Greetings from the UK! Our mission tour started on this beautiful sunny Friday with two separate check-ins at DUMC. With over 100 participants, we had two groups booked on separate flights a few hours apart. For each group, we had a send-off at the church with song and prayer, then took a bus to Dulles Airport via Point of Rocks. Patience and praise were the words of the day as we moved people, luggage, instruments, music, stands, dresses, and more across the Atlantic in a relatively smooth process.
After an overnight flight, the first group arrived at London Heathrow feeling rather haggard with hours to wait until the second group would arrive and clear customs. What a feeling of jubilance we had when all were united as one community of faith right there in the airport! "We Are Marching in the Light of God" was joyfully sung in celebration of a safe and solid tour beginning.
Thanks to annual mission tours, procedures are already in place regarding color groups for the youth, section checks, and job assignments. We have a Gold Polo coach and Silver Cricket coach (two buses), named with a nod to popular British sports. Now well into Saturday morning, the Gold and Silver coaches departed for Winchester, a quintessential English village and home to the famous Winchester Cathedral. The more "mature" chaperones found themselves humming the once-popular "Winchester Cathedral" tune to quizzical looks from the youth. Cameras were clicking to capture the beautiful stonework of the buildings and quaintness of the town. We walked past a colorful outdoor market with stalls of vegetables, cheese, seafood, leather bags, and flowers for sale.
Lunch was enjoyed in a restaurant named Ask, housed in a building, complete with beamed ceilings, that was originally built in 1012. Most of us were caught in a downpour on the way back to the buses. Over the course of the day, we saw brilliant sunshine give way to rain several times. Lesson learned - the British always have an umbrella in hand for a reason!
We spent the afternoon in the lovely beach town of Bournemouth, located along England's southern coast. This is the home to the family of Cameron Grimes, one of our outstanding tour directors. With free time, small groups split off in all directions to visit the beach and explore the town. The Bournemouth Aviary was noisy with a colorful variety of rescue birds. The Bournemouth Pleasure Gardens were filled with gorgeous blooming flowers. Given the temperate climate, palm trees are thriving in the gardens. The sandy beach was beautiful with crashing waves dotted with surfers wearing wetsuits. Some of us strolled along the pier, where there is a Merry-Go-Round and you can buy "Candy Floss on a Stick" (cotton candy) for two pounds. In the distance along the shore, we could faintly see amazing white cliffs similar to the better-known Cliffs of Dover.
We had a traditional Fish & Chips dinner at the Harry Ramsden Restaurant, where they claim to have "the world's most famous Fish & Chips." Any restaurant that can feed our large group tasty food in a timely way deserves a shout-out!
After our long journey to England followed by a full day of adventure, we are weary but happy travelers. We are checked in at the Holiday Inn Express in Southampton for three nights. It is clear this trip is going to be a rich and rewarding experience. Glory be to God!
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