About 20 years ago I took my first 10 day long trip with a group of ten students. We had gone from Eagan, Minnesota to Marysville, Washington to partner with a number of Pacific Northwest CLB churches for a few outreach opportunities.
In assembling the trip, I created a budget built around the rental van’s costs, fuel costs, funds to help with various mission projects, some lodging along the way and for meals while traveling.
Now, whenever I do a trip, I always look for the best deals on lodging, transportation and even food because the lower the costs— the less we will need to fundraise.
This means that I negotiate with hotels and I utilize any free lodging that I can find. It also means that I shop around for rental vans and that I shop at SAMS Club and plan ahead as much as I can for the meals that I have to provide.
Well, during our trip to Washington, I remember two of the meals that we had.
For one of our breakfasts I served individual boxed cereal purchased in those large assorted packs of cereals. Now, at the same time, I knew that it would be best to be back on the road so as we drove down I-94 our students passed around a gallon of milk, spoons, and the assorted cereal boxes. The one thing they didn’t pass was one of the things that I forgot. What did I forget? I forgot plastic cereal bowls.
So, as I drove, there they ate cereal straight from the boxes as we drove to Washington and every time we hit a bump in the road, the milk splattered them in the face.
Later that day during our drive, it was time for another meal and again I was sort of prepared. So, as we approached a rest-area I pulled in almost ready to serve lunch. I took from the van a small portable stove and a pot and asked one of the students to fill it with water, which they did. In the meantime, we lit the stove and when the water returned, we began to boil water.
We then grabbed a cooler and brought it to the picnic table and I revealed an 80-pack of SAMS Club’s best $8 frozen hot dogs. That means each dog cost 10 cents, so they weren’t the best for taste, but they were the best for price.
As I recall this moment, I recall it as the students marveled as I cooked frozen hot dogs at the rest area.
The way it really went down was that they complained and asked if we could go to McDonalds, but I declined that because of my commitment to the dogs.
Once the dogs were ready, I revealed beverages and chips and I said “let’s pray”. Shortly thereafter the students began to ask where the ketchup and mustard was.
And then I named that I didn’t think to buy any.
They then asked why I didn’t buy any and I told them because I don’t use condiments and that I didn’t think anyone else does.
So, there we sat eating boiled hot dogs with no condiments at a rest area in Montana.
What did both of those events teach me?
- It taught me to plan not just based on what I like but to consider others’ “likes”.
- It taught me that quality trumps saving a few bucks.
- It taught me to time budget for meals when traveling so you plan reasonable driving stretches while still having time to eat.
What else have I learned along the way?
- With more and more people having dietary needs, it’s important to be sensitive to those needs, to ask in advance of those needs and to bring alternative food with.
- I’ve learned to invite others to help me plan meals and for them to help me cook those meals.
- I’ve learned to prepare students/parents for the out of pocket costs related to the meals that they will need to buy while we travel.
- I’ve learned that bad meals built around short-cuts may create some laughs and memories, but they can also be in part the cause of students who get sick and of students who wind up disliking these trips.
As I considered a scripture to share —- I had so many in my head, from the grumbling about manna to Acts 2 and how the early church cared for one another and how they ate together regularly.
But as I thought about why I wrote this, what I realized was that my hope is that you get encouraged to plan well and to take good care of those that you’ve been entrusted with.
Because of that, hear the encouragement of Philippians 2:3-4 which says “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Perhaps as you meal plan, this idea of putting others first might rise to the top.