s just a dream to have in class, but I can NEVER get her to step out front or sing solos…” So the thought that she was going to stand up and give a talk to a bunch of her peers in a foreign country absolutely floored me! I was so moved by the whole thing that I barely snapped a couple of shots of the back of her head before deciding that I wanted to be in the moment and not just take pictures of it, so I laid the camera down and just listened. She was amazing. So poised, so heartfelt, so honest– she spoke ‘teenager to teenager’, and the kids listened hard. I, of course, cried through the whole thing.

When she finished, she handed the mic back to Russ, who turned to Diane and said, “Why don’t you lead us all in prayer?” Diane tied it all together, and invited the kids to take a stand for God in their school, their community and their world. It was all just perfect.

After the prayer, everyone on the stage waded into the crowd of kids and started hanging out and talking with them. We announced that there was going to be a huge free concert that night at an outdoor arena in Montego Bay with all of the performers on the cruise, and we also told them if they wanted to sign their names to the follow-up sheet they could, and local churches would be in touch with them after we left.

**Here I am, giving a typically way-too-detailed answer to deep spiritual questions like, “Um, excuse me but why do you have a tattoo on your toe?”

**Charlo, in the thick of it :

Finally, the kids needed to go on to their next class so we reluctantly left the meeting room. Perry gave our family a tour of the school (which was incredibly interesting and impressive– they are so innovative in coming up with ways to maximize their limited resources) while the rest of the group was given permission to just wander around the grounds and talk to kids between classes. OH! This was funny– Perry obviously had never heard of Russ, but about three different times as we entered a classroom or office, some (middle-aged female) teacher would suddenly say, “OH MY GOSH– are you Russ Taff?! I can’t believe it, I see you on TV all the time!” and then they’d ask for an autograph and act all flustered… Behold the power of the Homecoming videos, folks! Perry looked very puzzled by the whole thing.

After almost an hour, we got back on the bus and headed back down to the ship. Everyone was exhausted and exhilarated– what a day! That evening was the big beachfront Praisefest concert, and in spite of a few scattered showers around 25,000 people showed up and got ROCKED! Russ came back to the ship after he performed, but Madi stayed all by herself through the whole thing until the wee hours– loved it.

So, despite my initial hesitation (just call me The Reluctant Missionary), I have to tell you that Cruise with a Cause was a life-changing experience, in all kinds of ways. We are DEFINITELY going on the next one (slated for the summer of 2013), and I thoroughly recommend it. One of the most incredible parts of the whole thing was the amazing diversity of the performers and cruisers– not just the racial diversity (which frankly, was SUCH a breath of fresh air) but the economic, spiritual and denominational diversity as well. We were a big honkin’ ship full of radically different people united for a common cause– and even though, as with every group of Christians, we certainly had our fair share of fruits and nuts, it was so easy to just give each other space and grace to be who we are, and accept, even DELIGHT in our differences. I particularly got in touch with the African American Church Mother persona that dwells deep within me– hanky-waving ‘Sistah Tori’– and had so very much fun hanging out and worshipping with some amazing, amazing black women! (And in a related note– I think we may have possibly adopted Dianne when she wasn’t looking… LOVE HER!)

Here are a few tangible results of our week:

I’ll leave you with a link to a video they just finished editing for the CWAC website– it will give you a taste of the scope and the flavor of the whole thing. I’m going to try to embed the video directly onto this post later, but for now, just click this:

(Look for Russ about halfway through…)

Click to View 2011 Cruise With A Cause Video

12 Responses

  1. delightedabroad

    This must have been a really thrilling experience! I’m sure you’d have way more things to tell – though I assume it would blow the frame here :-)
    Thank you so much for letting as take part.

  2. delightedabroad

    Oh, should have been “letting us take part” :-/

  3. bettyrwoodward

    Thanks for sharing and glad you had such a good time. Sounds great.

  4. LindaB

    OMG!!! This post just thrilled me to my (un-tattooed) toes!!! HOW EXCITING AND ETERNALLY PROFITABLE!!! 21,000 decisions for Christ! With 3,000 missionaries??? That’s 7,000 decisions per one missionary!! You folks were BUSY!!!

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE THAT AWESOME DIANE!!!! (And you’re right—-she is drop dead gorgeous!) God just outdone himself when he made her, didn’t He? What spirit she exudes—–just looking at her picture! Amazing woman! Thank you for introducing her to us!

    And WAY TO GO, MADI!!!!! You are amazing too! (FYI, Tori, I cried hearing you tell about her speaking to those teenagers as I’m looking at the back of her head!!! You are incredible…….and surprisingly (for your young age) totally capable! Great job, Mom and Dad!)

    What did Char think of all this?

    This was a great post, Tori! YAYYYYY, TAFF FAMILY!!!

  5. LindaB

    Sorry for all the misplaced parenthesis——apparently I can’t manage punctuation, drink coffee, and talk to my daughter at the same time. I’ll work on it.

  6. tori

    LindaB– Charlotte was her usual down-to-earth self, plunged right in and started talking to kids! I added a photo that shows her doing just that!

  7. LindaB

    Awwww, our sweet little random Charlotte! Isn’t it cool how kids just have an instant rapport!

  8. MostlySunny

    What a wonderful mission concept! It’s good to get out of your/our comfort zone and just go for it! And so glad you got to do it as a family.

    I betcha Dianne went home ad Googled “Russ Taff”!!!

  9. Barbara M. Lloyd

    Oh, this is wonderful….and so very interesting. Seeing Madi in your eyes as you described her sharing brought me to tears…..and there was Char in the midst of it all, too. Y’all never cease to amaze me…..I love you dearly.

  10. jonny

    Wow, all sounds and looks so good ! Thanks for sharing even more about your trip !! By the way, you did forget to mention whether Diane-the-most-impressive was free, single and available… = )

  11. belinda

    Love this story and I’m sure you all had a great time. Go Taff’s! I’m sure it was a great time by all. I had looked at the line up of who all was going to be on the cruise so it had to be good.

    Way to go Madi :)

  12. belinda

    Charlotte looks like she was having a great time too.

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