Texas Welcome Center, Orange, Texas

On Interstate 10 just East of Beaumont, as you enter or exit the great state of Texas, you can spot a travel stop on the Inbound side which has an amazing star to remind you of where you are.

In another life, I was fortunate to help shepherd youth mission work trips each summer. Sometimes, that meant building wheelchair ramps, sometimes repairing a roof, sometimes that meant painting homes for families that needed help. Specifically, with one church I worked for, each of those work camp trips meant a multi vehicle convoy road trip across multiple states.

Groups from this organization would gather, after nearly a year of fundraising, to pile into white 15 passenger vans with bags, air mattresses and tools in tow. The purpose was of course twofold; reach out to communities in need while also teaching the teenagers who either volunteered or were volun-told about themselves and how they fit into a relationship with a higher power.

Because, especially on multi state road trips in moderately crowded 15 passenger vans, you tend to learn something about yourself.

There was a very strong group of willing parental volunteers who helped facilitate these trips alongside their teenage counterparts. People who exhibited heart, humor and patience. Adults who generally were more comfortable listening and learning from a conversation as they were inundating others with questions. Their rapport which started long before entering the trip for departure, solidified as we made each trek, switching driver and vehicle assignments every few hours to prevent fatigue for the drivers.

Almost any youth worker could confirm that you build bonds when looking out the windows of a 15 passenger van, marking the number of Waffle Houses you can find on I10 through Louisiana, singing to a moderately catchy CD you find at a Truck Stop in Alabama, or discussing how superior you find the bathrooms at Buc-ee’s to other locales.

But the drive out is routinely the energetic and enthusiastic version. A week of challenging physical labor, social exhaustion, a week of air mattress sleep and that same Truck Stop CD leave the entire convoy pressing to make it home.

To that regard, the Welcome Center star is a beacon of hope, bolstering the community before a well earned reprieve from group living as each van is emptied and cleaned.

I am proud to be a Texan, as most people from Texas will readily confirm on their own accord. Specifically, I am proud to be a Houstonian.

Even before Harvey, or Ike, or Allison (all major flooding events around the city of Houston), we share the resolve to help one another. And build on commonalities instead of solely focusing on our differences.

Maybe that common bond starts in a 15 passenger van. Maybe it’s over a cup of coffee.

But whether you are born here or got here as quickly as you could, I hope that you too can give some thought to thanking you’re lucky stars for this place.

 

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