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

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.

Part Two:

If you didn’t read part one of this post, please do so! Some of this will feel like a play-by-play but as a sports fan and as a songwriter, sometimes storytelling needs a good play-by-play. I also need to use words to process my emotions especially in regards to something as huge as this event. Get your tissues ready.

(That disclaimer was for me to get my tissues ready. You probably won’t cry. Though, if you do, you may want some tissues.)

We dropped off our luggage in our rooms soon after arriving at Ashirwad. Grace and I ventured out to the “recreation area” which was a large dirt slab with a basketball goal and a volleyball net. There we met two guys from USA/Canada and started kicking around a soccer ball. For the next thirty minutes or so, many others from places like Australia, Asia, and USA/Canada started to join in. Spending the last several days together helped to easily break the ice with others. Our dinner that night was the first of many, many rice dinners that we had that week.

The next day began our USA/Canada pre-trip where we visited Golconda Fort. At Golconda we were able to look out over the city and take in the sights. We walked up at least 25,000 steps, possibly more, no one knows for sure. We learned quite a bit about the fort, but it was more interesting to see how many people were staring at our group.

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We had butterscotch ice cream cones, while Seth had some kind of chocolate bar and missed out on the phenomenal butterscotch ice cream. We stood around in the shade. Pro tip: when you go to a place like India with no clouds and a dry heat, you’ll find that shade is very best thing, second only to ice cream. We were able to just relax for awhile and began again having conversations about future dreams for our ministries. Hopefully those dreams always involve ice cream breaks.

The next day we went to Lumbini Park which was an outdoor amusement park. Spoiler alert: the park was pretty much a ghost town. We took a quick boat tour to a small island on the lake with a large Buddha statue. Afterwards, we had an incredible lunch at a restaurant beside the park. It was here where I first had legit Indian naan. As the wait staff brought out our bowls of naan, I literally shed tears as I’d talked up my excitement for fresh naan from India. We also drank masala coke which tasted like coke mixed with chicken broth, so there’s that.

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Like manna from Heaven

That night was the official beginning of Third Wave. Groups from 61 different countries gathered together for a celebratory banquet and presentation by the Indian Field. It was quite beautiful. As we walked into the banquet we were each presented with a rose and a pin in the shape of India.

On Wednesday, all of the Third Wave participants went to Ramoji Film City and Sahas Adventure Park. Ramoji is the world’s largest film city (filming location). We got to see and experience many film sets, dancing, and even had lunch at Jimmy’s, where we ate pretty spicy pizza. At Sahas Grace, Seth, Matt, Mike and I did three things: ropes course, zip line, and you guessed it, drove ATVs. While I’ve never zip-lined or driven an ATV before, remember, getting out of my comfort zones helped me to be the person I really am, which in many ways, is quite an adventurer.

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Jimmy’s!
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I realized early on that I need to exercise more often!
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Much harder than it looks!
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So what if I’ve never driven an ATV. So what if I was covered in dirt. So what if I had dirt in my lungs.

Thursday began our plenary sessions of the week. We were able to worship freely during our services, singing in our own languages. We were forced to have thought provoking conversations with people from other countries throughout the sessions. We were challenged to “go together”.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

One of the favorites of the week was “tea time” which would be after our first session and not long after lunch. The coffee in India was dope. It had hints of buttery goodness. Cue the Psych quote: “I can’t help it, Shawn, my body craves buttery goodness.”

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The coffee was great but it wasn’t strong enough. Thankfully Grace brought Starbucks Via packs which, although they were almost two years out of date, gave our coffee the strength it needed to get us through the day. After waking up at 2:30am this morning, I could use some of those now!

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two years out of date and still kicking!

We were given three books on the core values of NYI: be (evangelism), do (discipleship), and go (leadership development). We were told to read one chapter and we had the opportunity to sit in small groups to discuss the chapter that we read. I chose leadership development. You may remember from part one that I had a deep down desire to one day train and lead youth pastors. This book, like 100% of the trip, came at the right time. The author of the chapter is from Australia, and talking with him and the group about the chapter was a delight.

One of the nights there was a global talent show, where at least two acts from each region of the world showcased a talent. It was here where I learned that Canadians also have country music and line dancing (Cadillac Ranch) and that we were literally in the midst of a K-Pop star at Third Wave. https://youtu.be/GMmR8d668Rg. This dude is legit!

“D as in David. A as in Artist. V as in Victory. I to the D I’m David David.”

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Mo, Mark, and Jake, from Canada

During the afternoon we would meet with our field (Grace, Seth, myself, Matt, Mike) to ask and answer questions together. We shared hopes, dreams, struggles, and fears together in this group. We were able to learn so much more about one another in these settings.

The whole trip was an incredible experience. I had countless opportunities to talk openly about a lot of the struggles of being in ministry. I was able to hear from friends who’d experienced different struggles because of being women in ministry. We shared hurts and we laughed. We cried and were angry for one another. Being with young leaders for two weeks was not enough. I wish I could spend every week with them.

We ended the week with another celebration, food, and fireworks. There were vendors from India who were set up around Ashirwad. One of those was a henna station. Many of our friends got the tattoos and even one got them on his head! I have no idea how long they’ll last but I’ve already had several comments about the henna on my hands that have led to me sharing about my experience in India.

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Another vendor was creating customized coffee mugs. Many of us from the Thailand trip got matching “magic” mugs, which show a picture when hot liquid is added. The picture is of us in the water with the elephants. I’ve already used it quite a bit. Grace, Seth, and I also decided to get a separate mug with two pictures of our field for Matt and Mike, as a “thank you” for being our trip “dads”. Spoiler alert, all five of us got one because, when in Rome.”

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One of the most interesting things about our stay in India was the shower. Remember how I said accessing running water in Thailand was difficult at best? Here’s the thing: showers and bathrooms are just so different from what we utilize in America. We took bucket showers. I’m sure you understand but if you don’t, here’s how it goes: you fill up a bucket with hot water (in our case it was always lukewarm), take it to a stall, take a smaller pitcher of that water, and pour it on yourself. Then, you wash and rinse. It taught me a lot about how much water we waste daily, for sure.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this. We met and heard from several individuals who are ministering in areas of the world where it is dangerous. I wish I could share more than this, but they are all my heroes.

We left Ashirwad around 11:45pm on Sunday night and our flight departed at 2:45am. This would become the longest Monday ever. Remember how Thursday basically disappeared during our flight to Thailand? It was reincarnated in the form of a 36 hour Monday. We flew to Dubai, to Milan, and then to New York.

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One last picture before we board!

I’ll be very raw and honest right here. As our flight was inching closer and closer to New York, part of me wished that it would not end. Granted, it wasn’t the most comfortable just sitting awake watching movies for 10 hours. But, when I left my group at JFK to get to Laguardia Airport on my own, I felt like I was leaving behind people who I’d miss dearly in the days and weeks ahead. That has proved to be very true.

The people that I met on our pre-trip to Thailand are incredible human beings. Because of that trip together, we bonded so quickly and always gravitated back to one another while we were in India. That’s not to say I didn’t make friends with people from other regions and across USA/Canada, because I absolutely did. But again, there’s something about flying together for days on end, traveling across the world, bathing elephants, experiencing a taste of Heaven in our worship, and doing all kinds of things together, that creates friendships and bonds that are hard to break.

Honest moment. My favorite movie for several years was The Waterboy with Adam Sandler. There is a scene in the movie where Bobby Boucher (main character) catches an interception, runs into the other team’s end zone and blows the game for the Mud Dogs.

Guy: Nice job, (bad word). You lost us the game!

Bobby: I’m sorry. Would you please still be my friend?

Guy: No! Get away from me!

Bobby: Okay…

This is one of the saddest moments of the movie. I could share other movie references here but this one sticks out in my mind. Making friends is weird for me and I’ve always hoped it would just happen naturally. The fear of disappointing others and just not being good enough always keeps me from going out on a limb and really trying. So, you can imagine how going into a trip like this added some extra anxiety.

“I don’t know these people. They’re probably not going to like me. I’ll probably have to eat my lunches on the ground, alone.” – Me before the trip, probably

The people that I traveled around the world with are people who, at least for two weeks, seemed to really get me. They allowed me to be myself.

People told me that this trip would change my life. Well, it is hard to articulate the many ways in which that is the case. However, I’ll share five.

  1. I will never look at someone from another country and culture the same way again. Diversity is incredibly beautiful, and within the context of the church we see a true glimpse of the Kingdom. Everyone has a voice. Every person has a seat at the table.
  2. I will never look at America the same way again. America, we have so far to go. We say things like, “speak English or leave” to people from different countries, whereas other countries cater to English speakers and almost everyone speaks multiple languages. There are many things about America that I am ashamed of, especially after spending two weeks across the world. Nonetheless, there is still hope, and there is always room to grow.
  3. I will never look at the church the same way again. Singing together about our God in our own languages is one of the most beautiful experiences I will ever have. Meeting leaders from all across the world and hearing their stories, dreams, and struggles was so life-giving. I realized very early on that we are all experiencing some of the same struggles in ministry. The church global is a beautiful thing. I’m so incredibly thankful that the Church of the Nazarene is one of the few denominations of the Christian Church that truly dedicates itself to the global mission.
  4. I learned very early on that there are a few things that I need constant in my life. First, I need a leader in my life who will walk with me and help me grow through all the days of ministry, not just for a season. In other words, I need a mentor. It was said best by someone other than me, “How am I going to ask someone else to share my crap while they have so much else to deal with?” This is how I’ve felt for a few years, similar to how I’ve felt about friendships. Nonetheless, I cannot walk alone. Truly, I’ve gone very fast alone, but I know that the only way I’ll go far is to not walk alone. Second, I didn’t realize my need for a community of leaders my age until I got to India. Being around church leaders my age was everything. If I could only bottle up the experiences of conversations, stories, encouragements, laughter, and everything else that went into those moments with these people. I need community. I need to be around leaders who are dealing with a lot of the same things that I am as a young leader.
  5. Lastly (actually there are at least 30 more points but I’ll keep it at four). I made friends that will be friends for life if they’ll have me. We will forever be connected together through these shared experiences and will always be able to say “remember that time at Third Wave…” I would get on a plane and travel to you in Nashville or Ohio or Illinois or wherever you are in a heartbeat if I had the opportunity to just sit and have lunch or coffee with you. You were the most life-giving part of the trip. Thank you.

I would like to say that if you gave money to send me on this trip, I hope you understand that you contributed to experiences that I will truly never forget. Your support allowed me to experience the world, the church, different cultures, and so many other things that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have been able to experience without you.

I boarded the plane unsure of what I was about to experience. I came home with an overflowing heart and experiences that I would live over in an instant. I left home unsure of what ministry would look like for me in the future. I came home realizing that I have so many friends who also don’t have all of the answers, and that’s ok.

I don’t have all of the answers, and that’s ok.

Finally, as I said before, this trip was so much more than bathing elephants. I know that I’ll be processing this trip for weeks and months to come. I know that I’ll be reflecting on this trip for the rest of my life. And I know that my friends will show up in sermon illustrations for a long, long time.

To my elephant friends
Grace, Seth, Matt, Mike, Bailey, Morgan, Hannah, Libby, Ryan, Todd, James, Miranda, Amanda, Jacob, Kris, and David: Thank you for helping me shed the introverted comfort zones that seriously cripple me. Thank you for helping me see that those comfort zones are keeping me from being my true self. Thank you for sharing your stories and dreams and hurts with me. Thank you for leading and serving in the areas where you are and encouraging me simply by being you. I cannot wait until we are all together again. Until then, remember that I love you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

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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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