England Part 2: The Northeast

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London is a cultural hub and a vital epicenter of British history and excitement; however, I don't think anyone can get a true England experience without venturing outside of the hustle bustle and into the countryside/smaller cities of the UK. London is so international; it's hard to get a good feel for English culture.

While London was a great adventure, the bulk and best part of our trip was spent in an area called the Tees Valley in North Yorkshire. It is about a three hour train ride from London.

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It's hard to share about our time there with just a blog post. I need you to come over for a cup of Yorkshire Tea, and I can tell you all about it. But, basically, we spent every day from 8am - 4pm (roughly) teaching at a public secondary school called The King's Academy. Secondary school is equivalent to 6th - 12th grade in the US. We led assemblies every morning and spoke on the topic of courage to a couple hundred students at a time. We used movie clips, scripture, and performances of songs that I have written about courage to share, and over the course of the week, we were able to speak in front of every student in the 1000+ student body.

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Then we taught 17 or so music classes throughout the week. We talked about working in the music industry, the creative process of songwriting and producing, and shared about Christian music specifically. We wrapped up with an interactive activity that had us very sick of "Happy" by Pharell Williams by the end of the week.

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In the evenings, we were vagabonds. Traveling minstrels. We stayed in a different place every evening and lugged our suitcases to school every morning. We worked with a youth worship band in a small town called Great Ayton. We taught a Bible study and led worship at a Wesleyan chapel turned house near York. We led worship at a cafe church in Guisborough. We loved meeting lots of people, staying in a variety of places, and staying up at night having great conversations with our hosts. Every encounter was a joy.

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We were so welcomed by our American expatriate friends, Mike & Kookie Taylor, into their home with a cookie cake and some souvenirs. They are doing amazing work, and we were inspired!

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We spent the weekend leading worship at a youth leaders retreat in the Yorkshire Dales (aka the quintessential English countryside). This was a definite highlight for me. We even went caving (a bit of a nightmare for my claustrophobia). The chapel where we met was built in the 12th Century. Singing in a place where other believers have worshipped for over 900 years was such a privilege.

After a 22 hour travel day back to the US, we made it in one piece and only a little worse for the wear.

We have felt called to go to England for several years. It was a dream to see that wish come true, and there was no doubt while we were there that we were exactly where we were supposed to be. We hope very much that we will be able to return soon...



England Part 1: London

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This month has been a crazy one. I started off the month with a work trip to Orlando, and Jeremy traveled quite a bit the first week of the month. Then we left for 10 days in England. Then I got sick. Then our cat ate some ribbon and a shoestring and almost had to have emergency life-or-death surgery.

Now, I am back at work, and Jeremy is about to start fall tour season, and life is feeling a little bit more normal. But my heart is still reeling a bit from what I now recognize as 10 of my favorite days ever. It was my fourth time in the UK, and it was also my favorite. We had an amazing trip, and I am having some withdrawals from the scenery, the tea, the people, and the sense of purpose that filled our days on a trip that we have been anticipating/hoping to take for years.

I have already posted the pictures on Facebook, ordered a photo album, and had some time to decompress and journal about the experience (thanks to the two sick days that immediately followed our trip), but I figured a blog post would be the way to round out my recap of the trip. We went as a couple to serve alongside a ministry called UK-USA Ministries (www.uk-usaministries.com) with one of my former youth pastors and to work at a school called The King's Academy. We basically used music everywhere we went to build relationships and plant seeds and spark conversation and lead worship.

I will be sharing next about the time we actually spent doing that in the Northeast region of the UK, but first, we spent two and a half days in the great city of London as tourists. It was our only "vacation" with just the two of us this year (barring a couple of quick weekend getaways), and we had an absolute blast.

I have been to London several times before. First was when I was about 12, and my family spent nearly three weeks there. I still have SUCH vivid memories from that trip; that is when I first fell in love with England. Then I went back twice in highschool. Both times it was for little more than a day at a time, and the experiences were very rushed and part of a large group.

This time, my best friend and I got to explore and set our own schedule and get lost together and do so many things in a short amount of time, and it was such an amazing experience.

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The first day, we arrived to our hotel around 2pm. First we went to St. Paul's Cathedral and climbed the hundreds of steps to the top to look out over London. We stayed close to the Tower of London, and it was just a short trip to the South bank where we went to the Borough Market, walked along the River Thames, stopped into the Tate Modern Art Museum (we are not modern art people, apparently), saw Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, and visited two historic local pubs (favorites of the likes of Shakespeare and Dickens) before settling into some fish & chips at a not-so-historic pub that wasn't so crowded. Then we retired to a fairly early night's sleep at our budget (yet extremely acceptable) hotel.

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Day two. The day of magic. Because we went to Harry Potter Studios in Leavesden and saw Wicked on the West End. Lots of magic wands and spells. We LOVED Harry Potter Studios. If you are a fan of HP, it is the place to see all the original sets, props, and the behind-the-scenes details of how the movies were made. We spent four hours there, and we could have spent longer! Then we made the trek back to London and took a short nap before heading out to dinner at a Tapas restaurant (after searching in vain for sushi) and Wicked on the West End.

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Day three. The London speed race. Tour of the Tower of London (so amazing for this history buff!) Churchill War Room Tour Church Service at Westminster Abbey Trafalgar Square Buckingham Palace Big Ben Parliament Picadilly Circus

We took in the major sights of London in one big gulp. This day was a highlight for me because I love learning about the British history and seeing iconic sights of Britain. I also loved attending a church service at Westminster Abbey where the reverend gave a stirring sermon on the meaning of the cross as more than a symbol.

After two and a half invigorating London days in practically PERFECT Fall weather in the 60s and 70s (Fahrenheit), we boarded a train for the Northeast, and that is where the adventure really began...

To be continued.