It was early winter 1965. I was nineteen years old and excited about applying to be a summer missionary through the Southern Baptist Convention Home Mission Board. There were thousands of college students applying across the United States, but only a certain number would be chosen. It was a lengthy process, but I completed it...then waited. We would know in the Spring. The summer missionaries would serve in their appointed destinations for ten weeks. By the time we were notified whether or not we had been selected, we'd have time to prepare to travel.
The Baptist Student Union was a busy place that winter. We'd meet there daily for lunch, NoonDay service and just to relax between classes. Several of the BSU students had applied to be summer missionaries, and there was excitement as we were all waiting to hear the news. Bill would be headed to the Altus Air Force base in Oklahoma for ROTC flight training that summer. Each day during lunch or on our long walks together, Bill and I would talk about our plans for the summer.
Word came in the early Spring from the Home Mission Board. I had been selected. My protective parents were opposed to the idea, but this time I didn't ask. I just said "I'm going"...maybe I should have tried that sooner. As my first choice on the application I had chosen an Indian reservation in Oregon. I didn't get it...I was to spend ten weeks in Seattle.
The Home Mission Board paid for the cheapest transportation to a summer missionary's destination. In my case, that was by train...four days and three nights by train to be exact. I remember the night that I boarded the train in Memphis...the Illinois-Central to Chicago. After traveling all night and then an eight hour layover in Chicago the following day, I would have to transfer train stations by bus. I would then board the streamlined, fully-equipped Union-Pacific train line for the cross-country trip to Portland, Oregon, for the two week orientation...such logistics for a nineteen year old who'd never been farther than 200 miles from home. Although the cross country train came equipped with sleeping cabins, I couldn't afford one. I was hoping I could sleep in my seat...unfortunately, sleep didn't come until the third night in route.
I love the classic movies, usually mysteries, that depict traveling by train...eating in the dining car...enjoying the stars by night in the observation deck. Basically, that's exactly what I did, along with the other summer missionaries that I'd met in Chicago...all headed to the Pacific Northwest. Spending that much time together on a train is a good way to get to know each other and we did. All these years later, I still remember names and faces...although, by now, those faces will have changed no doubt. Together, we all enjoyed the dining car with the white tablecloths and little lamps on the tables. We watched the ever changing landscape from the observation deck as the train steadily made its way to the Pacific Northwest. Since none of us could afford the sleeping cars, we did our best to try to rest in our seats.
As I traveled cross-country at the age of nineteen, I saw parts of this country that I'd only read about before. I was thilled to see my first mountain somewhere mid-way along the journey...and then awestruck going through the Rockies at sunset. I was in the first seat of the observation deck with glass all around me. The mountains stretched out forever before me as the train wove in and out of long tunnels making its way northwest.
Even after all these years, the memory of that train journey remains...