30 Before 30: Plan a 10-Year Reunion

team 3 header

#27 from my 30 Before 30 list: Plan and execute a successful 10-year reunion for Team 3.


Team 3 presented Joy with roses in honor of her concert that evening.

In 2003, I went on a mission trip to Ecuador with Brio, a magazine for Christian teenage girls. I was assigned to Team 3, a group of 29 teenagers (27 girls and two boys), one college-age male “Leader in Training,” and four adult women who were like our surrogate moms. We were a diverse group of people who came from all over the world to serve together. Some traveled from Missouri or California; others called Canada or Egypt home. Most of us were in high school, though some were headed off to college in the fall. Some of our leaders were mothers whose children were also on the trip (and on our team!). One of our leaders was Joy Williams, who was known at that time as a popular Contemporary Christian recording artist. These days, she is better known as half of the Grammy-winning duo The Civil Wars.

As missionaries to Ecuador, we took to the streets and performed “Spellbound,” a silent drama about a Toymaker and His Son. The drama allowed us to conquer the language barrier and tell the story of salvation through Jesus. When we weren’t performing the drama or talking to the people who stopped to watch us, we were working at schools and churches, doing some much needed painting or light construction.

With Team 3 members Amy and Kristin in 2011

We were a very close-knit team that remained connected after we went our separate ways. Some members went on similar trips in the years that followed, but they assured us that Team 3 was still the best team they’ve ever had. Technology like email and Facebook allowed us to share updates and prayer requests, and sometimes a few people were able to reunite in person. I had the opportunity to reunite with a few members in 2011, and we realized that we were approaching 10 years since that trip. Considering how much we enjoyed seeing each other again, we decided that an official 10-year reunion had to happen.

I took on the planning of such an event, starting with locating the rest of Team 3. While most members were my friends on Facebook, others were less easy to find. Thanks to my trusty cyber-investigation skills, I was eventually able to get into contact with everyone except for one person. I didn’t talk to her much while we were in Ecuador, so I didn’t have much information to help me figure out where she might be today.

Over the next year, I conducted surveys to find out when people were free for a reunion and where would be the best place to meet. We narrowed it down to July 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri. After some research, I located a hotel in St. Louis and signed a contract to book a block of rooms for our group. I also reserved one of their banquet rooms with plans to host an official reunion dinner complete with photo slideshow and video greetings from those who were unable to attend. I had big plans.

Alas, life happened.

As we got closer to Summer 2013, it became clear that only a handful of people would be able to attend the event. We canceled the contract and began making other plans with those who were still available. We tossed around a few ideas like a weekend in Washington D.C. or Philly, but we had no definite plans.

On July 3, I booked a train ticket for New York City, and on July 5, I reunited with Team 3 member Katie in New York’s Penn Station. We had been living on separate coasts (sometimes on separate continents), and this was the first time in 10 years that we were together in person. We were eager to begin our weekend together.

Katie and I successfully navigating NYC’s subway system!

Saturday was a busy day. I woke up earlier than I expected to and used those few extra hours to map out our destinations and try to figure out New York’s public transit system. We walked down the street to a little cafe, where we had bagels and iced coffee. We made sure to ask for a cup of ice water to go, since it was already uncomfortably hot at 10 AM. We hopped onto the subway and were excited that we had gotten onto the correct train. The day was off to a great start.

Our subway was bound for Fort Greene in Brooklyn, where over 100 vendors were set up for Brooklyn Flea. According to Brooklyn Flea’s official website, this event is “part vintage bazaar, part hipster hang, part old-fashioned town square, and part food bonanza.” There was a lot to see, from original artwork, housewares, and clothing to antique maps, vintage furniture, and food vendors. I ended up buying a dress from Martine’s Dream, a collection of original designs from a Brooklyn-based designer.

The heat and our hunger were becoming intolerable, so Katie and I were back on the subway. We first stopped to see Allie, Katie’s friend and our gracious host for the weekend, at Starbucks before continuing on to Chinatown. When I was in college, the art department took an annual field trip to New York, and we usually concluded the trip with dinner in Chinatown. One year, my friends and I stumbled upon Thai Son, a Vietnamese restaurant hidden on a side street, and we decided to go there again the following year. When Katie and I got off the subway in Chinatown, I led the way to that same restaurant, and we sat down for pho and lots of ice water. Why I thought hot soup on such a hot day was a good idea, I don’t know.

After lunch, we walked around Chinatown, and Katie bought cherries from a street vendor, who was very adept at eyeballing two pounds of the delicious fruit. We continued toward the subway to take us uptown, munching on the delicious cherries along the way. When we arrived at 7th Avenue, we headed for the Museum of Modern Art. We wanted to see their special exhibit, the Rain Room, which uses motion detection to let you walk through a room full of rain without getting wet. Unfortunately, the exhibit was full and we weren’t about to pay full price for an hour in the museum. Instead of the Rain Room, we sat next to a fountain outside of the museum and ate more cherries.

We continued uptown to the west end of Central Park and took our time walking the paths past playgrounds, Sheep Meadow, and a beautiful bride getting photos taken with her bridal party. We walked around the lake and sat by the fountain with a view of the Central Park Boathouse. While we sat there, a guy blasted “Benny and the Jets.” Basically, we were in 27 Dresses. While we sat by the fountain, we took the time to reminisce about our trip, which was exactly 10 years ago. (Earlier that morning, I had remembered spending July 4th in Ecuador. It was our first full day in the country and our first day doing ministry. The official photographer had come with us, and he treated us to Baskin Robbins before we went home. I had also discovered that morning a website I had apparently built to share my memories and photos from the trip – pre-Facebook – with other members of Team 3.)

Allie met us at the boathouse, and all three of us headed toward Shake Shack for dinner. Katie and I were hungry for burgers and fries, so we excitedly told Allie our plan for dinner when she arrived. Along the way, we stopped to watch a group of rollerskaters performing in the middle of the park and were thoroughly entertained by the one couple dancing together on their skates. Shake Shack did not disappoint. If you have the chance to go, try out their Fair Shake, a coffee shake made with 100% certified organic Arabica fair trade beans. Our window-side seats offered a great view for people watching, though we discovered upon leaving that the windows were not tinted and the view from the outside looking in was just as clear. We went to the Shake Shack on Columbus Avenue, and we decided that this particular neighborhood was like a person who dresses in fine clothes and might be wealthy but is still really nice and down to earth.

As we walked to the subway stop to head home for the evening, we somehow ended up talking about how one of my students loves the show Elementary and thinks I look like Lucy Liu. “I don’t know if I really look like her,” I said, “or if I’m just Asian.” The guy walking in front of us laughed and turned around to tell us, “I watch Elementary.” He started crossing the street, and every couple steps he turned around again to continue his thought. “I think you look like her. You’re attractive. She looks different, though.” And with that he walked ahead, moving much more quickly now, having realized how awkward the conversation had just become. All we could do was laugh and hope we didn’t cross paths again.

It might have been a Saturday night in Brooklyn, but the three of us were too tired for anything other than watching a movie back at the apartment. We went to bed relatively early, but the next morning, Katie and I woke up early to go to church. I packed up my stuff for my train ride home, and we hopped onto the train into Manhattan for service at Hillsong NYC. Hillsong is a megachurch in Australia known around the world for their worship music, and Hillsong NYC is their first U.S. location, meeting at Irving Plaza near Union Square. The place was packed, and it would probably be just as busy at the five other services going on later that day.

After lunch, Katie and I spent our last hour together walking around Grand Central Station and Bryant Park before going back to Penn Station for my train ride home. We wished we didn’t have to part so soon, but we were so appreciative of the time we were able to spend together and the opportunity to reunite after so much time apart. While the weekend wasn’t a grand getaway with over 30 people, it was a fun weekend that allowed us to reminisce. I look forward to future opportunities to reunite with other members of Team 3 and hope it won’t take 10 years to come together again.

Team 3