We walked down the surprisingly narrow hallway, the deep carpet cushioning our steps, as our secret service agent friend led us toward an open door. “No way. That can’t be what I think it is…can it?” Yes, it was.
Who would have ever imagined that a South Texas preacher who grew up in the tiny town of Alamo, Texas, and his bride from Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico, would be inside the West Wing of the White House, looking through the door of the Oval Office of the President of the United States? What a country!
It has been one week since Esther and I returned from our historic trip to Washington D.C. and Maryland, and we are still amazed by the awesome time we had and the fantastic memories that we made. I want to give you a short description of our trip, then link you to the albums with all the photos we have posted on facebook. If you are not a member of the facebook community, why not sign up now, and add “James Ost” as a friend to access all of our updates, photos and videos when they are posted?
WATCH THIS OVERVIEW VIDEO FIRST,
THEN READ THE STORY BELOW AND ENJOY THE PICTURES
DUDE; WE’RE STAYING TWO BLOCKS FROM THE WHITE HOUSE!
Our plane touched down at Ronald Reagan Airport last Thursday afternoon. Thanks to Priceline, we scored an unbelievable rate at a top-notch, 4-star hotel, just 2 blocks from the White House. After checking in and having lunch, we headed over to the White House and snapped a few cell phone photos for our twitter followers (If you are not yet on twitter, why not sign up now, and follow “jimost” to get even more immediate updates?).
The next morning, we had breakfast with Pastor Doug and Valerie Balcombe, then headed out to enjoy a double-decker tour of the entire city. The weather was perfect and the perspective from the top of the bus was great! We saw embassy row, the National Cathedral, most of the monuments, and made a quick stop at Arlington, before getting off for lunch at Ford’s Theatre, near Chinatown. After touring the house where President Lincoln died, we enjoyed some delicious Chinese food in Chinatown.
Following an amazing, slobber-on-my-pillow nap, we returned in a cab to Ford’s Theatre to watch the musical, “The Civil War“. All I can say is “WOW”! GREAT singers, small, intimate theatre and awesome writing — blew us away.
ABE LINCOLN AND THE TYRANNOSAURUS REX
Saturday, we had a nice breakfast with Pastor Doug and Valerie, and, new arrivals, Daniel and Athena Balcome. We decided to head over to the Smithsonian Museums of Natural History and American History. Both museums were AWESOME and FREE! At the Natural History Museum, I have never seen so many dinosour bones reconstructed in one place in my life. My favorite parts of the American History Museum were the History of U.S. Wars exhibit and the Abraham Lincoln exhibit, but it was also very cool to see the same flag that flew over Fort McKinley in the War of 1812; the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Esther and the other girls enjoyed an exhibit on “First Ladies of the United States”. So impressive…I could literally spend a week in each museum. They also had a dynamic re-enactment of the civil rights lunch counter sit-ins that was very well done.
After eating some Mexican food, Pastor Doug and I retired to the hotel for a nap, while the rest of the group continued touring on the double-decker bus.
AM I REALLY LOOKING INSIDE THE OVAL OFFICE? WOW!
Thanks to a very fortunate friendship with Jerry Joule, we were invited to take a private tour of the West Wing of the White H0use by a Secret Service Agent. He met us in the hotel lobby and walked with us to the back entrance of the West Wing. We had submitted our social security numbers and birthdates months earlier, so we had already passed a background check.
After getting our visitor badges, we walked through a few security gates and up to the VIP entrance of the West Wing of the White House. WOW! We were all pinching ourselves all the way into the hallway. After seeing the door to the situation room, and looking inside the room where the President hosts his cabinet, we were ushered to an open door. Looking inside, we realized that we were looking right into the Oval Office!
It looks smaller than I thought it would be, but being there and thinking about that office’s history was overwhelming. To the left of the door was a bust of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and to the right we could see a painting of George Washington. We could see through the windows to the new playground for the President’s daughters. I told Esther that way less than one percent of all Americans ever get to see this office.
We were then ushered outside to the Rose Garden, where we could finally take pictures and send triumphant text messages to our friends (are you on twitter yet?). Then we went outside the Oval Office to the entrance where the President holds his outdoor press conferences and receives guests. After more pictures, we were ushered into the Press Room where the daily press conferences are held. This room looks REALLY SMALL. We took lots of pictures in that room as well.
This was the highlight of the trip and a historic evening for all of us. We took our Secret Service Agent out for steaks to show our gratitude.
PLANES, SUBWAYS AND A MOONLIGHT TOUR OF DC
The next morning our group expanded to include Pastor Greg Dela Cruz, from Oahu, Hawaii and Bruce and Joanne Balcombe from San Diego, California. We started our day at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Again, these museums are just overwhelming. Trying to see everything is like trying to drink water through a fire hose.
Some of us watched an IMAX movie about fighter pilots, then we split up, and I spent my time in the “History of Flight” exhibit. It is also really neat to see so many rockets, planes and even a lunar module.
After walking to the Captitol and finding it closed (DOH!), we took some pictures, then went into Union Station for lunch. Union Station is IMPRESSIVE.
After lunch, we took a subway ride back to the National Mall, and walked to the WW 2 Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.
In the evening, we again split up. Pastor Doug and Val took Daniel and Athena to see the musical “The Civil War”, Pastor Bruce and Joanne Balcome stayed in their hotel room to sleep off jet-lag, and Esther and I, along with Pastor Greg Dela Cruz, enjoyed a moonlight, double-decker bus tour of the D.C. Monuments.
Aside from the 40 degree weather (which was a problem), the tour was enchanting. We got to see the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and the Iwo Jima Memorial all lit up at night. The coolest part was seeing the Washington Monument’s reflection in the reflecting pool. The worst part was the German lady sitting behind us in the bus telling us that it wasn’t really cold – “We svim in dis veather in Germany”, while Greg and I were freezing to death.
“HELLO MADAM SPEAKER; WE ARE PRAYING FOR YOU”
On Monday, before the beginning of our pastors’ conference, we took another subway ride with Daniel and Athena Balcombe, and visited Congressman Ruben Hinojosa’s office in the Rayburn building. The congressman wasn’t there, but one of his congressional aides gave us gallery passes for the House of Representatives.
Then we looked inside the Supreme Court (really small), and headed over to the Captitol for lunch. In the cafeteria, Esther lucked out and discovered that it was “Mexico Cusine Day” in the “Global” section. She loved eating some authentic Mexican food in the heart of the US Capitol…amazing…
Later, while taking a tour of the rotunda, Esther turned toward me and said, “Jim; it’s Nancy Pelosi!’ I got my camera ready, but when I saw she and her bodyguards were coming straight towards me I dropped my camera and reached out my hand: “Hello Madam Speaker; we are praying for you”, I said as I shook her hand. Athena snapped a photo but cut me out of it, unfortunately (or not, depending on your politics). My impression of her is that she was really short…really made up…and really stressed out. Daniel also shook her hand before she swept away and into her office.
We also waited in a long line to spend about five minutes sitting in the gallery of the House of Representatives chamber and watch a few boring congressmen give boring speeches. Note to self: Skip that part next time.
PREACHERS SINGING, PRAYING, EATING AND NETWORKING
After a 30 minute ride on the subway, we got off at the last stop in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and called our next Priceline hotel. The shuttle was there in 10 minutes, and got us checked in with enough time for a nap.
That evening was the first session of the United Pastors’ Network meeting: Surge 2009. We really enjoyed ourselves, re-connected with old friends and made many new friends in the ministry, and were blessed by the worship band and the speakers. I especially want to thank the host Pastor, Dale O’Shields and his team from Church of the Redeemer for making the conference so special and for serving us sacrificially (you too, Brother Dino Tortorelli!).
It was a real treat to be with all the preachers who have come out from Pastor Doug Balcombe’s ministry at Living Way as well: Pastor Greg Dela Cruz, Pastor Zach Elliott, Pastor Zach Morgan and Pastor Bruce Balcombe. All but one of all the youth pastors Living Way has ever had were present (and Donna Turner, if you are reading this — YOU WERE CREATED TO MINISTER TO YOUTH!).
I also want to give a shout out to some other preachers we re-connected with: Pastor Robert Barriger, Taylor Barriger, Pastor Steve Trevino, Pastor Shawn Wiebers, Pastor Hal Santos, Pastor Tyrone Dastugue, Pastor Dino Rizzo, and Missionaries Guy and Angie Henry.
You can download all the conference sessions at this link. You will be blessed.
OH, SAY DOES THAT STAR-SPANGLED BANNER YET WAVE?
The last day before our departure, we drove to Baltimore with the California preachers (and Oliver from Peru) to eat on the Baltimore Inner Harbor. I wish we had more time to enjoy such a picturesque place, but lunch was delicious and the company was great.
After everybody else drove off to the airport, Pastor Doug and Valerie, Pastor Zach and Jessica and Esther and I toured Fort McHenry, the site of the famous siege by the British in 1814, and the place where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the poem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”. We really enjoyed a short, relaxing visit to the historic fort.
I LIKE A PLACE WHERE I SEE MORE COWBOY HATS THAN TIES!
We landed in San Antonio and took a shuttle to the hotel to pick up our car. There is something about being in Texas that just feels right. I don’t know if it’s the Cowboy hats that are ubiquitous, the Hispanics that have been a part of me all of my life, or the wide-open spaces, but no matter where I go, coming back to Texas just feels right.
We stopped on the way out of town for some Texas bbq, and Esther was delighted to find jalapeños on the menu again. I looked around at the other folks in the restaurant and counted at least three cowboy hats and no ties.
We gassed up the Altima and headed South on Highway 281, and after a few miles, we were passed by cowboy driving a Ford F-250 sporting a shotgun on a gun rack in the back window. “God bless Texas!”, I shouted.
As the sun set that night, I was reminded of President Bush’s remarks in Midland after leaving Washington D.C. for the last time: “Eight years as President can’t compare to a single Texas sunset.” Yes, Mr. President; I’m with you on that one.