The view out the side window had changed very little over the past four hours. As the miles slowly crawled past, I despaired we would ever get across the Western side of Texas.
Twelve of us were crammed into this rented van, heading back to California. Most of our sleeping bags and luggage was on the floor at our feet making it difficult to move around even the slightest bit. Conversation had dropped off as the minutes had turned to long hours. Julie, beside me in the middle row, had slumped down in the seat trying to sleep. I noticed that Matt, on her other side, was writing something in a notebook; I could see his hand bouncing on the page with each bump in the road.
I longed for my IPOD, but those had been banned for the trip. “It hurts group bonding if everyone is just tuned into their own thing” Jay had told us when he laid down the ground rules. We all had to sign our agreement before we were allowed to participate on the mission trip.
It had been a long drive over, but the whole trip to New Orleans had totally changed my perspective on things, as it had most of the others. We had all come face to face with what true hardship really meant when we saw first-hand the utter devastation that Hurricane Katrina had left behind. Being sixteen, I had thought misplacing my cell phone was a world crisis.
We had worked hard clearing away debris and just trying to be an encouragement to families who had lost everything. Seeing the blank looks of utter hopelessness etched across their faces really ripped at me. I wanted to show them that Jesus was there in the midst of everything and that we had traveled 2000 miles to help them. But there just didn’t seem to be any adequate words. On the one hand, I was proud of the work I had done, and on the other, it just seemed to be so little in the context of the complete destruction. I pictured my own home and everything in it just suddenly destroyed, and being left with nothing. It was horrific to think about – what could it possibly be like to live through?
I was lost in this turmoil of emotional thought when our youth pastor, who was driving the van, suddenly turned down the radio and shouted, “Hide and Go Seek! One… two… three... four…”
I exchanged a look with Matt across the way, “Did he just say…?” Matt moved his head slowly side to side and stared at the front.
Julie shuffled herself up in the seat, “What are we doing?”
I tried to answer but I couldn’t come up with anything to say. I stared ahead at Jay (who was still counting) and thought, “Dude... we’re in a van!”
Suddenly I noticed that Jenny, Lisa, and Terri in the first passenger row had dived down as far as their seat belts would let them, and they had covered their heads with pillows. I glanced around behind me, but Jason, Tyler, Sherilyn and Breanne had all vanished.
Without another thought I bent forward to hide from view. One part of my brain shouting, “This is crazy, it’s ludicrous. You can’t play hide and go seek in a van.” And another part argued back, “It’s not crazy. It’s just… it’s just fun!”
Julie giggled as she also “hid” and I shushed her saying, “Quiet, he’ll hear you!” as if that made any sense whatsoever.
We could all hear Jay counting up front and wondered what was going to happen when he got to a hundred. It was just a moment of child-like silliness, but in my mind I heard the comforting words, “Unless you come as a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. “
I closed my eyes tight. “Lord, we did our best. We tried to make a difference. Please continue to be with them as they begin to rebuild their homes.”
Julie had both hands over her mouth trying to keep quiet. I smiled for the first time in days at the utter absurdity of the situation. I’m sixteen years old, and I’m playing hide and seek in a van.
“SSHHHH! He’ll hear you!”
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