God’s Traveling Team Pt. 4

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God’s “Little Rascals”

For those who are keeping track of my articles, it is easy to see that Teen Missions International is a mission group that had a very big impact on my life.  This is the seventh time I have written an article that is about or refers to TMI, and this is the fourth in my little series that describes what life was like being part of a traveling mission team for God.  This article is specifically a follow-up to the last one where I talked about my year with the TMI Staff Travel Team.

In that last article, I wrote primarily about all the places we traveled to and some of our experiences along the way.  But I think it is worth going back to that year and telling some stories about the people who were the members of that team.  Just like I have fond memories of the people who were part of the Fall Travel Team and how we had special nicknames for each other (read here), so I have also decided to compare the Staff Travel Team to some funny characters.

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Now our Staff Travel Team was a little different from the Fall Travel Team in that while we did have a few nicknames given to some members, we did not have a clear parallel like being the Seven Dwarves.  We did call Henry “Amigo” since he was from Mexico.  Julie was called “Jules”, and Bill Rambo was called “Rambo” (which fit seeing as he is big and tough like Sylvester Stallone…haha).

As for me, I was called “Stormy”.  Now when I tell people this, one of their first thoughts is that I got this from my last name “Weatherhead”.  But that is not the case.  (Actually, my dad was also called “Stormy” and it was because of his last name.)  And when he heard that I was being called “Stormy”, he was a little upset that I had “stolen” his nickname.  But I assured him that was not the case.

No, my nickname of “Stormy” comes from a shortened form of my full nickname “Stormin’ Norman”.  And you know it is actually quite funny that I should be given this full nickname, because for those people who know me, I have a personality that is anything but loud, turbulent, or fierce weather.  (Now I’m not saying I don’t get angry at times, but generally I am an easy-going kind of quiet guy who does not want to ruffle feathers.)

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But I can still hear “Rambo” calling out my name when I would come into the room.  “STORMIN’ NORMAN”, he would say.  And then when he felt like he needed to do some exercise, he would yell over and say to me, “STORMY, come here.”  And I knew what would come next.  I would stand up real stiff and Bill would grab me with his two massive hands and he would literally lift me up and do arm presses with me up to the ceiling.  (Say, maybe I should have called him “the Hulk” or “the Thing” from Fantastic Four.)

But we all had so much fun together in that 12 month period of living so close together.  In fact, some of us really bonded well with at least one other member of the team.  So “boisterous” Bill always had “perky” Paul chumming around with him.  I tell you, those two were always up to something. 🙂 And Julie and Joni were inseparable at times.  Henry (the Mexican) and I (the Canadian) bonded as the “foreigners” of the group.  And then we had a romance go on during the year between Henry and Sandy, the leader of the girls, and who started as the leader of our group until we were assigned an older couple to lead our group.

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So given all this information, I sat down a few weeks ago and I decided that our Staff Travel Team needed a special kind of nickname, just like we had for our Fall Travel Team.  And after a period of reflection, it came to me.  I now know what to call our group.  Just like the Fall Travel Team was called “The Seven Dwarves”, so now I am going to call our Staff Travel Team “God’s Little Rascals”.

Now I realize that I am starting to get a little old, but I am not so old that I really remember the original TV series “The Little Rascals”.  But I knew enough from the 1994 movie version (which included great adult actors like Mel Brooks, Daryl Hannah, Whoopi Goldberg and George Wendt) that I knew I had hit it on the nail.  And this is how the team parallels the movie:

  • Spanky is the man’s man and the president of the “He-Man Women Hater’s Club”.  He later learns to like the idea that girls are “okay”.   (Bill)
  • Stymie is the club’s vice-president who stands beside the president and supports all the plans and ideas of the president.  (Paul)
  • Alfalfa is the very good friend of Spanky, but who secretly loves Darla, something forbidden by the club rules, but in the end, he gets his girl.  (Henry)
  • Darla is the leader of the girls, who causes all kinds of mischief around the boys, and is the object of Alfalfa’s affection.   (Sandy)
  • The Twins are two girls who follow Darla and who think all boys are silly.  (Joni & Julie)
  • And then for me, I would be Froggy who has a high-pitched croaking voice, but is one of the boys who comes up with good ideas for the club.

(Henry, Joni, Bill, Julie, Paul, Sandy, Norm)

So there you have it folks.  You now have been included into the special group of the TMI Staff Travel Team.  What a great year it was to live our lives together and both serve the Lord as a team, but also become such great friends and brothers and sisters in the Lord.  And after 30 years, we are still in touch with each other and consider each other very good friends.

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God’s Traveling Team Pt. 3

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Who Am I? Part 6

In the last two articles in this series, I talked about the great times I had being a part of Teen Mission’s Fall Travel Team.  You can read about them here.  That three-month period of traveling from city to city, church to church, home to home and presenting the outstanding ministry of Teen Missions International was such a great experience for me.  It helped me to grow up, being away from home, and it taught me a lot about trusting God.

In fact, the experience was so great, that when our team returned to Florida again, and I was approached by the TMI staff about the idea of coming back, joining the Staff and going on a one-year tour (which would include being an assistant leader on a summer team overseas), I knew immediately that was what God would have me do.  And so I became a member of the 1980 TMI Staff Travel Team.

What is interesting about this team is that it was the first time TMI had decided that it would have a full-year travel team.  So that made it unique.  But even more so was the fact that our team was truly an International team.  Of the seven members on the team, five were American, one was Mexican and I was the Canadian.  And although this brought out some cultural differences from time to time, it was wonderful to see that our unity in Christ made us one family, regardless of our origin of birth.

We did a lot of work and a lot of traveling in that one year.  You could say that there were five distinct blocks of activities for us as follows:

East Coast Tour: After some training and orientation in January of 1980, our team went up the east coast of the States.  We toured through Georgia and the Carolinas, we went though Virginia and managed some sight-seeing in Washington, DC, and did a number of presentation in Pennsylvania.  We lost count of how many churches and schools we visited in that three-month period.

One of my funniest moments was when we got close to Bill’s home town area in Pennsylvania.  For weeks he had been telling us, “Wait till you see the beautiful Pocono Mountains.”  So on that chilly morning, as we drove more into the state, suddenly Bill exclaimed, “There they are!  Ain’t those good-looking mountains?”  To which I innocently responded, “What….those hills??”  (He forgot I grew up in the Canadian Rockies.)  And for that comment I was given a strong head “noogie”. : )

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Boot Camp Work: By May, we all had to be back in Florida to help get the Teen Mission Boot Camp ready.  You can read about the fascinating training that TMI gives to all its teens and leaders in my article “Get Dirty for God!”  But before the teenagers can get dirty in the Everglades swamps, our job was to fight back the undergrowth again, set up tent areas, erect the big top tent, repair Greyhound buses for their pickup routes, and much, much more.

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Summer Mission Team: So now that the “Lord’s Boot Camp” was ready, close to 1,500 teenagers and leaders descended upon our camp in Florida and trained for two weeks before being commissioned into the mission field to about 50 different summer projects in about 30 different countries.  I was assigned to be an assistant leader on a team to Honduras.

At the time that we went to Honduras, I was only 19 years old.  And here I was, along with four other leaders, taking charge of about 20 other teenagers to build an extension wing to a small, rural mission hospital that was a concrete block building that had about 20 beds for patients.  An appeal had been sent the year before for Teen Missions to help enlarge the facilities.

The location of the mission was quite a few hours up into the hills away from the nearest city.  So there were always way too many patients for this clinic to manage, and after a procedure, or during recovery days, the poor patients were housed in a run-down building, with grass and bamboo beds and dirt floors that crawled with all kinds of bugs and critters.

You know, it is amazing what teenagers can do, if they are given the challenge to reach out to others beyond themselves, and are given some good guidance and leadership.  So in about 5 weeks of hard work, mixing concrete with shovels, laying sun-baked bricks for walls, and building trusses according to a blueprint, we were able to double the size of this rural clinic.  What joy and pride we all felt when the last nail was pounded and the cement sidewalk was poured.

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West Coast Tour: Once our summer overseas mission teams were finished, our Staff Travel Team gathered back together in Florida.  Then we set out in September for our two month tour which took us up into the Midwest of Missouri, Illinois and Kansas, over through the arid states of Nebraska and Wyoming, and ended with presentations in California.

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Good Ol’ Scotland: to round off a very busy year, our team headed over to Scotland.  Unfortunately due to a serious family health matter, one member did not go with us, so only six of us went on this last part of our TMI experience.  Teen Missions had an old estate there (purchased for very little due to being run down) where they were starting to train European youth each summer.

Our main job there was to repair the rotting roof of the one building so it would not fall apart over the winter.  (Have you ever tried working on a corrugated roof in near freezing temperatures with a constant daily drizzle?  Yikes, it was dangerous, but no one got hurt.)  In a month it was all done, and then time to head home.

We all said goodbye to each other at Heathrow Airport in London.  But we have kept in touch with each other.  And in fact, we just got together last summer for our 30 year reunion.  But that my friends, will have to wait until another day to tell that story.

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God’s Traveling Team Pt. 2

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Who Am I?  Part 5: Which Dwarf?

In my last article, God’s Traveling Team Pt. 1, I mentioned the difficult choice I faced, to return to University, or to join the Teen Missions Fall Travel Team.  And as you now know, I believed God had led me to join the Travel Team and promote Teen Missions.  What a huge disappointment it was then to be turned back at the Canadian border and have the team broken up.  The team went back to Florida and I returned to Calgary.

I kept my hope alive though, that we would still get the team together and we would carry on where we left off.  And in fact, shortly after I got back to Calgary, the Florida office called to say they were hoping to get a new itinerary set up in British Columbia and the northwestern States right away.

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The plan that they had was to send the team back my way in about three weeks and I was to meet up with them in Vancouver, BC.  Not one to sit around and waste time, I decided that in those three weeks that I should get my Driver’s License.  Now you may think it strange for me to be almost 19 years old and still not have my license, but it’s amazing all the places you can go to with a good city transit system, or a Greyhound ticket. : )

So I got the Driver’s Manual, read it and wrote and passed the Learner’s Test in the first week.  I signed up for a two-week Driver Instructor class, took it, drove it, passed it, and by Day 22, I was the proud owner of a new Driver’s License.  Now I was ready to rejoin the TMI Travel Team.  (It turns out that being one of the youngest on the team, that they would not need me to drive, but hey, it was still worth it.)


It was so neat though, to be a part of this team.  It felt good to be wanted, and to believe that the others both valued me and even liked me as a member of their group.  We spent close to three months together on this team, the seven of us packed into the Ford Caravan van, traveling from place to place, never knowing for sure where we would be sleeping the next day, but always seeing God provide safe harbors for us to land at and be received by wonderful Christian hosts.

I do find it interesting now after more than 30 years that many of the details of the places we visited and the people we met have pretty much faded from my memory.  Actually, it was such a whirlwind tour all over the northwestern States and BC that I think I probably forgot many details even before the trip ended.  But one thing I have not forgotten all these years is the names of the seven of us on the team.

Each person was so unique, for which we came to love and appreciate them, that we soon had adopted special nicknames.  It shouldn’t take you long to guess where this story is going to head, in terms of the nicknames we gave each other, but I think you will see why we choose what we did.  There were four ladies and three guys on the team.  And the following is what happened on a regular basis.

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After our visits or presentations at a place were done, we would load up the van with all our luggage and supplies and squeeze everyone in and get ready to go.  But just as we were about to leave, Becky would suddenly sneeze.  Not once, not twice, but at least four or five times.  We never did figure out if she was allergic to leaving a place or allergic to going on the road again.  But then we would start driving, and even before we got to the Interstate, Gloria would slump over and fall asleep.  And she would sleep the entire distance, whether short or long, then wake up and say, “Are we there yet?”

Then we had quite the contrastive pair between John and Linda. It rarely mattered what the topic was, but whenever we got into a discussion about something, Linda’s face would light up about something she found interesting, but John would find some way to “shoot it down” and have a scowling look on his face.  It didn’t help that he had big black bushy eyebrows like Groucho Marx.  : ) And yet we loved them both the same.  They were equally our brother and sister in the Lord.

Now Barb was our leader and the oldest of the group, but I think she was just two years older than Greg.  We could all tell that Barb, being in her mid-twenties, was kind of hoping that her “friend” who sent occasional letters wold be her “prince in shining armor”.  So when we got to a new destination and we were able to beat her to the mailbag, we had lots of fun waving around her nicely perfumed letter.  Needless to say, Barb would turn beet red in the face, and even mentioning his name in public would cause her to immediately blush.

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On the other hand, Greg was a 3rd year scholar from Wheaton Bible College, and being a man and the second oldest of the group, you would expect him to be a little more on the serious side of life, having great words of wisdom and sophistication.  And occasionally, he was able to pull off that mannerism.  But the rest of the time, he was cracking great jokes and putting on the silliest of faces to get us all to laugh.

So that leaves just me.  And if you haven’t figured it out yet.  Here is who we traveled with for three months:  Becky = Sneezy; Gloria = Sleepy; Linda = Happy; John = Grumpy; Barb = Bashful; and Greg = Dopey.  That left only me, and the only name left for me was Doc. I was so disappointed when they first called me Doc because I always thought about him as the near-sighted bumbling and stuttering old Dwarf.

But then I was told that they thought highly of me as Doc, because as they said, he was the smartest Dwarf of the group who had all the main brainstorms for ideas and inventions.  Often they would say I was so wise and knew my Bible well, and so they did look to me as a spiritual leader, even though I was close to the youngest on the team.

So there you have it, the Teen Missions Fall Travel Team was made up of the Seven Dwarves and I was given the honor of being named Doc.  I miss those good friends and those good old days. : )

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God’s Traveling Team Pt. 1

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Who Am I?  Part 5

1979 was  an exciting year as well as a transitional year.  I had finished one year of University, and at the same time I was preparing to go on my first real missionary experience with Teen Missions International (TMI).  I was going to go to Brazil for a summer and help build a school extension and a guest house for a New Tribes Mission base up the Amazon river.  That will be the content for a future story.

What I can say is that the summer mission experience was life changing for me.  From the very beginning of the training we received in the swampy Everglades of Florida, until the summer mission project was finished, I knew that I had discovered a mission that I could believe in and put my energies into.  You can read about the Boot Camp training we received before we went to our overseas country in another article called, “Get Dirty For God“.

During the Boot Camp time, I did hear something that caught my attention.  Some of the TMI staff told all of us about a marvelous opportunity to serve the Lord after we had finished our summer mission.  What they wanted to do was to form one or two small teams that would travel all over North America to visit churches and Christian schools to do recruitment and advertise for Teen Missions.

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And so as my summer time in Brazil came to a close, I thought about my two options: go back to the university in Calgary, or travel around North America and do mission presentations.  Hmmm….tough choice, right?  Well, actually it was.  Considering that I had received enough scholarships to pay for four years of university training, the idea of giving that up and trusting God to provide enough money for me to buy my next meal was quite a staggering idea for an 18-year-old.

But I felt the leading of God’s Spirit to say yes to the idea of joining a Teen Missions Travel Team.  And part of my personal confirmation of this was the fact that at the last minute, while I was raising support donations for my summer mission work, a donation came in that nearly doubled what I needed for the summer.  (You can read that story here.)  And that was enough to carry me through part of the Fall.

And so when I came back from Brazil, I asked the leaders of TMI if I could join one of their travel teams and they said yes.  I had a few days in Florida before the training started, and I phoned back to Calgary to talk everything over with my parents.  Just like with my decision to go off with the Navy, my parents once again gave me their blessing to follow my own decision.

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The Travel Team training was conducted at a camp in New Jersey and lasted two weeks.  There were enough volunteer members that we were able to form two teams.  During this time, we learned a number of important skills for doing presentations, like short dramas, puppet skits, musical arrangements, working with stage props and becoming familiar with the TMI promotional materials.

Once we finished our training, we immediately hit the road and started driving toward our first places to do our presentations.  The other team headed toward a different state, while our team headed toward Canada where we were  going to do some presentations in Ontario and then head west across Canada.  I guess they figured I would be their personal tour guide across the country being the only Canadian on the team.  : )

We went through the state of New York and crossed the bridge at Buffalo, NY to enter Canada.  The Customs Officer there asked our leader lots of questions about what our Travel Team was going to do and I think he got nervous and started telling a whole lot more than he needed to.  So when he got to the part about how we would visit churches and they would take up an offering, immediately the Officer thought this was a form of “work” and denied the team entry into Canada.  : (

Although we tried to convince the Officer we were not coming into Canada illegally to do work, we still ended up going back to Buffalo in the middle of the night.  And what a night that was!  On that night, God showed His hand powerfully in both providing for our team and also protecting my life personally from a life threatening situation.  And that unfortunately will also have to wait until a later posting.

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Now to make a long story short, the rest of the team went back to Florida while I went back to Calgary for a few weeks until we could come up with a new plan and a new travel itinerary.  It worked out that our team was able to come back together to do a tour of schools and churches in the province of British Columbia and the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho.  (We had a new leader this time and so getting across the border into Canada went well.  Hurrah!!)  : )

Stay tuned for many more stories about my adventures with Teen Missions.