A Second “Second Journey” – Training with my Second Guide Dog

And so it begins. Just as there was a second journey recorded on this blog in Scotland absent of Oleta, my darling first guide dog, here commences yet another second journey in her absence, that is, my second experience at guide dog school, and a new partnership with another wonderful Guiding Eyes dog. I plan to keep a careful account of my training and related musings in the pages of this blog. My hope is that it will prove useful both for me as an opportunity to reflect on the things I am learning and feeling throughout the process, and for others who want to discover more about guide dogs and guide dog training. When I was a teenager preparing for my first guide dog at 16, I scoured every website I could possibly find related to guide dogs. Training blogs like this were one of my favorite ways to learn more about guide dogs in general, as well as specifics about the varied training philosophies and programs in existence.  If this account is as interesting to someone else as similar blogs were to me as a first time applicant to guide dog school, I would be humbled (and also impressed that your attention span is that long because seriously I am a wordy writer.  Haha. Prepare yourself!)

See you in New York!

A Second Journey: Sunrise Christian School

It was an early start yesterday as we left at 8:00 Am for Sunrise Christian School, where we would be working most of the day.  I say working, but it wasn’t really work at all.  I have immensely enjoyed every day that I have spent in Scotland, but I think Sunrise has been one of my absolute favorites so far, at least with regards to the actual work we were doing.

For the first hour, the team retreated to a separate room to do team and personal worship, and allow the students to get their morning lessons finished.  The school is very small.  There were five girls there yesterday, and there are only a few more students in the school that are not there on Wednesdays.

We met the girls during their first break time at about 9:30 Am.  They were very chatty and full of energy.  After a few minutes getting to know them a bit, the students took their seats again and we started our presentations.  Similar to our  Buchanan presentation last Friday, we started with psalm singing, then performed our Good Samaritan skit.  We sang a bit more after the skit, and I got the opportunity to teach the girls a new psalm!

My team leader asked if I could give my testimony, so I told my story and the way God had used my blindness to bring me near to Him.  The teacher (who is our friend and a member of the Airdrie congregation) had also requested that I talk a bit about Oleta, despite her absence.  Sunrise is sponsoring a guide dog puppy for her traininG!  I know, how perfect!  She is a yellow lab called Angel!  I explained a bit about what exactly a guide dog does and showed the girls two videos of Oleta, one with her booties on working in the snow, and the other of her playing hide and seek in one of our music buildings at university.  They loved her, which only warmed my heart further.

After our bit, we sat down in the girl’s chairs, they stood up at the front, and showed us some of the things they had learned over the year.  First they sang a version of psalm 25, “Unto You Oh Lord”, then recited at least 20 questions of the Presbyterian catechism by memory.  They were so earnest, and I was absolutely enchanted.  I know it took work to get there.  I know teaching is a difficult job, especially when you are not only teacher but administrator, secretary, disciplinarian, finance manager, and occasionally transportation, but after seeing some of the things they have accomplished, after witnessing first hand the way a teacher might guide their pupils along a path of faith, I want to be a teacher myself.  I never thought teaching would be the life for me, but my heart longs for nothing more than to be back with those little girls, guiding and instructing them to develop their talents, and live a life full to bursting with prayer, fellowship, song, and the Joy of Christ.  I suppose I may experience something similar as a mother, but who knows… primary school teaching may be in my future as a profession.

We spent lunch with them, which was wonderful, and then went to a park for a sponsored walk to raise money for the school.  We played in the park for a bit before the walk.  I got to be a train conductor and save several of the girls from certain destruction, ride a zip line, and be a pirate in the crow’s nest of a flying ship.  We were going to Las Vegas, so the ship had to be flying otherwise we would have a really long walk to get there.  Our ship was actually a rope pyramid, that one of the girls and I climbed to the top of and wove our story as we swayed in the breeze.  I also built a sand castle with another of the children in the park’s giant sand pit.  Seriously, I am 20 years old and this park was epic even for me, and playing pretend with these precious girls was just amazing.

For the walk, I linked arms with one of my team.  A student walked on either side of us, one to my right and another to my team member’s left.  We sang psalms, marched to the Ant’s Go Marching, picked flowers, commented on the geese and dogs and ducks we saw, and when it started raining near the end of the walk, dreamed of tea and a hot meal when we got home.  It was cold, but I’d be hard pressed to think of a more enjoyable afternoon.  At the end, we hugged the sweet girls farewell.  I gave one of them the flowers others had picked for me along the way, and we climbed into the car to a chorus of goodbyes, well wishes, and hopes that I would say hello to Oleta for them.  How my heart swelled to hear them, and to hear them speak of Oleta, whom they haven’t even met.  That’s it, I decided, I have to bring her back to see them next year.

I don’t know if a third trip to Scotland is in God’s plan for me next year, but I am praying about it, and hope to make a decision much earlier this time.  Already I long to return, and I’m sure that will not change.  Still, it is not a decision I wish to make lightly.

A Second Journey: Monday, Tuesday, and the Scottish Tropics

Note: This is a post concerning Monday and Tuesday of this week, but a quick update on our current situation.  We are currently in Lewis, and our internet is a bit spotty, which is why I was unable to post yesterday, but I will do my best to get these posts up before the internet fails again and do the same tomorrow.  Right then… Now you know. Monday and Tuesday…

Monday was our free day for the week.  Three of us went to Glasgow to do a bit of gift shopping and go to the Glasgow botanical gardens.  We did find a few fun charity shops, and though the gardens were not extensive, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the rooms of different plants and laughing with my two lovely friends.

My favorite plants included:

1. A tree with strange, feathery soft leaves.  They were a silvery color and perfect for an elvish forest like Lothlorien.

2. The banana and passion fruit trees.  We took a picture under them to show our Floridian teammate (who has been complaining of being freezing the whole time haha) that we had visited the tropics of Scotland, and he missed it!

3. The coffee and chocolate trees, both of which I considered trying to take back to my friend as a peace offering, but it turns out trees are actually kind of hard to steal.

4. The plastic willow! It was seriously like that!  It is a willow-like tree with thin, perfectly rectangular branches that feel like plastic!  I have never seen anything like it!  Apparently it is native to Australia.

5. The curly bush! Also awesome.  A plant that when you touch its leaves, they roll up!

So, I don’t think any of these plants were native to Scotland, but they were fun to see!  Our fearless leader managed a delicious lasagna for dinner, and some of the team went with CY friends to see Jurassic World at the cinema.  I had no desire to watch fake dinosaurs rip people apart, so I stayed behind with another team member and someone from the Airdrie church.  As far as I was concerned, those three hours we spent in conversation on the kitchen floor were much more enjoyable than anything playing at the movie theatre.

Tuesday was another day with little scheduled.  After regular team time and practicing the Good Samaritan skit, we dispersed to pursue some of our own aims… these included laundry, church cleaning, reading, and one of the team went with some of the Airdrie congregation to an art show.  It was a lovely, relaxing day, and gave us a chance to prepare for our weekend away in Lewis.

A Second Journey: A Weekend Update from Two of my Team

I have been very busy working on the blog posts for the last few days, so I will allow my teammates to update you on the events of last weekend.  I took these posts (with their permission) from the Scotland RP Mission Team page on Facebook.


We went to Sea Cliff beach with a few friends from the Airdrie RP Church, had a picnic, explored, and enjoyed a sweet time of fellowship. At this beach, we were able to look over the sea to “Scotland’s Alcatraz” – the Bass Rock – on which Covenanters were held, and some killed, for their faithfulness to Christ’s Crown and Covenant. Also, on the cliff that we were on, just north of us was Tantallon Castle – once held by Covenanters, destroyed by Cromwell. It was a great day. – Joseph Dunlap

Lord’s Day

Hello again! This Sunday the Mission team travelled to Glasgow by way of blue minibus for worship. The Rev. Kenneth Stewart exhorted on Psalm 23, reminding us that Christ is the great, good, and true Shepherd for those who are His. He was also introducing the Psalm for follow up in the evening. After tea and biscuits with the congregation, we made our way to the Gillies’ house for lunch. The afternoon was filled with delicious food (the puddings were amazing!), petting the family dogs, and Psalm singing. In the evening we headed back to the church for evening worship where Rev. Stewart preached over Psalm 23 urging us to hear and follow our Shepherd for He truly satisfies all our needs and leads us for His glory. After the service the congregation was invited to more tea and a Q. & A. with the Mission team. We were able to share what we’ve been doing over the past weeks in the community and also thank the congregation for their hospitality and prayers. We know that we have not gone on our own to share our testimonies and spread leaflets, and we are thankful.

Alissa Terpstra

A Second Journey: Answers on the Street: Last Thursday Afternoon

Thursday afternoon, we had a table set up in a park a few blocks away from the Glasgow church, covered in Gospel literature of all varieties — different sources, challenges, and entire Bibles as well. One of the team stayed behind at the table to engage anyone that stopped by, and the rest of us dispersed about the area to talk to passers by. My partner and I grabbed a stack of tracts and remaining invitations to the Q and A that night.
We took a busy stretch of sidewalk across from the park and our main table. Sadly, we didn’t get many people interested in discussion. It was mostly, “Hello, would you like one?” and handing them an invitation before they could say no. There were a few “I’m not religious”, “I’m an atheist.”, plus several mocking comments, but nothing substantial. The most interesting part came later, just before the Q and A session began.
It was 30 minutes before the scheduled starting time, and our Glasgow leadership sent us out after dinner for a quick second round of community outreach and handing out invitations. We handed one man a leaflet and he looked down at it, reading over the content.
“Is this about the Bible?” He asked.
We answered that yes, it would be an open Q and A where you could ask any questions about the Bible, God, or Christianity in general. He nodded.
“I have questions.” He muttered, almost to himself, but then he continued. He told us about his best friend, who died young years ago. The pain of the loss caused him to question quite a few things, namely the purpose of human suffering and of life in general. It seemed our conversation was stiring up some of those questions again. Disturbed by their reemergence, he moved to leave, but I called after him, pointing out that the Q and A would be a wonderful place to start looking for answers to these old quandaries, and said we would be happy to walk with him there now if he liked.
We asked whether he had ever found solutions. He responded that no, he hadn’t. He just accepted that that’s the way life was… tragedy happens, and the best thing one can do is to live life to the fullest, be good and work hard.
“So you think this life is it?” My partner wondered, “THere’s nothing else after?”
“Yeah,” He said, sadly, “I think this is pretty much all there is.”
It didn’t sound convincing to me, and I don’t think he was convincing himself either. We encouraged him to come to the meeting a third time, but he refused. He couldn’t think about it, he said, the questions. They were too painful, and our probing had brought up all the grief from his loss all over again. He did stay to get our names, and we asked whether he would mind if we prayed for him. He seemed touched at this, and requested that we please do.
It was another apparently empty, but strangely encouraging conversation. Knowing the questions he did have, and hearing the pain in his voice, I was heart broken that he still would not come along to the meeting… Even so, I knew that it was a fruitful exchange in that he has, at least, started asking those questions again, and maybe if he continues, he can find some true answers this time.

A Second Journey: THe Awesome and the Unexpected, Part 2

Wednesday was more Glasgow leaflet distribution in the morning, followed immediately by a school presentation at Saint Margaret’s, a catholic secondary school in Airdrie. The team split up into three groups, and we were each assigned two combined classes to speak for 45 minutes. Having really only prepared for five minute presentations, we were a bit worried that we would have difficulty filling the time. My partner and I did run a bit early, but only by about 5 minutes. Our class was quite quiet and not too interested in conversation. I was blanking on questions to stimulate conversation, so I talked a little bit more about who we were and mentioned that I was a vocal performance major. Of course, the request for a song soon followed. I chose the same song, Amazing Grace, I sang in my presentations last year, and gave an explanation for my choice before hand. My partner joined me in harmony, it seemed appreciated by class and teacher alike. Perhaps the music spoke to our audience in a way that our stumbling words could not.
A few minutes after we said goodbye to the class and went downstairs to find our fellow teammates, the bell went off, and let me just say… this was not the kind electronic tone you heard at my high school. It was an ear-splitting, old-fashioned fire alarm style bell, and it was terrifying! As much as I tried to maintain my composure, I think I jumped about three feet each time it happened.
Our team mates, it seemed, got much chattier classes, and had some really interesting conversations about salvation, sin, and several other topics.
By Wednesday night, two of our team mates, including our fearless leader, were deathly ill, so we took Thursday morning off so that they could get some rest. Two of us wandered about Airdrie for a couple of hours, going to the library to work for a bit and browsing through charity shops. As we were walking down one street, we passed a lady outside of the Chunky Monkey cafe with a very happy puppy. Obsessed as I am about dogs at the moment, we stopped to say hi. In asking questions about her dog, the lady heard our American accents and asked what we were doing so far from home. We answered that we were on a mission team at the Airdrie Reformed Presbyterian church, fully expecting her to then further inquire as to what exactly a mission team does, and were we Christians, etc. Instead, she smiled and put out her hand.
“ Well,” She said, “Nice to meet you girls. That’s my church.”
“ What?” My friend and I gasped, completely taken aback.
“Aye.” She affirmed. “I have been going there for several months now.”
She continued, telling us that her husband, who had previously been quite indifferent to the Gospel had also started coming with her to the services. She said that she and her husband had recently begun having conversations about faith on a much deeper level than they ever had before. We shared in her excitement at this, and chatted for a while longer, getting to know her a bit. They were on holiday the Sundays we attended the services in Airdrie, which is why she didn’t recognize us. Hopefully though, she and her husband will be at church on the 28th, and I, at least, will be able to see her again.
So strange! Of all the random people we could encounter on the street, it’s one of the Airdrie congregation that we haven’t yet had the pleasure to meet! I mean, what are the chances? The Airdrie congregation is relatively small, and we only stopped to talk to her because of her dog, as awful as that sounds… I’m so glad we did though! God sure does have a way with the unexpected!
To be continued tomorrow though, as I am unexpectedly exhausted.

A Second Journey: Last Sunday-Tuesday, The Awesome and the Unexpected

We spent Sunday with the Edinburgh congregation. It was fabulous fellowship, and I was so pleased to spend some more time with many of the people I had met in Edinburgh last year. I especially treasured the conversation/crash catch up session I was abled to have with Emma L after our evening service.
We went to bed as early as we could that night, as the next morning we were due to wake at 5 Am. We needed to be on our way to the train station by 7 Am so that we could arrive in Glasgow and start leaflet distributing by 8. I’m not sure if the giggling started that night or the next, but for about three nights in a row this week we in the girls room have been helpless with laughter. That may have had something to do with our new wake up time, but it’s an indicator, too, of how close we five have grown over the last couple of weeks. I am delighted to call them my sisters in Christ, and I am glad we can laugh so easily together.
It was a busy week, but a good one, with quite a few lessons to be learned. Monday, we distributed leaflets for the upcoming Q and A session at the Glasgow church Thursday night. Idid have one direct encounter with a man called Joseph, who seemed rather antagonistic toward Christianity. There were a few suggested questions on the leaflet — “What is the Bible?” “Who is Jesus?” — and he went down the list of questions, putting them to my team mate and I in a rather mocking tone. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so much a conversation as a monologue on his part, as he interrupted our explanations with his own apparent wisdom on the matter.
We walked away from that exchange feeling rather discouraged. Although the conversation remained perfectly cordial, it was clear the man had some issues and had not heard a word we had said. Before continuing our distribution, we stopped to pray together, asking God to use our conversation for change in Joseph’s life, and for guidance in future similar situations.
On our way back to Airdrie around lunch time, we stopped at the Glasgow Cathedral for a few minutes. My friend and I found some fun things in the gift shop, then we re-boarded the train and soon arrived back in Airdrie. We devoted that afternoon to studying our team book, “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life”, and blog post writing for me.
Tuesday began with the usual private and team devotion time, followed by transportation to Caldervale Secondary School. Unlike our other school visits, we were neither giving testimonies nor performing a skit or psalm singing. We took part in three different religious education classes, sitting amongst the pupils and participating in the discussions they had.
The first class was focussed on Buddhism. The seven of us each joined different tables and assisted the students with their work, while also discussing the topics at hand. In my group, we explored the subject of salvation, whether it is something that can be attained through one’s own efforts, or something that must come from an external source, and the positives and negatives of each viewpoint. We also broached the subjects of the true meaning of self-acceptance and the human spirit. In all of these things, I attempted to include the Christian perspective. It was difficult, because the students were meant to be working on a specific task for the class, so we on the team had to find creative ways to bring Christianity into the conversation, without straying too much from the parameters of the assignment.
I think we all found the exercise pretty disheartening. It wasn’t exactly the kind of ministry opportunity we had been expecting. All attempts to discuss Christianity in a way that might actually have some spiritual value just deteriorated into academic comparisons between religions in general. Not that Christianity cannot be discussed academically (a faith with a book as long as the Bible and a longer history lends itself to academia), but I felt rather like I was trivializing it by lumping it together with a bunch of other man-made belief systems. Christianity and Buddhism are worlds apart when it comes to their teachings and world view, but God willing, the exchange got them thinking at least.
The second two classes, we discussed euthanasia. Here, it was slightly easier to include our faith in the conversation, and we were able to speak to the sanctity of life and God’s sovereignty, even in situations of great pain and suffering. When we got home, we reenergized with ice-cream and a delicious meal, and returned to Glasgow for an evening fellowship. It was a lovely time of food (pizza!) and catching up with friends.
We will finish up with the last few days (Wednesday-Saturday) in the next post.