The ICHE Convention from Behind the Counter
The ICHE Convention. Such memorable words. Words that any homeschooler would know. Words that reminded me of the joys I have had serving in years past.
My siblings and I walked up to the church early that Thursday morning. Even though I had volunteered many years before, I still had jitters. We opened the doors and were greeted by individuals rummaging through boxes, hanging signs and rolling stacks of chairs on carts past me. As the noises and voices echoed through the hall and speakers walked back and forth with suitcases of books, I felt very blessed to have been given the opportunity to be part of it. I saw many smiling, familiar faces and many hands waving from a distance to greet me. As we waited patiently for our jobs, I could tell it was going to be a good weekend.
I walked down the hallway against the flow of people, shifting to the right and the left, as I tried to complete my destination. I dodged a couple of strollers and slipped by a group of kids. “Room 500,” I said to myself. I looked around and smiled. Speakers’ tables were filled with people, questions buzzed back and forth, and children’s giggles streamed all around me. I looked at the different faces and expressions. Each person here had a unique story; they all had reasons for coming this weekend. I felt a sudden desire to know who these people were and to hear their stories, blessings and struggles. I wanted to know how God was working in their lives; how He was stretching them. Curiosity struck me and it would not go away. I desired to hear the wisdom of older couples and seep into the lives of each child I saw that day. Knowing that I needed to be back at registration, I jumped to reality and briskly made my way down the hallway.
“Yes ma’am. No sir. You’re very welcome!” The walk-in registration booths were overflowing with people. Stationed behind a couple of computers, my co-volunteers and I speedily worked together registering first-time attendees, swiping credit cards, and printing name tags. Six computers all wired to one printer--this was going to be interesting.
About an hour later, I found myself explaining to the faces across the counter that it would be just a couple of minutes to reconnect the printer. As some volunteers frantically pulled wires together, we sent for additional help from the man in charge. I felt bad for those waiting patiently in line. “Just a smile might reassure them,” I thought to myself as I meekly smiled at a stranger’s face. Trying to break through their shells, I cautiously made small talk. They opened up and shared their excitement as they dared to try something new--homeschooling. They told how overwhelmed they felt just being there. The longer the printer was held up, the more I was able to hear from their hearts. I prayed to God to give me the words to say to encourage them and God spoke through me. As soon as I finished recommending a few speakers, we got the “okay” to print. God’s timing could not have been better.
The following days were filled with excitement. I went to bed each night eager to get up and start the next day again. I looked forward to challenging tasks and meaningful conversations. I worked at Walk-In Registration in the morning and sold the conference MP3’s all afternoon until the evening. I memorized the total amount of each MP3 “with tax and shipping” and always remembered to add to my sentence: “any children, preteens, young adults, grandparents, or pastors with you today?” I also tried to keep a smile and add a “Yes ma’am” or “Sir” at the end of each sentence. I knew to keep people moving and to keep the lines low; I had to be fast.
In order to do this, the information needed to be memorized. I repeated it over and over in my head, said it out loud to my friends, and by the end of the weekend it came out effortlessly. I cherished the “knowing” smiles from patrons as they seemed so appreciative of my help. I tried to remember to keep a smile on my face even when my knees were shaking and my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. It was my one chance to make a difference.
During my various jobs, I managed to squeeze in a few breaks. It was always fun to walk down the hallway and see old friends. Their smiling faces would greet me and we managed to share our whole year in less than five minutes. Mealtimes and breaks taken in between “the rush” were also adventurous. Even though my stomach was nervous from excitement, it was still enjoyable to sit with volunteers from past years and share exciting stories from the day.
I could not contain my happiness! Being at the convention brought back such happy memories of past volunteer jobs and funny speaker moments. I enjoyed sitting behind my post with my fellow volunteers laughing and joking, with each other, when there was a lull. We worked well together--all for the same purpose. I believe God ordained the right people to work alongside one another that weekend and He knew what each one of us needed. As we encouraged each other, gave each other breaks and rushed to help when the lines just got too long, bonds of friendship began to unfold.
One of my responsibilities that weekend was to make sure that both the volunteers at the AV booth and at walk-In registration got lunch and dinner breaks. On Saturday, I walked over to the AV booth and relieved both girls for lunch. The next thirty minutes were not at all what I had expected. Without warning, lines formed and people from out-of-nowhere flooded around my table. My fingers flew across the keypad as I typed addresses. My eyes shifted back and forth from person to person. Every time I was finished with one customer, it seemed two more took their place. I was attempting to explain to one customer what MP3s were, trying to work with someone else who didn’t own a computer, and rapidly looking in the boxes for the MP3s from last year all at the same time. I was failing. I rushed to the backroom and anxiously admitted my problem. The two AV workers in charge took off their headphones, dropped their lunch plates, and followed me out the door. The three of us cleared the table just in time for the two girls to come back. We sat back in the chairs and let out a sigh of relief.
Saturday came all too fast. As I helped with the packing-up, I tried my hardest not to remember that the convention was slowly coming to an end. Memories stored themselves in my head to remember in years to come. I sat with a few friends as some of the others were finishing up. I watched them carefully as they wiped their sweaty foreheads. Their face and bodies looked tired from lack of sleep and a busy weekend, but something behind their eyes told me they were ready to do it all over again. Looking at them, I felt proud to call them friends. They were such great examples of being part of the body of Christ--each person having a different talent and gift from God that made the convention happen this year. We were all exhausted, but not one of them ever complained.
I cherished the moments I had that weekend. As I said goodbye and drove home, I reminisced at the times God had worked through conversations, and how each volunteer made up a small piece of the convention as a whole. I was reminded that I was a testimony and a hope to those new homeschooling families and how a smiling face could be just what a they needed.
I learned that we, as young homeschooled graduates, have an influence that is far beyond what we could ever realize. I am reminded of 1 Timothy 4:12 that says “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”
I pray that the interactions I shared with those I came in contact with were beneficial, that many attendees left with a hope that they could accomplish this task and that their hearts were opened to what God was calling them to do. It was an exciting and rewarding opportunity and I anxiously look forward to what next year will bring from whatever counter I am behind.
Kelle Merry is a 21 year-old homeschool graduate and middle child of five siblings. She spends her days at home teaching piano out of her studio. She enjoys cooking for her family and gardening. You can find her blogs at MeetMeInTheTreeHouse2.blogspot.com and Teaching4Himstudio.blogspot.com.