It sounds funny to say it, but my mission agency just took a good chunk of the staff on a four-day cruise to the Bahamas. Yes, that's right. What do you think of that?
I don't think anyone's going to ask me to take this blog post down - guess we'll find out - but I'm not going to share it on my Twitter feed or put a link on Facebook. I doubt my colleagues will trip over themselves to put cruise pictures in their newsletters. In fact, we were given strongly suggested text for out-of-office messages and instructed to keep the news of the exact nature of this event out of social media.
This was ostensibly due to concerns that bad guys would try to break into our homes and offices in our absence, not fears (unspoken) that people will think that poor missionary beggar-types should not have (or spend supporters' money on) nice things like Caribbean cruises. The latter may be a concern as well. Now we're all safely back home, though, I'll take my chances and write a little bit about it.
If you are hung up on the idea of a mission agency bringing their staff into the lap of luxury (as I was) - I was embarrassed that we were doing this - consider the following. Some 90% of the participants live within an hour or so of the cruise-ship launch spot, so travel was not an expense for most. And this actually seemed the cheapest way to accomplish the goals of the event. Finding a spot that could host, house, and feed nearly 200 people for a four-day retreat anywhere near Orlando, FL is apparently a very expensive endeavor. Accommodations like the stateroom I shared with S. ran just over $300 apiece, including all shipboard expenses and 12 meals (or 24, or even more if you had the hankering. Food was virtually unlimited). Starts to make a cruise look like a reasonable option. Our organization did something like this before but it was five years ago. Someone decided it was time to do it again.
Apparently Caribbean cruises are no more "weird" for an average Floridian than the occasional trip to ski or snowboard at Vail and Aspen would be to a Coloradoan (I'm sure that such a thing would sound like quite the jet-set activity to a Floridian.) Several people told me a cruise was the cheapest way for Floridians to take a vacation (unless you compare it with loading everyone up in the minivan and driving to Grandma's).
Well, I wasn't sure whether I would like being on a cruise. I had a hunch it would not be my cup of tea, and it wasn't. But it wasn't bad. More about that in another post, I think.
Really my only goal for going was to get to know more of my colleagues, and that was a little difficult in this enormous and overstimulating environment, even if we were all in the same boat. I know some by sight but not all of them, and it was hard to find even those among 1500 "cruisers" and 800 crew members. We couldn't use our cell phones, not outside US waters. While some colleagues shared my networking goals - a stated purpose of the retreat - many others considered themselves primarily on vacation. This was a company "retreat." Many brought family members. It was really both a vacation and a work thing. The ambiguity of that and the fact that I had never been on a cruise ship before made it hard to know what questions to ask in advance or how to chart a course through these mysterious waters. Should I just chill out, or try set things up (and if so, how?)
One thing that took me by surprise was the amount of paperwork. Why did it all have to be so complicated? The endless waves of emails with instructions about things that had to be read and/or decided months in advance put a serious damper on any pleasurable anticipation I might have had for this event. It really seemed excessive. Have I mentioned how much I loathe admin and logistics work? But now I know what to expect, so I think that would not bother me as much if I went through this again.
I'm glad to report the networking was moderately successful. It was a rare opportunity to meet new people and have unstructured time with others I already know, and with whom I have some rare patches of common ground. I enjoy and admire these kind of people. Most are open-hearted, grace-oriented, intelligent, and often very, very capable. And they have the same kind of experiences that sometimes make me feel like a freak around the people I may meet in daily life.
I think my favorite moment was when the survivor of a seriously traumatic season in Indonesia gave a high five to a fellow worker who had gone through hell in North Africa before she was willing to admit she was suffering from severe depression. Both now find themselves in the home office, the former after a longer journey through PTSD, depression, alcoholism, recovery, counseling, restoration, serious family issues, and years later finding a place in (you guessed it) member care - and the latter after reporting with great transparency how she always thought working in the home office was only for sniveling wimps who couldn't hack it on the field, though her nervous breakdown gave her a new perspective.
Anyone who has been in our line of work very long has heard the horror stories and probably has a few of their own.
Here, we knew we could be real with each other.
We could even be real about how weird it felt for some of us to be on a cruise ship, fawned over by all these (probably poorly paid) foreign crew members who were separated from all their family members for months on end, forcibly cheerful, and working like dogs to pamper us.
My stateroom attendant seemed mystified and fascinated that so many of us could exchange greetings with him and thank him in his heart language.
I guess we are a strange bunch.