"Dan Olinger"

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.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Last day in Africa. We need to be checked out of the house by 10 am, but our flight isn’t until almost 11 pm, so our plan is to get checked out, drop our luggage off in Bill Knipe’s garage, where it will be safe, and spend the day downtown. We’ll pick up our luggage around 7:30 pm and arrive at the airport about 8, which should be plenty of time to turn in the rental van, check in, get through security, and be there to board.

Most of the team got their packing done last night, except the morning essentials. I’ve decided to do all mine this morning. It doesn’t take long. I stop by the front desk and tell Linda that I’ll be doing room inspections, after which we should be ready to vacate easily by 10 am. She’s happy that we’ve had a good time and says that she’s looking forward to having us back. We stayed here every time we’ve had a team in Cape Town—this is the 5th time—and she’s always happy to see us. I imagine that having college kids—from America—who don’t trash the place and party all night (you can imagine what that would do to her relationship with her neighbors)—is probably a relatively rare thing. We go ahead and book a couple of weeks for next year. I tell her that it’s contingent on student interest and fundraising, but she’s happy with that; we can cancel anytime before March.

You people should go stay at her place. It’s great.

I inspect the house and the guys’ 3 rooms and 2 bathrooms, and it all looks good. There are some things we’ve left intentionally (I’ve mentioned the extra food for the cleaning lady), but the place is empty of the stuff we mean to take, and it’s clean, and nothing major is broken (I’ve reported 3 broken glasses and a serving tray damaged by heat). I always wish there were less breakage, but we are dealing with college students, over a 2-week period. And to their credit, they were washing the glasses when they broke them.

By 10:09 we’re all in the van and ready to drive. We drop by Bill’s place and stash all the luggage in his empty garage. We could carry it in the van, of course, but that’s just an invitation to thieves, and this is one less thing we’ll have to worry about. He performs a kind service.

It occurs to me later that I’ve forgotten to post yesterday’s blog entry. And now I’ve left my laptop, where the file is, in Bill’s garage for the day. Won’t be able to post it until tonight. I hope the readers will be patient.

Over to Limnos one last time. The place is full, but the waiter suggests a table outside, and the day is balmy enough to accommodate that. We sit in the sun, feeling its warmth, and order our hearts’ desires. And guess what? They have scones again. And … Black Forest cake! I get some, and I’m telling you, it’s amazing. Between the bottom 2 layers, there’s this thin layer of crisp chocolate, which crunches like the top of a crème brulee … should I stop now? I like to give details.

After a few minutes the guys from the church come by. They’ve been our regular companions here; they enjoy the fellowship, and it helps them to know that there are other kids their age who want to serve God. Sometimes here it’s difficult for them to get that impression.

While we’re all enjoying our time, Kevin Simpson drives by on his way to a building job and honks and waves. A few minutes later, Bill Knipe does the same thing. It’s like a parade out here.

Breakfast taken care of, it’s time to go downtown and see what we haven’t seen yet. My plan is to take them up to Table Mountain, weather permitting, and then down to the Waterfront, which is the City’s central tourist area. I’ve avoided it so far because of the terrorism warning—everybody agrees that the Waterfront would be the primary target—but Ramadan ended on Tuesday, and there hasn’t been a trickle of news of any threats.

So. First to Table Mountain. It was quite foggy when I got up this morning, but that’s all burned off, and the mountain is crisp and clear. The drive up to the cable-car station is scenic; you’re expelled right out of city center and up the side of the mountain for some great vistas. I notice that there’s a LOT of traffic; I’ve never seen it this crowded. You just park along the side of the road, and the parked cars appear much lower on the mountain than I’ve ever seen before. Well, it’s the first Saturday after Ramadan, and it’s a beautiful weekend day, so everybody wants to be out.

We arrive at the cable-car station and see a line snaking out of the building and down the sidewalk. Wow. It could be hours to get in, and once you’re up there, you’ll face the same situation coming back down—the cable car is the choke point, unless you want to hike, which takes 1.5 hours—and we have people whose foot problems simply won’t allow  them to hike.

And if we go through all that, we might not have time to see the Waterfront, which is the real prize here.

Maybe it’ll be less crowded later. I make the executive decision to can the plan, with the option to try again later in the day. Table Mountain is beautiful, and the cable-car ride is fun if you’ve never done it before, but they’ve already seen better vistas than they’ll see here.

So back down the mountain we go, to the Waterfront.

Many port cities—Boston, Seattle, and Baltimore come immediately to mind—have realized that their waterfront can be a major tourist attraction and revenue generator. Cape Town may have led the way in this idea. The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront sports malls, restaurants, shops, harbor tours, street performers, fancy hotels, and LOTS of parking. It’s a magnet for people. We park underground and walk up the spiral stairs right into the middle of it.

I start by showing them the Breakwater, a jetty area that’s one of my favorite places here. You’re overlooking the bay, which is calm today, and on a sunny day it’s one of those coastal places where the sea air and the calls of the gulls just regenerate you. We walk back into the center of the plaza and decide a harbour tour would be a good idea. The boat that’s leaving now is full, but we get seats on the 3:30. That’s an hour, so there’s time for lunch. There’s a food court just inside Victoria Mall; we find the place with the shortest lines—it’s roasted chicken—and get a round of meals. We eat them outside, where at first the hovering seagulls seem quaint but we soon realize that they’re eyeing our food. And hovering. Over our food. If you know what I mean. But we manage to finish with no foreign substances in our chicken.

Back to the dock for the harbor tour. The boat holds about 30 people, of which we’re a significant percentage. The skipper expertly maneuvers the vessel while narrating over the PA system, and his sense of humor is immediately apparent. He points out sites of interest on shore, as well as large ships docked here today. We stop by a couple of tires hanging down from docks. They’re there to protect the ships, of course, but the local seals have decided they’re great places to sun, and we watch them laze for a while. We feel a little bit like them today, with no work to do.

After half an hour we’re back at the dock. 4 pm. Is there time to get to Table Mountain? Yes, theoretically, but since the last cable car down is at 5:30 in winter, we’d be on the mountain for just a few minutes. We decide it’s not worth it.

A disappointment, but not a major one.

OK. We’d like to leave at 7, so we have 3 hours. I turn everybody loose. There’s a major mall, already mentioned, as well as smaller ones—the Alfred for hoity-toity stuff, an artisan food mall, and tons of places to just stroll through and enjoy.

They must want the free time; I no sooner finish my “be right here at 7, don’t be late” speech when they’ve all scattered. Evidently no one wants to hang out with me.

On my 5th trip, I’m not really interested in souvenirs. I poke around in corners of the place I haven’t seen before—can’t hurt, for future tour-guide purposes, to know what all’s here—and then stroll through the lobby of the Table Bay Hotel—cheapest rooms are $400 a night, which explains why President Obama stayed here when he was here on a state visit—out the back to the Breakwater to watch the sunset. I find a place on the promenade, above the rocks, with the soccer stadium, built for the 2010 World Cup held here, on my left, and Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in prison before becoming the country’s president, straight ahead. The sun is setting just between the two. I enjoy the peace, with boats moving slowly and silently—from here—in and out of the harbor, seagulls soaring and calling, small wavelets lapping on the rocks, lovers passing in front of me on the promenade, and the sun itself personalizing the experience by laying a shining path directly toward me on the water.

Nothing to do but enjoy the sensory experience and its potent reminder that my Father made all this.

As the sun slips into the sea—I always wonder why it doesn’t boil when that happens—the lovers kiss and head for home. I think I’ll do the same, though not necessarily in that order.

I walk slowly back through the Table Bay, along the dockside, and up into the Victoria Mall. It’s only 6—the Crew has an hour yet—so maybe I’ll find a coffee shop and enjoy a nice decaf.

To my surprise I see Rachael, who tells me that most of the gang is at the vida e caffe shop nearby. (Yeah, they use lower case in their signage.) Everyone but Lora and Jojo. I get a mocha and settle in with them. About 6:50 we walk the 50 meters or so to the meeting spot by the elevator, and Jojo and Lora show up a minute or two early.

How about that. Punctual to the end.

We walk to the parking garage, where we find the van right where we left it. Back to Bill’s place in Kuilsrivier, where we load up our luggage and say our good-byes. I find that my laptop has failed to go into sleep mode, and now the battery’s dead. We may well not be in a place with both AC access and wifi to upload the blog entry.

Drat. Gonna be 3 days behind when I get home. The team may be faithful to the end, but their alleged leader is getting scatter-brained.

As we drive away from the Knipes’ house, the team notes that this is a good group of folks to work with. They’re unpretentious, godly, joyous, and completely human. We’ve spent most of our time with the Knipes, the Paynes, and the Simpsons, and we love them all.

Down the R-300 and toward town on the N-2, it’s just 20 minutes or so to the airport. I drop everybody off with the luggage and tell ‘em to wait for me inside while I turn in the van. That’s close enough that I can walk back to the terminal, and the transaction is routine. I’ve learned over time that turning in a rental vehicle is easier if you haven’t banged it up much.

Back in the terminal, the Crew has met up with the guys we’ve been hanging around with all day, and I’m delighted to see that both parents of one of the guys have also come to see us off. We find a place to sit for a few minutes of fellowship before we head to the KLM counter to check our bags. That goes routinely—we have no problem with overweight bags, since we’ve been dealing with much lower limits earlier in the trip—and by 9 we’re ready to go through security. Our Capetonian friends walk us as far as the entrance to the line, and we say our good-byes. I have to remember that the Crew isn’t going to be back next year, as I plan to be. The good-byes are more difficult for them.

These have been good friends. We’re grateful for social media, which will help us keep in touch.

Through security and out to the gate. We take our last team picture in Africa, fittingly, in front of the Out of Africa shop near the gate. They begin to board the wide-body, as is typical, a full hour before take-off. We find our seats about halfway back on the right, in a cluster of 3 rows.

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We take off near the scheduled time, about 11.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Last day of scheduled ministry. Today, Lord willing, we complete the contract.

I drop by the house at 9:30 for a Limnos run. Everybody but Sarah and Jojo want to go. We find a table near the front door and settle in. The waiter informs us that they’re still out of Black Forest cake. And now they’re out of scones too. Ouch. It’s like they’re not even Limnos anymore. We order some things and enjoy the fellowship. But it would have been better with scones. And Black Forest cake.

Back to the house for some free time before our last VBS. It’s a pretty simple day.

There are more children than yesterday at the Bible club, and they’re energetic on this last day. We start with songs, led by Jojo and Lora, and the children are deeply into it. Then the Bible story, which Jonathan tells, about Onesimus. And the memory verse, by Bethany, who reviews all the verses for the week—they remember them surprisingly well—and then covers today’s new one, Ephesians 4:32. That’s nostalgic for me; it was the first Bible verse I memorized, more than 55 years ago. Boy, a lot has happened since then. I wonder what God will do with these children.

We send the children off with Nik-Naks, the Cheetos-like snacks, and they’re surprisingly sentimental. Many of them hug us, and as usual, I tell them that, God willing, we’ll do this again next year.

Willa and her crew have made an Africa pot full of chicken curry stew, and we take time to enjoy it—with our scheduled activities completed, we have no need to consider any schedule pressure—and talk with our coworkers, both the young men and the senior citizens who’ve been working alongside us all week. It’s a special time of fellowship.

Eventually we say our goodbyes and head up the R-102 for the last time. We hit a bunch of red lights and slow people in front of us, but there’s no need to hurry. The Crew is silent as we drive. I ask if they’re tired or sad or both. Jonathan replies, “Pensive,” and I sense agreement from the others. It’s good that they’re thinking about what they’ve learned.

At the house Rachael and Jonathan put together spaghetti and sauce from the rest of our groceries, and we even find a couple of candles to put on the table. There are some things left over—cooking oil, flour, sugar, that sort of thing—which we’ll leave on the counter for the cleaning lady to take home.

After dinner we have our last team meeting, ever. There have been so many of these that it’s always a little surreal to think that there won’t be any more. We share things we’ve learned—I tell them that we all understand that we’re just forming our thoughts at this point, that it will take time for their thinking to solidify. Everyone has observations to share. I lay out some things I’ve learned over the years about repatriation, the pitfalls that come so easily on return from a trip like this. And then we pray, to thank God for His goodness and greatness, and to ask for 48 more hours of it, to bring us safely home to those we love and have missed for these 8 weeks.

We’re done by 8. One goes to bed; others go pack; some of us just hang out and enjoy a low-key last night in Africa.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Last night I said I’d drop by the house at 9 am to pick up anyone who wanted to go to Limnos Bakery. It’s a local chain that has outstanding pastries, magnificent scones, and good coffee. I also told them I’d bring something back for any who didn’t want to go, so there’s no penalty for sleeping in.

All the girls are ready to go. The guys choose to sleep in. Draw your own conclusions, but beware the inductive fallacy.

They give us a booth in the back, and we all order something to drink and something to eat. Two of the girls get scones, which are roughly the size of Azerbaijan. They think they might be better than the ones from Hillcrest. I find that hard to believe. Linda Otto, our host, has told me that their Black Forest cake may be better than the one she ate in the Black Forest; despite the fact that it’s breakfast time, I order a slice. They’re out of it. Drat. OK, poached eggs on toast. We pick up something for the guys and head home. I feel suddenly sleepy and curl up under the blanket on the couch. When I wake up, lunch is over, and the guys are in the house. So the team functions perfectly well without me.

There are fewer children at VBS today—about 60—but they cooperate well, and everything runs smoothly. The Bronchitis Patient is back with us today, so we have a full contingent. That helps. And afterwards Willa feeds us again.

We drop Jojo off at the house—he wants to watch the France / Germany soccer match—while we drive downtown to Signal Hill to watch the sunset. The hill gives a nice view of the harbor and the northwestern Cape, better than 180 degrees of panorama. Again there are no clouds, so the coloration of the sunset isn’t as spectacular as it could be, but it’s still beautiful. There’s a stiff wind there that makes us all feel the chill.

With night falling we drive out the N-1 to Century City, the newest and largest mall in Cape Town. It’s the Las Vegas of malls, with lots of flashing lights and activity. There are 3 floors—actually 2.5 I suppose—with 2 hallways each, and a 3-story food court in the middle with everything you could imagine. And a Canal Walk outside, with a tip o’ the hat to Venice. (Italy, not California.)

I turn the Crew loose for an hour just to explore. Half of them go outside to the go-kart track and ride.

As we sit in the food court eating our supper, I say something I’ve said repeatedly here in Cape Town: “This is Africa too.” It’s a diverse place, and stereotypes can’t possibly do it justice.

We stay until everything starts shutting down at 10 and then drive home. Everybody opts for bed.

Almost out of juice, but almost done. Maybe we’ll just make it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

The Crew is free to sleep in; I have an appointment for coffee with Tony Payne and one of the men in his church about some doctrinal questions. When my latte arrives, it’s so beautiful that I actually post a photo on Facebook, something I pretty much never do. And it gets a lot of likes. It’s one good-lookin’ latte.

The three of us have an animated discussion about the doctrinal issues at hand, and even when we disagree we have a really good time talking. It’s a joy to talk to a church member—and his pastor—about things he’s wrestling with as he studies the Scripture. Pastors love that. And I enjoy seeing Tony’s pastor’s heart. I love the engagement, the interplay of ideas; Tony’s more interested in discipling the man and encouraging him. I’ve always known that I wasn’t called to pastor, and seeing a pastor in action reminds me that I have a long way to go in caring for others.

We finish up a little before noon. I return to the house to find some up and some not. We have several with minor illnesses, and I’m encouraging them to get as much rest as they can.

We finish the gatsby for lunch. Man, that thing was huge.

We talk about how we can improve the VBS—the kids were a challenge yesterday, and while we can attribute much of that to the rain that kept them inside, we still think of things we can do to improve our effectiveness. Now to go put it into action.

When we arrive a few minutes before 2, there’s a long line at the registration table, and we jump in to get the children checked in. Most are returning from yesterday, but we’re glad to see that there are new ones as well. Word spreads in the neighborhood a little more every day.

We start with games, and the kids cooperate pretty well—though of course they are kids, and that shows up every so often. Inside they sing well and pay good attention as Jojo tells the Bible story and Bethany teaches the memory verse. This is significantly better than yesterday.

Willa and her crew have a curry, meat, and potatoes dish for us, with bread and coffee. I tell you, we eat all the time here.

Back to the house for pizza, which we put together earlier in the day—Rachael made the crust—and Bronchitis Patient threw in the oven so it would be ready when we got back from VBS. Just FYI, BP is improving as the medication does its work. And the pizzas are delicious, with lots of genuine mozzarella, which we got immediately when we saw it in the store.

Cheese. It’s a good thing.

Tonight for prayer meeting all the churches are invited to Kevin’s church for a seminar by Yours Truly. I’ve given them a list of several things I could talk about, and after considerable discussion they’ve selected the question of female pastors. I talk for 45 minutes or so on egalitarianism and complementarianism, explaining the positions and summarizing their arguments. Then I tell them why I’m complementarian and invite them to study the Scripture passages and the key websites and come to their own conclusions. At least four of the local pastors are there with some of their folks, and they seem to understand and appreciate the presentation.

That’s really fun.

There’s coffee and pastries afterwards—did I mention that we eat all the time here?—and we head out about 9:30 pm. Back at the house we meet briefly to talk through tomorrow, and then I send everybody to bed.