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Team Justin Europe: Autumn Rudolph, Emmy Ruff, Josiah Pruett, and Noah Whittington

Day One: Happy Europe Day!

By Autumn Rudolph

This is the greeting my teammates said to each other on Tuesday morning as we met in the parking lot of Weaver. It’s finally the day we leave for Europe! So much excitement and nerves come with preparing for a trip like this. We left campus at 9:30am and boarded our flight at 3pm out of New Orleans, got to Philadelphia at 7pm, and landed in Paris at 10:40am Wednesday morning. After a restless plane ride my team navigated customs, train rides, and finding our hostel easily. I am so encouraged on this very first day of how cohesive our team is, I feel so blessed to be a part of this team. As we sat by the canal eating French pastries, I felt overwhelmed by God’s provisions. I could’ve cried, but maybe that was just exhaustion. After checking into our hostel we conquered 26,000 steps, according to my Fitbit, walking to the Sacre Coer Cathedral that had one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. Day one in Paris was phenomenal, this team encourages me to love on others as they love on me. I love Paris and I love this team!

Day Two: Saint Lazare

By Noah Whittington

“We began the morning by taking the Metro to Saint Lazare, a huge train station in the middle of town. We then made a trek through town toward the Louvre. On the way, we passed the Paris Opera House. I was blown away at how insanely massive the opera house is! The Louvre was quite impressive. We didn’t go in it, but there was plenty of good scenery to enjoy around the Louvre. Then we were off to Notre Dame. On the way, we came upon a bread festival. France is known for their bread, and we’ve already enjoyed plenty of amazing bread since we got here! We grabbed some lunch at the bread festival and went on to the Notre Dame. Despite being damaged by a fire recently, the cathedral was still a sight to behold. I felt awe and sadness at the same time because of what I knew the building once was. It was simply amazing to look at.

Then, we began the journey back towards the hostel. We still had plenty of time, so we searched for a coffee shop (I can’t remember the name) that has connections with Chaleur in Mobile. We thought we were going to the right place, but when we found it we discovered they had moved. All that walking for nothing! But thankfully we were walking toward the hostel already, so we just found another coffee shop along the way. After supper, some people we met in the hostel told us about a light show at the Eiffel Tower for its 130th anniversary. So naturally we had to go see this! Seeing the tower up close was so amazing! The size of it really blew me away. Then, we headed home, catching the last train of the night at the Eiffel Tower station.”

Day Three: Exploring Paris

By Emmy Ruff

Today was our final day in Paris, and it was also my favorite. Despite plans changing yesterday, my teammates have been flexible and patient. I was reminded of how our team was picked with prayer and intentionality; I’m so thankful for that. Spending time this morning with Autumn, coffee, and my journal was the perfect beginning of the day.

My friend Victoria is living here, and we were able to spend the day with her exploring this beautiful city. It’s been so great catching up with her and introducing her to my team. She jumped in alongside us to see the Luxembourg Gardens, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and showed us her favorite gelato shop. I see connections being made, and it’s been an encouraging end to our first city.

I believe that my team’s community is going to carry us through the days that we are exhausted and discouraged. I feel more prepared for traveling to our next city because of how I saw my team loving each other, and the people we’ve met along the way.

Day Four: Travel Day

By Josiah Pruett

Today was our last day in Paris. We woke up early to check out and make our trains to Munich. We packed all of our bags, checked out, stopped by our favorite bakery for fresh pastries, and were on our way to the train station. We made it with time to spare and got situated on the train only to find out from strange glances and rough English and French that we were in the completely wrong seats. So after being all settled down and free from our backpacks, we picked them up to go to our correct seats. That train ride was something straight out of a movie as we rode through the French country side. We switched trains in Mannheim and didn’t have reserved seats so we found ourselves yet again in someone else’s seat, but were able to find ourselves in a cabin with an older German gentleman who was kind enough to let five Americans sit in his cabin I’m sure he had to himself. We conversed back and forth for a bit until he dozed off for the rest of the trip.

We arrived in Munich, Germany in the later afternoon and got train passes and made it to our hostel which is SO much better than the one in Paris. It’s pretty close to Olympic Park so after settling in we walked around and walked through trying to find some great German food. After thorough investigation we found ourselves in Pizza Hut- and while we were all expecting a Pizza Hut that we would find in the States, we found a fantastic pizza diner with a line out the door. We thoroughly enjoyed some delicious ‘za. We took a different path home and found ourselves atop Olympic park overlooking Munich with a full moon over downtown, a sunset behind us, and the alps off in the distance. It’s so hard to compare cities like Paris to Munich. I’m praying to encounter people in our time here, for wisdom in what to say, for energy, and for help with this language because I’m stuck in Germany just getting used to French phrases. All in all, not a bad first travel day. Josiah out.

Day Five: Munich, Germany

By Justin Dillenschneider

Today is our second day in Munich and we took a day trip to Dachau to visit the Concentration Camp Memorial site in the morning and then spent the evening in Munich's Englischer Garten in the afternoon and evening.

I have visited the Memorial Site for the Dachau Concentration camp twice now; first in 2014 and again today. The site hits each of us differently in the emotions that we feel and in the time we need to process the overwhelming amount of sights and information. It has been difficult to explain to those who have never been to one of these sites the frustration and disappointment that I felt in walking through the camp. Its difficult to wrestle with how such atrocities could have been committed by anyone, much less in a systemic manner that dehumanizes entire people groups. As a group we debriefed over dinner and discussed how the trip affected each of us. We all were reminded how recently the Holocaust happened and how we must fight against any and all actions that dehumanize those around us.

The evening in Englischer Garten was calm and peaceful, and after dinner we walked to the Eisbach River near the entrance to the park to watch some locals surf in the rapids there. This beautiful park and the dinner we shared as a group was exactly what we needed after a tough morning.

In all of this, I am reminded that we are all created in the image of God (Gen 1) and that those who are separated from God by sin have had their eyes blinded to this truth (2 Cor. 4:4). Only the light of Christ and the salvation that we experience because of His sacrifice on the cross can change this, and I hope that by our time with those we meet that they can see evidence of this change in each of us.

Day 6: Old Town

By Autumn Rudolph

Today we’ve explored Old Town Munich and there’s no other way to say this, but it’s just beautiful. Munich is a much slower change of pace. It reminds me of Belle’s little provincial town in Beauty and the Beast, but it has way more to offer. I think our team needed this kind of slow paced city for some quality rest. Even though it was cold and rainy, we made the best of it! Sitting at the cutest cafe for breakfast, exploring the most beautiful churches, window shopping, and eating gelato. We climbed up St. Pete’s Tower for 2€ (yay for a student discount!) and though I was winded, at the top the view was unexplainable. You could see everything we had adventured to that day from ten stories up. Today was pretty great, but sometimes things don’t go according to plan; that’s just life. However, what is important is how you handle yourself and the situation when things aren't meeting expectations. Weather isn’t always perfect, museums close, hostel laundry machines are complicated, and sometimes crepe stands only take cash when you simply don’t have enough euros to give. This makes me think of the verse Habakkuk 3:17-18, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, and there be no fruit on the vines; Though the yield of the Olive should fail, and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the cold, And there be no cattle in the stalls. Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!”. My team was an encouraging example of this verse. Flexibility is literally so necessary on YHM. If I’m being honest, I hate the rain and being cold. We got a little turned around walking back from Old Town and it was down pouring. I felt mentally tested. A couple of “You're doing great” from Justin and humor to keep the situation light was needed. I said it last time and I’ll say it again, this team encourages me to be better and serve others better. I love this team and I love Munich, but very excited to adventure to Budapest tomorrow!!

Day 7: Budapest, Here We Come!

By Noah Whittington

Justin’s day began well before any of ours, as he left the hostel at 5:30 to pick his wife Danielle up from the airport. We’re so excited that she’s finally here! The rest of us took the tram and met them at the central station in Munich. We prepared for a 7-hour train ride, which ended up having a lot more stops than I anticipated. We left a rainy Munich shortly after 9 and arrived to Budapest at 4:30. On the way, we passed through Salzburg, which happens to be our next city. I’m starting to love the idea of taking trains everywhere. I didn’t grow up around trains at all, so to ride them from place to place is a new but exciting experience. The trains we ride in between cities are quite fast and very smooth. Plus, WiFi is a bonus!

Anyway, once we got to Budapest, our goal was to find the hostel. That may seem trivial, but in a city where none of us know the language or have been to before, it’s quite a tough task. After a little stress, we managed to get tickets for the metro and made it to the hostel. After checking in, we found an Italian place close by for dinner. Of course we had to get gelato for desert! Then, the exploring began. We walked first past St. Stephen’s Basilica. That was one of the most magnificent buildings I’ve ever seen! Such beautiful architecture! We walked just past the church to the Danube River, which splits the two sides of the city. Once the lights came on at dusk, the city looked even more magnificent than it already did. You’ll have to look at the pictures to get a grasp at how awesome the view is from the bridge over the river. It’s hard to describe. We simply stood and stared for a while, taking it all in. There are several famous buildings along the river that really emphasize the scene. I’m excited to explore more of the city in the coming days and to meet some people who are also enjoying this beautiful city.

Day 8: Exemplify Christ's Love

By Emily Ruff

I’m not going to lie, today was really rough for me. I was grumpy before we even got to breakfast this morning but my team still showed me grace. Autumn made me toast and while I had quiet time, my team got to know Diego and Denis at the other table. We ended up going on a walking tour through the Jewish neighborhood and learned more about the history there.

While on the walking tour, the person next to me started asking me questions about the United States and what my team was doing in Hungary. His name is Sebastian, and we talked throughout the entire tour. My team, Denis, Diego, and Sebastian ended up having lunch together and had a lot of fun talking about our different home countries. Denis and Diego ended up staying with us for the rest of the day while we toured Cold War ruins and the Opera House.

Throughout the day I saw moments when my team was loving me a little bit extra, and I am so thankful for that. Whether it was Autumn making me toast (she’s a queen), Josiah letting me take the first shower, or Noah hanging out with me at the Opera House, they showed me grace. As I typed this, I may have banged on Justin’s wall and woken him up to send me these pictures. He could have been annoyed with me but he still sent them and starting joking with us. I hope that our new friends see how my teammates exemplify Christ’s love, and that we have the opportunity to hang out with them again tomorrow.

Day 9: Faithfulness

By Josiah Pruett

What a time Budapest has been. Today was cool because the majority of our time has been spent on the “Pest” side of Budapest. So today, we finally went over to the “Buda” part. And as we learned yesterday, it’s not the oriental religion Buddha, but a rough translation of lots of water. Or hills. I would think hills cause I feel like that’s all we climbed today. We went to Buda with our friend Denice from the Netherlands today while our pal Diego but Brazil went on his cruise tour. We started the day at liberty statue which is at the top of a huge hill that overlooks all of the city. Twenty minutes later of hiking up the hill we made it to the top where they had set up local shops of desserts and handmade goods. We walked around taking in all the views-which were incredible- and hiked back down the wet slope. We traveled towards Buda Castle and explores the huge palace. We left and went on to lunch at a cool buffet style place where they had delicious, traditional Hungarian food. We kept working our way down the river side to St. Mathias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. Apparently, there was a delegate there so most of the place was blocked off. So, we walked and saw what we could, went to Margaret island, and finished the day with Italian food and gelato in true European fashion.

We got back to the hostel and said our farewells to Denice and I finally realized the full impact of what this trip is capable of. For a bit I was discouraged at the lack of conversation and people we were meeting, but Budapest was different. It was cool to see how God ordained the people we met here, the conversations we had on topics of faith and life, and the love we got to show to a complete stranger who now feels like a good friend. What we are doing is not a get away from “the real world” but ways of finding what it means to live on mission and be intentional with conversations and situations. My time today has shown me that this is not a “get away from reality.” Life is still going on for myself back in the States with pressures of jobs and living and school. Today, though, God has shown me that he listens to the cries of his people and answers in His timing and in His way. He is faithful in all He does and I’m blessed to be experiencing that.

Day 10: Saying Goodbye

By Justin Dillenschneider

Budapest was a difficult city to leave. From the first day, it was full of surprises and we really had no idea what to expect as we are the first team to have gone to the city. As we leave the city (and head to one of my favorite cities in the world), I am thankful for the opportunity to travel with and lead this team of students. At every turn, they have been flexible and open to changing their plans to travel alongside people we meet and spend time getting to know them and share their stories. My prayer for the city of Budapest (and every city that we visit) is that our hearts and minds will stray towards the city and that the Holy Spirit would stir in our hearts a desire to see the Gospel continue to be proclaimed in these places.

When we arrived in Salzburg this afternoon, we were welcomed by a UM alumnus Jessica Robbins. She has been serving as a missionary in Berlin with Reach Global since February 2017, and she came to Salzburg to meet with us. As an alumnus of both UM and a former YHM team member, Jessica has been an encouragement to us as a team and a reminder that the ultimate goals of YHM are personal spiritual formation and the spread of the gospel through missional living. Ultimately, YHM is meant to be a gateway that leads each of us into a life of intentionality in the way in which we live out our faith anywhere and everywhere that God leads us. I am so thankful and I am excited to see what God has in store for us in this city and I pray that we can be an encouragement to Jessica as we are here!

Day 11: Salzburg

By Autumn Rudolph

My best friend from back home once told me that Salzburg was named one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and Justin told us he’d live there he loves the city so much. When I heard these wonderful things about a city on our route I thought “okay cool we’ll see a beautiful city”. I had no idea exactly what we were in for until we got off our train yesterday. There are truly no words to capture the beauty of the fortress, the old town, or the alps in the mere distance.

We started our day enjoying a cable car ride up a mountain with the most incredible view of the alps in the distance. We stayed up at the top for quite a while to enjoy the views and some snacks. My first thought was that I’ve been missing out on this view for 20 years. It’s a view you never tire of. My second thought was what an incredible God we serve that He created these views for us. I included pictures, but I’m sorry they just don’t do it justice. Switzerland is gonna be ridiculous because we’ll actually see the alps up close, but anyways back to Salzburg. After a cable ride back and a little walking, we took a train ride up the mountain to the Fortress. I felt like I was in a medieval castle that included another crazy beautiful view. Traveling along with us was one of Justin and Danielle’s college friend Jess. She lives in Berlin now doing mission work and joined us in Salzburg for the weekend. She went on yhm her sophomore year at UM. She was so willing to share her story and pour some wisdom into us about international missions. Jess, if you’re reading this it was so wonderful to have you on our team this weekend!

We ended our day the way everyone should with a boat cruise, warmed up apple strudel, and espresso. It was the perfect ending to a pretty much perfect Salzburg day. If you ever go to Salzburg, which you should, stay more than two days. Really enjoy all the city has to offer, go with a great group of people, and eat warmed up apple strudel. I’m gonna say it again, but I am so grateful for being placed on this team. I love these people so much and we only have a little more than a week left on this trip. I love Salzburg and I love my team!!

Day 12: Hello Alps!

By Noah Whittington

It was sad to say goodbye to Salzburg so quickly, but our short time there was so much fun! We said bye to Justin and Danielle’s friend Jess at the train station, as she is staying a couple more days. Today we had four trains to catch, so flexibility was a must for everyone. The first train from Salzburg to Zurich, Switzerland was astounding. We passed many mountains, including a series of mountains with a humongous lake at the foot of them. Seeing the giant lake next to the mountains was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The last two trains began working uphill toward Grindelwald, so obviously there were mountains everywhere as well. Everywhere I looked was like a jaw-drop moment with the beauty that was around us. Throughout this trip, I can’t help but think of Psalm 19 and how everything in creation proclaims the magnificence of God. It’s truly humbling to try to comprehend. Thankfully, everything went smoothly with the trains and everyone was patient with all the train changes. Justin came in clutch for our final train of the day. He had to buy separate tickets for this train, and he ran across the station to get them so we could make the next train and not have to wait 30 minutes. And we made it with a minute to spare! So we finally arrived in Grindelwald in the late afternoon.

Since the town is quite rural, we were having trouble with our map and couldn’t seem to find the hostel. We eventually found it thanks to some helpful people in town, and we heard some familiar voices when we arrived. Zach’s team is at the same hostel as us (which we knew already)! We had a good time sharing funny stories of the trip so far and just enjoying the awesome view from the balcony outside the room. I’m very excited to explore these mountains and see more of God’s awesome design in the coming days.

Day 13: A Day in the Mountains

By Emmy Ruff

We’ve ended our first day in the Alps! I am so wildly in love with Grindelwald and thankful for the chance to slow down and take a breath in the mountains. Finding our hostel last night was an adventure, but we were able to catch up with Zach’s team before bed! We woke up early for breakfast, and then took a cable car to Schrekfeld and hiked down the rest of the mountain. Along the way we had a picnic, saw lots of cows, and we may have tripped a few times.

Afterwards we had quiet time and enjoyed time outside; our room has a balcony with a view of the mountains! After Zach’s team returned to the hostel we all played cards and reflected upon the experiences that we’ve had so far. While we haven’t had our typical 12 hour days with strangers, it is refreshing to have shorter days in this beautiful place and we’ve enjoyed swapping stories with Zach’s team.

Day 14: Appreciation Post

By Josiah Pruett

What a time Grindelwald has been. What is so cool about this place is that while most of the cities we visit are amazing in culture and architecture, this place steps back and admires what is all God’s handiwork. Our time here has been refreshing and I am very appreciative of that. We had planned for Grindelwald as a little pause or break from the craziness of the other cities from the beginning. And as I have time to sit back and reflect on this city and day all I have is appreciation and gratitude.

We serve an amazing God whose handiwork is clearly seen here. How sweet a blessing a mountain, and how often I overlook creation as something that points to God’s glory. In this city we have been able to interact with another team from the school. I appreciate the ability to meet and hang out with people I have gone to school with, but not necessarily gotten to know until now. Those people are good people and I am wishing them the best in the rest of their travels and I can not wait to hear more of their crazy stories. I appreciate the different gifts and personalities found within our own team that have become evident through so much time together. I appreciate the time I have had today to step away and reflect on life.

Life is crazy and there are situations that arise daily and consistently. For myself I find it easy to take my eyes off the path or race before me and focus on these things. For me to bring it back to Grindelwald today, these situations are like clouds that roll in and cover the mountain. (Clouds being trials and the mountain being the race of life). Situations and difficulties are just a part of life, regardless of whether we want it to be or not. A great reminder from James 1 I was reading today, though, is this: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”. I am appreciative of this reminder in something as obscure as clouds covering up the side of a mountain. While this may not make sense or is a terrible simile, for me it made sense. I am appreciative of my cloudy day in Grindelwald

Day 15: Grindelwald to Florence

By Justin Dillenschneider

Today we left one of the most beautiful places in the world and our 5th city/town of this trip. The rest that we had and the fellowship with Team Zach in the evenings was a reminder to me of how God's creation began in the mountain top garden, where humanity was made in His image and meant to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. Standing at the base of the Alps, and knowing that they bow before the majesty of God, I was humbled over and over to know that that same God loves me and sent His only son to die for me.

This picture was taken in Domodossola, Italy when where we transferred trains coming from Switzerland.

While traveling today through the Alps and south into Italy, I continued reading Alan Noble's "Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age" and reflecting on the trip so far. I have found Noble's writing and incisiveness into the modern secular age both timely and challenging during this trip as we seek to push past distractions in attempts to have deep and meaningful conversations in the short time we spend with those we meet. Something that both Noble and James K. A. Smith (please read his book "Desiring the Kingdom") continually discuss are ways in which we can challenge the distractions of technology, media, and consumerism by dedicating ourselves to forming habits that form a witness to those around us. Something as simple as praying over a meal while we eat out or at breakfast in our hostel stands in stark contrast to secular mannerisms and practices.

Reflecting on this, my prayer is that God's light and work in our lives will shine brightly as we travel to our last few cities. The natural beauty of God's creation that we have seen should drive us to proclaim our joy and wonder outwardly rather than stopping at our own inward reflection. Noble refers to this "double movement" as the way in which Christians can begin to form a disruptive witness in a growing secular age.

Day 16: Florence

By Autumn Rudolph

Florence, Italy is literally gorgeous. It’s a little slower paced for a big city and full of history! I was expecting a little disappointment after Grindelwald because that alps are so hard to beat, but that was not the case. We started our day at a small cafe for breakfast waiting for our free Renaissance walking tour. I couldn’t help but think that this is our second to last city. Something we’ve all prepared for so long is coming to an end. So sad, but it’s been such a good trip so how could I complain? After getting through all my thoughts at breakfast, we went on our walking tour. It was hard to hear our guide with so many people, but it nice to get acquainted with this new city we’ll be in for a couple of day! After our walking tour we went into the Duomo, a beautiful cathedral with a giant dome that was hand painted on the inside. I stared up at the dome and tried to admire the intricacies of each individual piece. Emmy said “I keep finding something new that I love the longer I stare at it”. It reminded me of how we’re trying to be intentional with people. It’s a choice to love that painting and be intentional to find new details to love about it. The same goes with people, it’s a choice and you have to be intentional.

After exploring the Duomo, we got lunch across the river at the best pizza place I’ve ever eaten at!!! Then we came back to our hostel and chilled for a little bit. I read through my journal some, reflecting on the past two and a half weeks. It’s gone by so quickly, but I do feel disconnected from back home. Our windows were open, because of no air conditioning, and Noah recognized some Christian music playing. He went down to explore where it was coming from, he came back later to say it was a church plant called Florence International Church. As a team, we decided to say hello before we headed out for dinner. The pastor, his wife, and some other church members prayed for us and spoke wisdom into our travels. I felt so encouraged and refocused on the goal of yhm for our last couple of days. God always knows what you need. After visiting FIC, we walked to the steps where Michelangelo‘s David was to see a beautiful view of the city as sunset. It was packed with people, but it was absolutely gorgeous. Later at dinner we reflected on the highs and lows of the trip, shared faith stories, and the importance of letting this trip teach you beyond just this time. I am so very thankful for this team I’ve been placed on!

Day 17: Day Trip to Venice

By Noah Whittington

Today was our scheduled day trip to Venice. Our train took about 2 hours to get there from Florence. Autumn and I met two girls from England on the train. They go to school in Birmingham (not the one in Alabama). Danielle got to know a lady from Oregon who works for a turf management company (i.e., golf courses need these folks). I wasn’t sitting close enough to talk to her but as soon as she mentioned golf courses and turf management I knew she was speaking my language. Anyway, we got to Venice around 10:30 and began to explore. Venice is composed of a series of islands, and we were on the main one. We walked through narrow streets and over canals. We stopped a little ways in and got coffee, and then we trekked on through the island.

St. Mark’s Basilica and Square is one of the most well-known features of Venice. The church was one of the most beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful, I’ve seen in terms of the artwork on the ceiling and walls. It’s humbling to see such magnificent structures and artwork that was created for God’s glory. And it’s saddening to see the thousands that go through these old European cathedrals everyday and only see pretty designs and architecture; it doesn’t have the deeper meaning that it does for Christians. The church is right next to the ocean, so we walked along that for a bit, dodging sea gulls along the way. There are some awesome buildings on the islands out in the ocean. We turned back towards inland to find lunch and work our way back to the train station. We stopped at a pizza place and sat by one of the canals to eat and enjoy the sunshine. And of course we had to get gelato while in Venice! We slid through more narrow streets and looked in a few shops as we passed by. Eventually we made it to the train station and left for Florence at about 4. We took it easy upon returning, eating supper and chilling out at the hostel. It’s sad that we only have a few days left, but we’ll make the most of them!

Day 18: Our Day in Florence

By Emmy Ruff

Today my team and I had a slower morning and some quality time! We started our day with strangers letting themselves into our room and no hot water, but this morning is still one of my favorites from the trip. Josiah, Autumn, Noah, and I walked over to the Duomo and explored the square before breakfast today. We couldn’t make a reservation to go up to the dome, but we stopped at a cafe down the street from our hostel and had a really great time. I really value quality time and I do best in small groups, so having some “team time” this morning was exactly what I needed before wrapping up Florence. This was the best part of my day, though the coffee and croissants were a close second!

After Justin and Danielle joined us we crossed the river and explored near the Biboli Garden’s and went back to the Statue of David that overlooks the city. We’ve dubbed him “Dave” and have seen him (and Florence’s skyline) twice now, during the afternoon and at sunset. They’re different views, but both are beautiful! We walked back through the gardens to grab pizza and picnicked near a fountain before exploring some of the shops near the Ponte Vecchio Bridge.

We wrapped up Florence with a quieter evening; I’m thankful for quiet time to journal and laundry! We also grabbed some pasta and gelato to celebrate our last night here. We’re preparing for our last travel day tomorrow to Rome, and then for the last few days of our trip. I’m going to miss my teammates so much, but I’m grateful that we have one more city together. Italy, you’ve been kind to us!!

Day 19: Show Some Grace, Patience, or Both.

By Josiah Pruett

So today was the next to last day for the team. We finished off the last of our time in Florence, Italy and were heading off to Rome for almost a full day. Our train left at 9:08 and arrived at 10:45 so we had most of the day to spend in Rome, which we were looking forward to. We got to the train station early to grab breakfast and we found ourselves in Italy in peak tourist season, so everything is insanely crowded. That can be tough acknowledging the fact we have huge backpacks with everything we brought hitting unknowing victims. We make it through crazy crowds and relax into our chairs only to find out our sweet chair neighbor’s son has something wrong with his eye (we think) and cries very loudly for the next hour and half. T’was testing. We finally made it to Rome and it was so cool to be in such a historic city. Crowds were manageable as it was Sunday today and most people were at mass. We tried to get the last of our money out and mine would not work regardless of what we tried. (Add to testing). We checked in, met some hostel roomies, and went to the Colosseum which, if you do not know, has as many salesman as tourist. These are the salesman who run up to you, take your picture, and ask for your money for the picture they just took of you. Very frustrating. Add to other frustration, I lost my slip to get me into the Roman Forum right outside the Colosseum. Super frustrating. Please don’t misinterpret these frustrations as me having a bad day, I think today shows the every day challenges we all can face (regardless of if I’m 5000 miles away). Life is not perfect, people for sure aren’t perfect, and things do not go your way majority of the time. Still, we are called to love others, bear fruits of joy and patience and self control, and be salt and light. My prayer in reflecting of today is that I could be that, a living example of Matthew 5:13-16. “ “"You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Day 20: Last Day in Rome

By Justin Dillenschneider

As we reached our final day in Rome, and our last day in Europe, we spent time as a group discussing and debriefing all that we have experienced as a group over the past 3 weeks. This morning we visited Vatican City to see St. Peter's Basilica and then walked through the Vatican Museum to see the Sistine Chapel. These places of worship and prayer are some of the most beautiful that I have ever visited, and yet it was a difficult experience for me. The sheer volume of people that visit each of these sites daily is staggering. In such tight quarters and with cameras, smart phones, and tablets raised high and in every direction, it can be difficult to pause and respectfully appreciate the purpose for which these places were crafted. As Danielle and I walked ahead, she wondered aloud at the beauty and how they were created ultimately to the glory of God and to represent the Kingdom of God coming to earth.

After leaving the Vatican City area, we had lunch and left to regroup at our hostel and to change into other clothes to walk around for the day. We ended the day and our trip at Dar Poeta, a local restaurant across the river from where we were staying, and debriefed. We discussed favorite cities, what we would recommend to future teams, and stories of people we met. The expectations for a short term trip (even one that lasts 3 weeks) can be difficult to wrestle with. Each of us went around the table at dinner and discussed ways in which our expectations have been challenged and ways that this will affect how we live back home. The beauty (and often difficulty) with Youth Hostel Missions is that the entire 14 weeks of discipleship and the 3 weeks of experiential learning will affect each of us differently and many times this trip does not seem to have immediate tangible results. As I listened to everyone's stories and shared my own, I was reminded that the YHM experience begins and ends with personal spiritual formation. Ultimately, we are all called to different professions and to different places across the globe but our lives are meant to reflect the life of Christ in all that we do and to all who we meet. YHM trips can look different each year, but everywhere we travel God is already there working and present. The most beautiful part of the trip for me was getting to experience the global mission of the Kingdom of God being realized in the lives of people in every city we visit. This is why YHM continues and why we will prayerfully seek the Lord in a desire for Him to raise up new students each year who will experience God's Kingdom in new and challenging ways. For everyone who has prayed for this trip and for the 3 teams this year, we want yo sincerely thank you. For all of those who have donated financially to make this trip possible, we want to thank for your joyful generosity and partnership. Above all, I hope and pray that if you have followed along with our journey that you will be challenged to seek the Lord's will and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to see opportunities to spread the gospel through your own life. If you have no idea why we do this trip or have no personal relationship with Jesus as your Lord and Savior, I pray that these stories challenge you and that you would find someone who has gone and ask them about their experience and how they came to know Jesus.

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