I awoke to the sound of the wind howling outside the house. It sounded as if it might tear the siding right off the walls and I knew we were going to be in for a long day, I just didn’t know how long... I walked to the bathroom to change, and saw Neil already loading our baggage into the van in the dark. During the short time that we loaded the van, enough snow had blown in to cover the seats, bags, and Micah’s car seat. Afraid that the wind would worsen, we brushed the snow off the seats and got on the road, and were thankful to realize it was coming from the south, blowing us along. We might not have to cancel our trip after all, we thought. We ended up making good time and arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. We went over to the desk to check in our baggage, only to find out that contrary to what we’d previously been told, the airline would not send our baggage all the way to Dar es Salaam, but instead we would have to recheck it in Zurich. We thought that sounded a bit inconvenient, but then again, we did have a 22 hour layover to work with, so at least we’d have plenty of time, we thought. Now, with tickets in hand, we watched Micah run around with grandpa and his little cousin, then prayed together and said goodbye to our family, before going on through security.
The TSA agent smiled when she saw Micah and offered him a sticker. Once at our gate Micah looked out the window in wide eyed excitement at all the airplanes. We could also see the storm raging outside the window, as the snow blowing around tried to keep ahead of the snowplows. De-icing trucks were busy spraying green liquid on the planes to melt the ice. We sat and watched, waiting for our flight, which was supposed to leave in about an hour. But when the time came, it was apparent that our plane could not leave yet. The snow was coming down fast and the runway was backed up by delayed flights. At first the wait was only thirty minutes, but we weren’t overly concerned because we had a longer 5 hour layover scheduled in Chicago. But thirty minutes later, the plane was delayed another thirty minutes, and this pattern was repeated several times before finally, to our surprise, they told us to board the plane. We still weren’t too worried about missing our next flight, because we figured we still had at least two hours to work with. Finally, we boarded the plane and buckled ourselves in, excited for Micah to experience his first plane ride. The airplane taxied off toward the runway, and then stopped for de-icing. The de-icing process was supposed to take about 15 minutes, but soon after that, the pilot informed us through the loud speaker that the de-icer was malfunctioning and they would have to taxi to the other end of the runway to get de-iced. The plane taxied to the other end of the runway, and then the loud speaker once again crackled, and the pilot told us that due to weather, Chicago had just put a ground stop on all incoming flights. We began to think that we might miss our next flight as we sat for about an hour before finally, the pilot told us we had once again been cleared for takeoff. This time we were successfully de-iced, then took off for Chicago. Once we were airborne, I flipped open my Bible, and the pages fell to Isaiah 52: 12, “But you will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the LORD will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” I showed Neil the verse and we laughed together. No matter what, God was with us.
Once we landed in Chicago, we sat still and waited near the landing strip for a gate at which to unload. At this point, we again thought we might have a chance to make our next flight, as we had seen that it had been delayed as well. After waiting for about a half an hour on the runway near where we landed, they gave us a gate number, and we started moving again. We taxied over toward the gate, and then stopped again, just short of where we needed to be. We found out that there was still a plane loading at the gate we were supposed to unload at, so we waited for that plane to finish loading and to finish getting inspected for safety before it began to pull out away from the gate. It backed up a few lengths, then paused for de-icing, still blocking our way to the gate. 15 minutes later, after it was de-iced, it continued to sit right where it was, blocking the way to the gate. During all this time, Micah sat quietly playing his leap pad, a huge relief to his parents. 15 minutes later, the pilot announced over the loudspeaker that the plane in front of us had engine trouble, and was unable to move. So we just sat right where we were, looking out the windows at all the empty gates, wondering why they just didn’t pull into any one of them. Almost an hour later, they did somehow find an alternative gate for us, and we moved to disembark from the plane. We rushed out of terminal 1 and on over to terminal 5, but we were disappointed to find that our plane to Zurich had already gone.
We found a quiet place in the terminal to stop and regroup, and decided that Neil would go back to terminal one to talk to the airlines. He made it back and into the line to talk to an agent just ahead of a planeload of people. The agent came up with a new itinerary for us, and our plan was now to fly to Amsterdam, and then on to Dar es Salaam. She also told us that they would reroute our baggage to Dar es Salaam, and we breathed a skeptical sigh of relief. Our new flight would not leave until later the next day, so we regrouped again, called a hotel and set out to find the shuttle station. We must have been a sight, walking around the airport after midnight, dragging around all of our carryon bags and our 3 year old little boy. At this point, our directional abilities were a little impaired, but several people took pity on us and directed us where to go. At the shuttle station, we waited for the bus from our hotel to come to pick us up. After waiting for close to an hour, Micah finally began to lose his composure. At just about that time, Neil yelled “Grab your stuff Rachelle!” and rushed out the door to the bus. I grabbed everything I could along with Micah, who by this time was making quite a bit of noise, and pushed through a swarm of people all trying to get on the small shuttle bus. By the time I got to the bus, all the seats were taken, but one lady in the back saw me holding a crying Micah and got off to give her a spot. Neil jumped in the back along with the luggage, and the driver had compassion on us and let us come along. Micah soon fell asleep on the way to the hotel, and once we arrived, we carried him up to our room and laid him on the bed. He didn’t wake up. Once we were in the room, I asked Neil if he’d grabbed Micah’s backpack and few things lying next to it. That was when we found out that those items had been left behind. By now it was 3 am and I lost it. I had been up for over 24 hours and I realized that we had lost Micah’s Kindle, which had all his school books on it, and his Leap Pad, and all of his toys and treats for the plane. I wanted to go back to the airport to find it but Neil said no, that I needed rest.
In the morning when I awoke, I immediately took the next shuttle to the airport in the hopes that the stuff would still be there. We knew our chances of finding it were low but I had to try. I went to the bus center and the place where Micah’s things had been was empty. Nothing was there. I didn’t want the shuttle to leave me so I turned around to go back, but on my way out the door I glanced in a trash can and, to my amazement, Micah’s precious panda bear was staring up at me from the bottom of the can, along with everything else we had left behind! Whoever threw those items in the trash was a mystery to me but it was no mystery who was involved in them being there. I grabbed everything and ran outside. The shuttle driver was amazed. “You need to get a lottery ticket today because you’re lucky!” He said. But I knew luck was not involved. It was because we follow a God who answers prayer!
It was a new day, and we figured what else could go wrong? It has to be smooth sailing from here, right? With our spirits high we left the hotel in the afternoon and headed for the airport again, hoping that this time our flight would not be delayed. We had no reason to believe it would since the skies were blue and the weather was clear. We got to the gate in Chicago well ahead of time, found a quite place to sit for lunch, and waited to board the plane. As we were eating lunch in our quite place, they switched the gate to another flight, and we ended up finishing our quiet lunch crammed behind a long line of people preparing to board their plane. We boarded our plane shortly after that, and we were excited everything was on time. Our layover in Amsterdam was only 2 hours but it was looking like we would make it. We hoped for an uneventful trip from here on out. Once on the plane we were strapped in and ready to go when the loud speaker crackled and the pilot announced that 3 business class people were late arriving and they were going to wait for them. “They should arrive in the next 15 minutes”, he said. An hour and a half later, the last of the three passengers we were waiting for finally got on the plane. It was beginning to look as if we would miss our connection in Amsterdam, and if there was any question in our minds about missing the flight, there wasn’t for long. During our wait for the late passengers, the crew needed to push our plane out of the gate had gone on to other planes, and there we sat with no one to push us off. Once they returned, they were unable to communicate with the pilot. “Their headsets are frozen”, the pilot said, “they have gone through several sets and are trying to find one that works. Flight regulations state that we must be in communication with them before they push us off.” Finally after over 2 hours of waiting on the tarmac in Chicago, someone found a way to communicate with the pilot and we were preparing for takeoff. Our hopes of making our connection in Amsterdam were dashed to pieces.
Micah slept through the 8 hour flight over the Atlantic Ocean and woke up as the sun rose above the clouds. He watched with excitement as the plane descended into Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, the airlines told us what we already knew, we had missed our flight yet again. They now gave us our third itinerary, we were scheduled to catch a flight with Egyptian Air from Amsterdam to Cairo and then to Dar-es- Salaam. Our flight would leave in 3 hours. We walked through the airport to our gate only to find that this flight was delayed 2 hours because of strong winds. We sat down to wait. By now I was beginning to feel completely worn out. I hadn’t been able to sleep in the cramped space on the overnight flight from Chicago. The airlines had set us up with meal vouchers so we went to see what food the airport had to offer. We found a place called the Dutch Kitchen, and I ordered an omelet and two dishes of fish and chips, thinking that would fill up our voucher. When I went to pick up the food I found not only two plates of fish and chips and an omelet waiting for me, but also two plates heaped with Dutch mini pancakes, along with two cappuccinos to go with the soda I had already picked up. I looked at the cook and said, “Did I order all this?” He said, “They are yours. You ordered them.” I thought back to my order and wondered, “Am I really that tired that I don’t remember?” I think they were just trying to fill up the vouchers. I shrugged my shoulders and carried it all back to the table. It took me two trips to carry it all and Neil’s eyes got wider and wider. “You ordered all of this stuff Rachelle?” I just laughed. We ended up stuffing ourselves and really enjoying the cappuccinos! Eventually after a long wait in the Amsterdam airport we boarded the flight that would take us to Cairo. Once again it was an overnight flight and Micah slept through it all. When we landed in Cairo we found out our plane to Dar-es-salaam was just finishing boarding. We tried to rush to our gate but it was too late. We had missed our flight yet again. I slowly walked over to some seats, dropped my luggage and collapsed. Micah sank down beside me. “What now Lord? I thought?” The agents at the ticket office had set us up with a flight from Cairo to Adis Ababa, where we would have to catch yet another flight to Dar-Es-Salaam. I looked at Neil and tears streamed down my face. I didn’t know if I could keep on going. It was midnight at this time. Neil went over to talk to the ticket agents and I tried hard to entertain Micah. The ticket agents must have felt sorry for us, because once they heard our story they immediately gave us more food vouchers and then walked over to me and asked what I would like to do, hop on a flight to Adis Ababa that night or stay in a hotel in the city. He took one look at me and knew the answer. We would stay in the city. They set us up in a very nice hotel, one of the nicest places we’ve ever stayed in. At 3 am we finally sank into our beds, thanking God for watching over us.
In the morning after we showered and had an amazing meal at the hotel, we felt almost brand-new. It is amazing what 4 hours of sleep can do when you are exhausted! We decided that since we were in Cairo, we might as well do something cool, so we went on a tour of the British Museum of Ancient Egyptian Artifacts. I have to admit, after all the chaos of the previous three days, looking through the items found in King Tut’s tomb was a surreal experience! After spending the afternoon out and about in the city with our tour guide, driving across the Nile River, seeing the pyramids peeking out above the city, looking out at centuries old fortresses and incredible architecture, we were feeling jetlagged and ready to rest. We returned to the hotel, fell asleep, woke up just in time for an amazing dinner at the hotel, then headed to the airport to catch our last flight. We were excited when our flight left at its appointed time and we touched down in Dar-es Salaam, right on schedule.
We arrived in Dar es Salaam early in the morning, and as the hot steamy climate of Tanzania hit us as we got off the plane, I thought to myself, “We are actually here, after all that’s happened. We are actually here!” When we arrived at the baggage claim, our luggage wasn’t there, not that we were expecting it to be. We’d had so many changes we knew it wouldn’t be there. It was hard to realize though that everything we had so carefully ordered in preparation for our first term in Africa was lost in some airport somewhere. Will we ever see it again? That part of the story is to be continued... We were excited to see our contact waiting for us outside the gates, and even more excited that he made it to the airport after he told us he’d been having car trouble the previous day.
We are so glad to finally be here. Because our trip over took 5 days instead of 3, we haven’t felt quite as jetlagged as the last time we travelled. We were all able to get a full night’s sleep last night instead of waking up in the wee hours of the morning. We look back at the trip in amazement and can’t believe all that transpired, but even more we see how God strengthened us and blessed us along the way. This morning we read in Romans that nothing can separate us from the love of God. We can be separated from our baggage, but not from our God! No matter what our situation, we can still find peace and inner joy from God because He sits above our current concerns and situations. Even when we “lose it”, we’re still in his hands! We thought about the man who had written those words in Romans. Many of his journeys were filled with unforeseen events as well, only his were slightly worse! Think of how many times Paul must have lost his baggage!
Micah is doing very well here. We are staying with a family on our team who has three children. There is a giant trampoline in the back, which has been perfect for Micah to get his unlimited supply of energy out. He is very happy here and we are so relieved to see that. We wanted to thank those of you who are involved in praying for us or sending support our way. Really, it is a huge encouragement to know that you stand side by side with us. Even though we are now on a different continent you are close to us and we know we are not alone in what God has called us to do. Thank you!!!
We have been reunited with our baggage. All of it! Thanks for praying!