In December 2009, Simon (Senior Pastor at Kerith) asked me if I wanted to join a small team of people flying out to Chicago the following summer to attend the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit (GLS). It wasn’t actually as straight forward a decision as you’d think – it meant missing ‘Rocknations’, the annual conference our youth attended, and where in 2008 I’d decided to become a follower of Jesus. In fact, I very nearly said no to Chicago so I could support our youth band Revolution; if that had been the case, this story would be over. But that wouldn’t be much of a story would it?! Thankfully, I said yes! And in August 2010 I flew out to Chicago.
The day before the flight, we had attended the funeral of an integral member of our youth group, Annie Clague and for the ten days before that I was part of a worship team that had been on tour in Albania. When I arrived in Chicago, I was physically exhausted and mentally drained. Frankly, the last thing I wanted to do was stay with a ‘random’ family for the duration of my trip…let alone without anyone else I knew! I can still remember so clearly Simon standing with me at the front door of the most stunning house, grinning as if to say ‘looks like you’ve lucked out here Dave!’
The door opened and I met Steve and Maria Theofanous – the most ridiculously hospitable people I’m likely ever to meet. I was overwhelmed by their kindness and shortly after their daughter Anna arrived home. Despite not being able to operate a camera very well (I won’t hold that against her), I was so pleased to have someone my own age at the house I was staying at. As the only ‘non-elder’ travelling, I was significantly younger and more inexperienced than everyone else so I felt exceptionally out of my depth. To have someone my age to talk to certainly eased the pressure I felt a little bit.
The Willow GLS is intense. After early starts, long days and meals together, there was very little time to spend with the Theofanous family…which would have been fantastic, if they hadn’t been so great! The final Saturday before we travelled home, I got to spend the morning with Steve and the afternoon with Anna; I knew these were friendships that I didn’t want to end. Flights were booked for November 2010 – a few months later.
Taking the same flight, only without the travel companions, Anna came to pick me up from the airport. She’d brought a friend with her to help navigate and they were loud together. After a long haul flight of blissful quiet time, stepping into the back of Anna’s car was…an experience. Hannah, this girl turned to be called, had just broken up with her boyfriend the day before and Anna was freaking out that Hannah hadn’t mentioned anything until just then. A barrage of incoherent questions flew by my ears, leaving me well and truly disorientated. I didn’t think I was going to be able to cope! We dropped Hannah home, knowing we’d catch up with her later in the week. Honestly, I wasn’t too fussed about that – they were so loud together! But whatever, I was there for a while so I was happy to go with it.
We ended up watching a movie at Hannah’s house on one of the nights of my trip. I got to meet Hannah’s parents and one of her brothers, but thinking I would never see them again, I made sure to be polite and grateful but perhaps didn’t make as much of an effort to log their names and faces as I should have done. On my last night we got to celebrate Hannah’s 21st Birthday in Chicago. Hyperactive introduction aside, Hannah turned out to be remarkably down to earth. In fact, she’s genuinely one of the nicest, friendliest, accepting girls I’ve ever met. It was fantastic spending time with her, Anna and their friend Kevin, talking until the earliest hours of the morning and whilst I thought it unlikely that I’d ever see her again (except for potentially joining my friend Sam and I in New York the following February, but it was unlikely), I thought she was very cool indeed.
Hannah and I have stayed in contact since then. She did come to New York which was phenomenal and I’ve been really grateful to be able to see her once or twice since then too. What astounds me about Hannah more than anything is her integrity. She is rock solid. I’ve never heard her say a seriously bad word about anyone and even the times where she hasn’t been quite so positive, she manages to say it so nicely that you if you don’t pay close attention you won’t even notice she’s being negative at all! That’s an art right there. Hannah is one of those people that you know is the real deal. I hope you get to meet her!
One last thing about Hannah. She is a big fan of the British accent. Like, a big fan of the British accent. I remember her saying to me (on numerous occasions) how much she loves the British accent and how I had to find her a British husband. Whenever Anna was on Skype with me, Hannah would still be there…still reminding me. I never realised that the British accent was something quite so desirable! Guess so!