In “Part 1” of this recounting of my latest mission trip, I talked about the time leading up to takeoff. I thought I’d share a little about my travel to and from now. I’ve heard many horror stories about traveling by plane these days, but looking back, my travels weren’t horrific – just interesting.
Before getting into it, I have a question for you. Has your “back-side” ever gone numb – I mean REALLY numb? When you have to take two flights to get there and two to get back – equaling about 17 hours one-way – numbness is an understatement. I’m not sure why I’m sharing that – but there it is.
Oh, and as far as the TSA checking us in – whew – I was able to go through without being flagged as a terrorist. (I know you are worried that I might somehow be mistaken for one.) BUT – I’m not sure how much radiation a body can take. I think the TSA is running scientific experiments to find out, though.
Anyway, on our flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam, I was grateful to discover that I had an aisle seat – but only for a moment. When I wandered down the aisle, I found a young lady sitting in my seat. She only spoke Spanish, and I only speak English (well, Suthrn English). Her husband spoke enough English to tell me that they wanted my seat instead of the seats in the middle because of a young child. What could I do?
So I ended up in the middle. And, of course, you know how they make airplane seats to fit 7-year-old girls. But at least I was in the middle of some of our group – which was GREAT – because I got to have some deep conversations that helped me really get to know them.
When we arrived in Amsterdam it was the next morning – or was it equivalent to our nighttime – or was it the day before – or after – I can’t keep up with it (you should have heard us, a bunch of men trying to figure it out).
But, hey, they had a BIG Starbucks there in the airport. Civilization!!!
When we made a stop in Kigali, Rwanda (before continuing to Uganda), I still remember how mysterious everything looked. I couldn’t help but wonder, “What does God have in store?”
Little did I know how blessed I would be. But I’ll get to that in another post. This one is about traveling. So…
On the way back home – from Amsterdam to Atlanta (Is there something about that leg of the journey I’m missing?), a woman from India who couldn’t speak English sat next to me. She and her husband (who was sitting in front of me – and he had an empty seat next to him) kept talking and talking. Finally, they decided to exchange places, so she could stretch out – though they did it as the plane was beginning to take off. I thought the stewardesses were going to have a stroke at that.
So I sat next to the man – who also didn’t speak English. In just a short while, he was asleep, but not satisfied with his own “space.” I became his pillow – no matter how much I tried to “gently” nudge him. The only time he was awake was when they brought food and (for him) beer – which he enjoyed – a lot. At any moment, I expected it to be sloshed on me. (Wouldn’t that have been great – for a Baptist minister to get off the plane wreaking of alcohol?)
When we deplaned, I was ready to hurry through and get on my last flight – or I thought I was. I had 2 1/2 hours from touchdown until my plane to Mobile, AL was to take off (and you are supposed to be at your gate at least thirty minutes before departure). But I had to go through customs.
Have you ever gone through customs?
I think there where several hundred thousand others at the same time as me. I stood in the long, long line to “declare” what I brought back (just a couple of trinkets) – but I was red-flagged (maybe because I had come from Africa – I don’t know). That meant that I had to go through one line while most of the US citizens went through a shorter, speedier line. I was in the line – the long line – filled with people who I could not communicate with. Did I mention that it was long?
I waited. And I waited. And every so often, we got to move about 1 1/2 feet forward. Suddenly I realized that I wasn’t quite half-way through the line yet – and my plane was supposed to takeoff in 40 minutes. I like Atlanta, but not that much.
Then the skies opened for me (well, maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic). An airport employee suddenly appeared on the outside of our line – looked at me – and asked if I was an American citizen (and he asked a couple of others who were within earshot). When we confirmed that we were, he asked us to follow him to a shorter line, so we could get to the custom agent. (I was thanking God – to say the least.)
When I finally made it to the custom’s agent, he asked me where I had been and what I had been doing. I told the truth – Uganda – and training pastors. Then he looked up at me (over the top of his glasses) and asked me what I do for a living and what I had trained them in. I again told the truth. And then he laid my paperwork down, looked me in the eye, and said, “Have you got your sword?”
WHAT??? Oh!!! I had a brain freeze for a moment – and then it clicked. As a pastor and being involved in Bible Drill I remembered that we call the Bible our “sword.” So I said, “It’s in my backpack. And I have one on my phone.”
The fella smiled at me and told me that he is a Christian involved in a Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also mentioned that earlier that week he had asked another minister the same question – and it freaked the dude out. He stamped my stuff and let me go – saying, “Keep up the good work.”
15 minutes to spare. And then I realized that I had to recheck my bags – get on a subway for the 53 mile trek to another terminal – and still make my flight.
But God WAS watching out for me. The plane wasn’t on time – the gate hadn’t been opened yet – and I made my flight. I was headed home.
So – an interesting journey to get to and from a field that has touched my heart (more on that soon) – and it hammered home a truth from God’s Word that I have always loved…
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
He’ll even guide you through the airport. Trust me, I know.