Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Back to DC by Josh Stilwell

We arrived at the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia, after an already long day of traveling. I was looking forward to chilling, eating supper and going to bed…I should’ve known better. That night began a crazily jam-packed, but amazing, week of TeenPact Back to DC. After the introductions and getting to know some people, the leaders informed us that sessions would begin that very night.

All of the speeches that week were very good. They diffidently made us think. Christopher Stio did the first session on the real nature of politics. He talked about the presidential campaign between Johnson and Goldwater. He stated that being right in and of itself does not guarantee victory or change. The second session followed right after that. We had some really deep discussions about the purpose of the law and other issues. It was really amazing, but it didn’t take long before I was ready for bed.

I was a part of the group that has to stay at a hotel rather than the dorms at the Leadership Institute. Thought this meant we got a little less sleep, it turned out to be a great experience. Traveling in Metro with all these amazing guys and girls turned out to be some of the best and more memorable parts of the week.

The week was very intense. After getting to bed around midnight, we were up at 6:00 am and enthusiastic to start the day…at least that’s what we told people. Right after breakfast, we began our tour of the D.C. area. We assigned into different travel groups. I was in Group 1 (we had very original titles for our groups) and Jonathan Showman was our fearless leader.

We were able to see the Supreme Court Building - with the Ten Commandments engraved in stone on the walls. We then got a tour of the Capital Building. That was a lot of the fun. We oohed and aahed at the statues and painting of our nation’s leader and scenes from our history. Our guide told us that there were several paintings above several doors in the building. When the original artist painted them, he knew that America’s history was not yet over. Therefore, he left some blank. Some still remain blank to this day. It got be think about what will be put in those empty frames.

Next, we went to the Library of Congress. It was an amazing place. You could feel the history that was in that building. I don’t see how anyone going into the Library could deny our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage. Mosaic architecture was everywhere. Pictures of angels guarded the building.

We returned to LI to begin our campaign activities. After being told some the fine points of campaigning, we read the biographies of five candidates. We were all assigned a candidate and charged with trying to get that person elected. I was assigned to Congressman Edward Edwards (his name’s so nice you gotta say it twice.)

The biography said that Edwards was veteran, a pro-life activist and an advocate of gun control. It was actually kind of fun getting to play devil’s advocate on some of the issues. We had an awesome campaign team. We all worked really well together and got to build relationships as we campaigned.

We had a blast coming up with slogans, writing speeches (I was the speechwriter), making press releases and the like. One of our team members couldn’t make it for part of it because he wasn’t feeling too good. But that was no big deal. Yet.

After a wonderful supper, we learned a little bit about public speaking and communication. We then studied the Lincoln Four Step system of targeting voters. We learned how to connect with and affect voters.

I believe that some of the best parts of TeenPact are not on the schedule. For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of the week was hanging out with all the people who stayed at the hotel. Because there wasn’t enough room at LI’s dorms, some of us had to stay at a hotel about 45 minutes away.

It was so much fun just hanging out with those guys and girls. One night, while waiting for a shuttle to the hotel, two of the guys treated us to some brake dancing. We would talk and swap stories at the Metro stops. Because we were dodging crazy Washington taxi drivers, Lydia Shanks established a no-death policy for the week. We strictly prohibited from dying.

Friday was particularly special because we got to spend all day at the Family Research Council’s Value Voters Summit. We got to hear some amazing speakers, including Governor Mike Huckabee, Cerrie Prejean, Major Blackwell, Star Parker and others. Then, on Saturday morning, we got to listen to even more speakers. These included Mitt Romney and Lila Rose.

After listen to all those amazing communicators, I was ready to jump out of my seat and take action. It was very motivational for me. We also got to hear from conservative filmmakers and veterans. It was fascinating to hear their opinions on their particular field.

We spent Saturday clad in our newly issued Back to DC t-shirts, which featured the caption, “We came. We saw. We walked. A lot.” That was a very accurate statement. After listening to some more wonderful speakers, we got to go on a monument tours.

That night was very emotional for me. Maybe it was just because I was so tired, but the beauty of those monuments hit home with me. We first went the Washington Monument. I was actually separated from my group on the way over. They claim it was my fault, but it was clearly theirs. Obviously.

At the Washington Monument, we took part in tradition by kissing the monument while everyone sang kiiisss the monument. We then linked arms and created a giant ring around the monument. It’s one thing to see pictures of the Washington Monument, but to be at its base and staring up at it is pretty special. Before leaving all of us mounted the marble benches and simultaneously jumped off as cameras clicked.

Then we went to the World War II Monument. For me, this is when the emotions started to hit home. It was a beautiful setting. The sun was just now setting. The white pillars stood there as a reminder of those who had died for my freedom. I found the Iowa pillar and just got me thinking about all the young men - people my age - who had died for this nation.

One of the intern girls reminded me that these monuments were built for a reason. Just like when the Israelites built the stone monument after crossing the Jordan, these structures were built so that the next generation would never forget what had happened.

Then we all marched over to the Korean War memorial. By that point, the sun had set and darkness had encompassed the monument. When we turned the corner, a silence gripped the group. Ghostly white figures of soldiers frozen in time met us. Their faces were filled with emotion as they stood amongst green shrubbery and tiny points of light.

Beside the ghostly figures was a small pound guarded by dark walls. The scene was both peaceful and haunting. Everyone started speaking in whispers. I just stood there, trying to take it all in. then we got to a sign, which pointed out the fact that these men had died for a country they did not know and people they had never met. It took me a moment to grasp the magnitude of that statement.

As I pondered those words, the Lord began to speak to me. I realized that as amazing at that was - and it is very awe inspiring - it was nothing compared to what Christ did. He died for His enemies. He died for me. At that point, I was overwhelmed. I literally got on my knees and thanked God for all that He had done for me.

Next, we went to the Lincoln Memorial. Our friends from the south relished the fact that the profile of Robert E. Lee could be seen on the back of Lincoln’s head. One the coolest parts of the night was getting to go the lawn outside the monument and have a worship service there. That night was defenently a highlight of my week.
Sunday we were treated to a special “home church service.” There was a special worship service. The last song we sang touched on the holiness of our God. This was followed up by a brief devotional from Lydia Shanks. She read from Isaiah 1 and stressed the importance of having a proper focus on bringing God glory as appose to ourselves. I found it very convicting.

Jonathan Showman gave the main devotional. It was on the subject of temptation. He brought out a lot of very good points. After he was done, he had us each write down some verses and then go to the rooftop to study them.

After I had finished studying those verses, I got out my notebook and wrote down all the things that my God had been teaching me during Back to DC. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t forget all that the Lord was going in my life.

We then divided up into groups based on which sites we had selected to see. I was with the group that went to the Holocaust Museum. One of the wonderful things about touring Washington with a group of TeenPacters was that we did everything from a Biblical worldview. Before we event left the Leadership Institute, we all gathered around and had a discussion on the sovereignty of God.

Visiting the Holocaust Museum was, of course, a very sobering experience. The magnitude of the onslaught against God’s people was shocking to the point of breath taking, even for those of us who had studied the Holocaust before. However, one girl in our group described the whole experience as an honor. And, in a way, it was. As we left the museum, the last thing we saw was a sign, which read, “Think About What You Just Saw.” We did.

After we left the Holocaust Museum, we had some slightly more upbeat adventures. We briefly visited the Smithsonian of American History. Though we only got to stay a few minutes (fifteen to be exact), the visit was memorable in its own respect.

When we returned to LI, we got busy on our campaigns. The elections were that night and we had a lot of work to do. There was going to be a two-hour debate that night and we still had letters to write and voters to interview. And an unexpected twist complicated things further.

Our candidate became very ill. He wanted to go through with it, but the rest of us decided that it was wasn’t a good idea. Therefore, we took some time to pray and then went to as the program director, Aaron Watson, if we could get a substitute. Aaron came back with an evil glimmer in his idea.

Grinning like a kid who had just been given fireworks, Aaron laid out a strategy for us. He said that we should hold a press conference and announce that Edward Edwards had tragically died and that his widow would now run in his place.

Naturally, we all loved the idea, but we had to move fast. The press conference would be in just a few minutes and we had to select a “Mrs. Edwards”, write the press announcement, put together a new biography and write a speech for our new candidate. This was harder because we were understaffed. Two of our people we sick and another had to leave early.

However, we managed to get it all together. We were still writing notes as the press conference began. Of course, our announcement woke everyone up. We were informed amidst the laughter that we had just made Back to DC history.

Our “Mrs. Edwards” did a wonderful job in the debate - as did all the candidates. The questions asked were not easy. There were times when I certainly didn’t pity the people who had to give answers. But everyone held their own and it was fun to watch.

Of course, the hour came when we learned how had won the election. Unfortunately, we did not win. But that didn’t really seem to matter to anyone. We had had a great time building our campaign.

After the excitement of the elections, things began to cool down as they gave us airport instructions. We then made our final trek to the hotel. When got there all the guys gathered in one of the rooms and we prayed for each other. We prayed that the decisions made that week would be long lasting. We prayed the fire that had been lit would never die. And we prayed that our God would be glorified through it all.

We woke up the next morning bright and early (which was no longer a big deal to us) and headed back to the Leadership Institute for the last time. From there a shuttle would pick us up and take us to the airport. At LI we ate breakfast amidst a stream of goodbyes. The morning basically consisted of hugging this person, shaking this person’s hand and promising to keep in touch with this other person.

It was so great getting to me all those wonderful people. And later that morning, Aaron gave us an excuse to tell everyone just that. We all taped pieces of paper to our backs and wrote each other notes on them. This was all done under the stipulation that we couldn’t read them until after we got on the plane.

Before long, it was time for my group to head out to the airport, but only after a stop at Starbucks. I had fun fellowshipping one last time with the people in the van. Before we knew it, we were on the plane. After a brief delay in Chicago we made back home…and into the real world. Now it’s my responsibility to act upon everything I learned.

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