Sunday, July 11, 2016

They serve us dinner shortly into the flight, after which we settle in for the long one. It’s 11.5 hours to Amsterdam, the entire height of the African continent, across Namibia, Angola, part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (that’s where the “African jungle” is), northern Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, Algeria, and Tunisia before crossing the Mediterranean Sea and skirting France up to the Netherlands. Glad we don’t have to walk it.

We stay in the same time zone, so we cover Africa in the dark and have breakfast as the sun rises over France (or should I say “the sun also rises”?). We circle AMS on the west before dropping in and landing from the north.

Back at Schiphol, a little after 10:30 am. Two and a half hours layover. As we typically do, we start by going to our gate, so we’re sure we know where it is and how far we are from it. We have to go through security again with our carry-ons (our checked bags are checked through to ATL, of course); on the one hand I’m irritated, because it’s really unnecessary for people who haven’t left the secure zone, and the only significant outcome is that people who brought water bottles off the plane lose them, but on the other hand, I’m glad they’re taking security seriously.

From the security check we head toward the gate. Now that we’ve lost our water, we’re thirsty, so we pick some up at one of the shops, at exorbitant prices. So that’s why they do an unnecessary security check …

There’s a retail plaza with public seating, so we settle in and use the wifi. There’s also power here, but I don’t have the European adapter handy—it’s different from both Africa and South Africa—so I still can’t update the blog.

An hour before flight time we head to the gate. There’s another security checkpoint at the concourse entrance, but they’re just asking the standard luggage questions and not actually inspecting anything. From there we stroll to D-7, where boarding is underway. We hang around and wait for most other people to board; I find that the terminal is always more comfortable than the plane, and the only advantage to boarding early is that you get your choice of overhead luggage bins—and since my backpack fits easily under my seat, I don’t care where it goes.

We board the plane and go all the way to the back; we have 3 rows of 2 on the left, with 2 others over on the right. This is a 9.5-hour flight, with a 6-hour time change, and all of it in daylight. So we take off at 1 pm, fly until our head thinks it’s 10:30 pm, and get off the plane in bright daylight, not yet suppertime the same day. That’ll do things to your circadian rhythm.

They feed us shortly after takeoff, a snack about midway, and a light lunch just before landing. We mostly doze or busy ourselves with the entertainment system. I watch some documentaries, and the movie “Eddie the Eagle”—wasn’t that great back in the ’88 Olympics?—and I like to check in on the flight info every so often to follow the geography and the technical data. I find that my restless leg syndrome gives me fits if I sleep or just sit, but if I’m distracted by a movie or something similar, it doesn’t seem to bother me. Wish I knew why.

Following the Great Circle, we pass south of Greenland—not close enough to see it, though, and much of the trip is over solid overcast anyway—and down the East Coast to Atlanta. A fair amount of turbulence, but nothing unsettling. We land in ATL at 4:45 pm, just a few minutes late. Back on US soil, but since ATL uses jetways, no chance to kiss the ground.

ATL has a pretty good system in immigration, with a lot of kiosks that scan your passport, take your photo, and send you on your way. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work, but today it’s a mess. The line for kiosks is looooong, and for some reason the papers the kiosks are spitting out are incomplete, and most people have to go stand in another long “problem” line, which doesn’t seem to be moving much. A few of us are in each line—I’m in the “no problem” one and get through quickly—so those of us who are ahead go on into the baggage claim and get everybody’s baggage on individual carts, which I like to do to speed up customs. Lora gets through first and grabs most of the bags; then Jojo, Jonathan and I join her, just in time to not do any of the heavy lifting. Seriously. She’s the smallest person on the team, but she tosses those bags around with no apparent effort.

We wait a long time for the others, but eventually they arrive. Each takes his own cart out of the baggage claim to discover that there is no customs inspection to go through. Well, that’s different.

Pass a final document check before coming to a parting of the ways. Those continuing to other flights—that’s Jojo and Lora—will go left, while those leaving the airport will go right. We take the last complete team photo and say our good-byes.

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It’s always kind of an anticlimactic moment. How do you call an end to these 8 weeks of intense teamwork, of rapid friendship? We’re all tired, and we’ve said what we want and need to say along the way, so we hug or shake hands, say “Travel safely,” and head in opposite directions.

Jonathan’s meeting a BJU friend here and staying at his family’s house overnight. He and his father are waiting for him, and they all go up the stairs and out of sight to the parking garage. The 3 girls and I meet the BJU van at the curb, and just like that, we’re headed for Greenville.

Jake, the supervisor of Transportation Services at BJU, is our driver. He’s cheery and happily answers my questions about summer in Greenville, but he’s also aware that we think it’s 2 in the morning, and he assures me that he can stay awake if we’d all like to sleep. Each of the girls has her own bench seat, and within minutes heads have disappeared in the back. Soon I’m dozing in the shotgun seat as well.

Traditionally we stop for one last supper along the way, but we ate just before getting off the plane. I ask a couple hours down the road if anyone wants to eat, and nobody does. Seeing family—and sleeping until we do—seem to be the top priorities.

About 9:45 we pull into campus, where we take the final team photo, and Bethany and Rachael meet their families and say their good-byes. Jake drops me and Sarah at my house on the way back to Transportation, and my lovely wife and I take Sarah to her apartment.

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Done for another year. No more counting noses, until next time.

We have seen and learned new and life-changing things; we’ve met wonderful and varied people; we’ve ministered alongside godly and joyous brothers and sisters. And we’ve come home safe and sound, for the most part. 🙂 God has demonstrated that He is great and good, and that He is uniquely so. It is a pleasure and a privilege to know and serve Him.

Until next time.

Dan Olinger

Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion. Elder at Heritage Bible Church, Greer, SC.

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