More Than Elephants: My Trip Around the Globe (literally) Part One

In April, 2018 I received an email that said the following: “Congratulations! You have been selected to represent the Southeast NYI at Third Wave in Hyderabad, India.” 

Within minutes of reading this I decided that it would probably be best if I didn’t travel to India. I thought of my family with questions like, “What if they need me?” and “What if something goes wrong?”. Not only that but I would have to find a way to pay for the trip. “There is no way that I can afford to spend this much money.” That settled it. My “decision” was riddled with anxiety and fear.

I had interviewed with a few of our Southeast NYI leaders to take part in the trip just a few days before at our annual field event in Nashville, TN. I’ll be honest, I went in feeling unprepared and uneasy, and walked out feeling like I butchered the interview. From my perspective it was awful. Can I be honest again? One of the questions they asked was along the lines of “Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?”. At that time all I could see was being completely removed from ministry. I didn’t want to tell them that I’d been struggling for months fighting the thoughts of failure, and that the only reason I didn’t quit was because I knew God hadn’t released me from the calling. Instead, I told them that I hoped that I would be in the same place in 5 to 10 years, serving our church and district in different capacities, and hopefully doing something to train and lead young youth pastors. Truthfully this was not a lie, rather, it was a deep down desire that I felt would never come to fruition given the current circumstances. They asked me another question about facing adversity in ministry and I spouted out some words about something that was awful. I should’ve told them about the whole, “I want to quit and I don’t think I’ll be in ministry for too much longer” adversity.

In the days and weeks that followed, I had conversations with my wife, my pastor, and my friend who’d traveled to India in college. Every conversation that I had went something like this:

Me: I can’t go to India because of reasons.

Them: You have to go to India because of reasons.

Me: OK, but what about this reason?

Them: You have to go to India and we will get you there. This trip will change your life.

Over the next few months my church family, district leaders, and friends all gave me money to pay for the trip. No kidding, my trip cost was fully funded with two months to spare and I didn’t have to pay a single dollar out of my own pocket. Every single circumstance regarding preparing for this trip told me that they were right: I had to go to India.

Our group from the Trevecca Field partnered with the Olivet and Mount Vernon fields for a pre-pre-trip (you’ll understand later) to Bangkok, Thailand. We met in Chicago on January 2nd and began our journey together. Out of the 17 people on that pre-trip to Thailand, I knew one person personally, met one of them one time, and I only knew of our trip leader prior to my interview. For an introvert like me I knew right away that I was going to be stretched very thin.

It took most of the time in Thailand for me to get acclimated to the people around me, and of course, to the enormity of the fact that I was on the opposite side of the globe. My introversion was forced to shut down and my extroversion was forced to pick up the slack, which was quite difficult at first. It’s funny. Bailey, one of my friends from the trip, later told me, “I did NOT expect you to be this way after the first few days of the trip!”, and even Matt, our trip leader, even told me, “Terry, you are NOT who I thought you were going to be.” I suppose when forced out of my comfort zone I become personable, talkative, and my real personality begins to show up.

It was clear for me to see that my comfort zones kept me from truly being myself.

We landed in Thailand after a 16.5 hour flight, short layover in Taipei, Taiwan, and then another short flight to Bangkok. Also, I don’t remember sleeping. That came back to bite a few days later. Not only that but we literally lost the majority of Thursday. Cue the Psych quote: “That is why time travel is not only possible, but may have already happened.”

Once we got to our hostel we quickly freshened up and hit the ground running. We traveled around Thailand all day long, going to a buddhist temple (or something like that) and attending a Thai cooking class at Siamese Cookery House where we cooked our own four course meal (or seven course meal, I can’t remember anymore). The cooking class was so much fun and our instructor made sure that we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. She talked about the iPhone 12 (Thailand is apparently more technologically advanced?) and how the group was full of BFFs (best friends forever). She would prove to be right. Not about the iPhone 12, I’m pretty sure those are fake.

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Then we got back to the hostel and slept for a few glorious hours.

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From left to right, top row: David, Amanda, Terry (me), James, Seth, Jacob, Bailey, Morgan, Mike; bottom row: Matt, Miranda, Ryan, Grace, Morgan, Libby, Kris, Todd

 

The next day we traveled for four hours to Erawan National Park in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. There, we were led by a tour guide hiking up to view seven waterfalls. It was here where, while swimming, I slipped on a rock and fell flat on my back and head. I wish I had it on video because it was probably funny. I felt my head bounce off the rock and immediately I felt pretty shaken. One of my friends said my fall made the same sound of a cell phone falling on the ground (which is a terrible sound. don’t believe me? go drop your phone on pavement). I thought for sure that my head was bleeding and I was about to end up in some Thai hospital and then a flight home. I won’t lie, I probably said a word or two that I shouldn’t repeat here in a public forum. Although it hurt badly in the moment, I walked out of the water with just a slowed mental awareness for the next few hours. Crisis averted.

“Remember that one time at Third Wave where Terry slipped on a rock and got a concussion?”

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We left from Erawan to lunch and then to Saiyok Elephant Park where we bathed elephants. No big deal. You’re probably thinking that we stood at a distance and sprayed the elephants with a water hose. First off, accessing running water is difficult at best and second, you’re wrong. We were in the water with three elephants and scrub brushes. The elephants sprayed water at us with their snouts. Again, no big deal. This was one of those once in a lifetime experiences that I’ll tell my children and grandchildren about.

“Remember that one time at Third Wave where we FREAKING BATHED ELEPHANTS?!”

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From there we visited a market where most of us bought matching elephant pants and souvenirs. We also visited the Burma-Thai Railway which was built by POWs in WWII, the Bridge on the River Kwai (note to self: watch the movie), and then we ended the night with a 16 course meal at Soul Food Mahanakorn. We quickly ate small bites of everything and high-tailed it back to the hostel and then to the airport for another night of no sleep and flying. Little known fact: traffic in Thailand is nuts. They weave in and out of traffic and never use their horns. It’s quite beautiful, actually.

The whole trip to Thailand went by so incredibly fast. The 17 of us bonded and got to know each other pretty well during our two days there. Thailand proved to be an invaluable experience for us in the days that followed. Have you ever met someone you connected so well with and thought, “We could probably be best friends”? Me too. You can’t travel across the world and bathe elephants together and not be friends. That is, unless you don’t like elephants and believe they don’t deserve baths. If that’s the case for you, just stop reading and go bathe a Thai elephant with a group of strangers you just met and traveled across the world with. Then go and learn how to cook Thai and tell “Shrimp” I sent you. You’ll thank me.

I mentioned the elephant bathing on my Instagram quite a bit, but it honestly was just one experience in almost two weeks worth of incredible experiences. The trip really was so much more than bathing elephants.

God was already showing me so many things and opening my eyes in many ways in our short two days in Thailand. I wish I could detail every single experience but you probably wouldn’t read it.

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India

We arrived in Kolkata, India and saw the sun for the first time in days, as the majority of where we traveled in Thailand was covered in smog and clouds. A few of us ate KFC and Pizza Hut for breakfast at 5:20 in the morning in the Kolkata airport, which is a great example of how time made no sense to us for the first 5 days. After the layover we finally boarded and landed in Hyderabad, India. Our groups separated into three cars that took us to our destination, the Ashirwad Global Learning Center. While our leaders arrived at Ashirwad in a quick 30 minutes or so, my group (Grace, Seth, and myself) was leg to leg and shoulder to shoulder for an hour and a half. Apparently our driver didn’t realize he was supposed to take the massive freeway that had little traffic. Instead, he took us on the scenic route where we first got to experience the streets of India.

Here I am in the backseat of a small sedan, with two backpacks on my lap and our legs slowly melting to one another. Remember: I barely knew these people before we boarded the plane in Chicago. When you’re crammed into a small sedan in India you have two choices: hate them or become best friends. I chose the latter, even though I am prone to complain and find the negative in everything. Again, something about being out of my comfort zones made me be the person that I really am.

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Seth, Grace, myself, pancakes, legs melting together

Remember that time at Third Wave were our driver took a detour and we were crammed in the back of a small car together for an hour and a half?”

The majority of the Third Wave participants from the USA/Canada Region started to arrive on Sunday in preparation of our Third Wave pre-trip on Monday and Tuesday.

Our USA/Canada pre-trip and Third Wave event would begin the next day. I’ll share the rest of this journey tomorrow.

 

 

 

Author: tjoshbennett

I'm Terry Bennett, a husband and a dog owner. I'm a songwriter and a pastor with a love for adventure.

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