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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Today some of us get to sleep in a little. We need to be out of the guest houses at 10, but if we packed everything last night, there’s not much to do. I drop by the reception desk to give Linda a little carved turtle as a token of our appreciation for her hospitality (she has a turtle farm out back; it’s a long story) and to get a little wifi to email yesterday’s journal. Then it’s just a case of waiting until everybody’s ready.

Bill comes by right on time at 9:30. He’s here to carry the luggage in his van, since we fill our 2 vans with people. I do a quick inspection of the 3 houses, and we’re ready to go.

Funny thing. We have to be out by 10, but our flight’s not until 3:50, and the airport’s not far, so as soon as we back out of the driveway we’re not in a hurry anymore. Someone suggests that we go by Limnos for one last time, and that sounds good to everybody, so off we go.

When we walk in, we pretty much fill the small shop. The proprietress recognizes me and Joy from all the takeout business we gave her last week. I tell her we’re leaving for home, and we’d like to experience Limnos one last time. And that we’re eating in. There’s one customer in the store, a lady, who kindly offers to move to a side table so we can have the main seating area. It occurs to me that she was expecting a nice quiet morning with her book and her coffee, and now we’ve changed all that, so I tell the boss that I’d like to pay for her pastry and coffee.

We sit at pretty much all the rest of the tables and order nummies. As we’re eating and enjoying ourselves, the customer motions me over and tells me what nice children I have. I explain that they’re my students from a university in the States, and she hands me a gospel tract. We have a nice little bit of fellowship.

Soon we’re done, and once again the bill is less than I expect. I could get used to this. We load up and drive over to Bill’s house for a little time playing with the kids and saying goodbye. I watch our kids playing with theirs, and I’m thankful that they’re willing to take the time to create memories for a small group of MKs. That, too, is ministry.

We sing a little around the piano, and we pray, specifically for Joslyn, who’s staying in Africa for another 5 weeks, and then we load up for the last trip to the airport. It’s a brief drive; we drop off everybody but the drivers, who will return the cars while the crew unloads and organizes the luggage.

The car return is simple, and soon Joy and I are back in the cavernous lobby rejoining the team for check-in. We get our boarding passes and then go downstairs to hang out in the food court where there’s more interesting stuff going on than at the gate, and besides it’s still too early to check in at the gate.

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Some of us do a little last-minute shopping in the mall area; some get a snack; some just sit at the table and talk. Joslyn’s hanging out with us; Bill will come get her when we check in. Too soon the time comes, and there’s a big hugging session, and then we’re 13 again.

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Security, gate, wait, board, fly to Joburg. Three-hour layover, plenty of time to meet Abbie and her aunt, grab a bite, and catch up on the 2 weeks we’ve been separated. Then onto the wide-body for the long flight home. Eleven of us are seated together; Joy, Robert, and Katie—you know, the New York crew—are seated elsewhere. I trade with Katie because she has an aisle seat and doesn’t care, and I know I’m going to be walking around a lot on the long overnight flight due to the RLS.

These flights are never easy. You can’t really sleep; the alleged reclining in the seat is useless; there are lights and voices and pokes from people you don’t know all conspiring to make you miserable. But it’s better than the Mayflower, and we soldier on.

[Technically, it’s Sunday now.]

For me, the flight gets easier as it progresses; the others have different sensations. But after several meals, lots of walking around, and even an impromptu game of Signs, we find ourselves over the good old US of A and descending into Atlanta.

Robert, Keri, and Joy have the shortest layovers, in that order, so they hope to get jump on the crowd. Fortunately, Robert and Joy are seated toward the front of coach, so that looks good. As we deplane and head for immigration, however, the airport uses a lineup system that pretty well neutralizes that, and Joy and Keri are among the last to get through. But they don’t have checked bags, so they can skip that step. The rest of us get our bags without incident and go through customs with only a cursory wave of the hand. We’re part of a large crowd, and I guess the customs officials want to avoid a bottleneck.

I text Paul, our driver, that the Greenville 9 is ready for pickup, and the other 5 go on their ways, with hugs and fond goodbyes. Just 1 hour after touchdown, we’re on the van and leaving the airport, and the others are in good time for their next flight. An efficient conclusion.

Several of the kids on the van have asked if we can stop at an IHOP on the way home. Frankly, I don’t know why IHOP is their choice, and since we had breakfast at 5:30, I’d be able to make it to lunch, but there’s money left in the budget, and it’s their money, so why not? We find one in Duluth, just north of Spaghetti Junction, and we settle in at a table in the back. Our waitress has an accent, so I ask her where she’s from. She grew up in Liberia, she says, but she was born in Ghana. Small world. In addition to the tip on the credit card, I leave a 1-cedi Ghanaian note.

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On our way out, a family in the parking lot sees Jordan’s Cameroon football jersey and shouts, “That’s my country!” So we all compare notes, and they take a picture with the Cameroon crew, or as many as are there.

We sleep most of the way home and arrive on campus 15 minutes ahead of the predicted 11 am. Most of the parents are already there, and the reunion is a joy to watch. Abbie’s mom has brought a fancy cupcake from the bakery for each of the team members, and a half dozen for me. Ah, the benefits of doing this. 🙂 I hereby pronounce Abbie’s bakery the Limnos of Summerville, SC: http://abbiesbakery.com/. Drop by if you’re in the area.

We shake hands all around and take a final photo, and I climb into the van for a ride home from Paul. I let myself in the front door; Pam is at church, but one daughter is home.

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Home.

It’s good to be here.

God has been faithful, His people—American and African—have ministered and been ministered to, and we have learned a lot while creating lifelong memories. Thrilled for the opportunity.

But good to be home.

Friday, July 5, 2013

I wake up at 5:30. It’s all Keri’s fault.

When we were up on Signal Hill watching the sunset the other night, we saw some paragliders flying off the hill and landing on the beach at Signal Point a couple of miles away. (A matter of definition: hang-gliders are suspended in a sling from a wing-like contraption; paragliders sit in a harness below a wing-shaped parachute.) These are tandem paragliders, strapping paying passengers to themselves for a fee.

Well, several of us talked to them, and Keri got contact information in case we want to try it later. We called them yesterday to see when we could fly today; they said 7:30 am. Ouch. We have to drive an hour in, so we need to leave at 6; any later than that and the morning rush-hour traffic will make us late.

So I’m up at 5:30. And that’s OK; I’m a morning person. But here, it’s a lot colder before sunup, and it’s plenty cold after.

Six of us are going: Keri, Joslyn, Auria, Joy, Robert, and me. I assume they’ve talked with their parents; I’m not making any judgment calls about what risks they can take. We’re ready to leave at 6, and away we go.

We’re on the hill around 6:45. Our contact says he’ll check wind conditions at 7. It’s still dark, and we sit overlooking the city lights and watch the sun rise in the northeast. Well, 4 of us do; 2 of us, who are clearly not morning people, and whose names are Joy and Joslyn, stay in the car and sleep.

Bill Knipe texts to say he and Jason are coming to watch. They’ll wait down at Sea Point and see us land.

At 7 our guy says the winds are in the wrong direction; we need a headwind for a safe takeoff, and the wind is from the east, over the city. They’re not allowed to take off in that direction because Parliament meets down there, and they’re skittish about people flying over the Parliament building. Especially people with beards. So we wait to see if the wind will shift to westerly; our guy says it often does in the early morning.

He’s from Bulgaria and has been paragliding since he was 15, and he’s over 30 now. And alive. Which says something about his professionalism and care.

We wait. Around 8:30 a bunch of cars drive up and park, and 6 or 8 guys in dark suits and sunglasses and matching ties jump out, apparently acting as bodyguards. Out of one of the cars step two African-American females, dressed to kill, an older female, and a man dressed very casually. They come over next to us at the overlook and gaze at the harbor for a few minutes. They say something about getting to the casino to rehearse at 2; then they take some pictures, jump in their cars, and tear off down the mountain.

We figure they’re a vocal duo, accompanied by their manager (the man) and their something-or-other (the woman). I ask the team kids what Beyonce looks like, and they laugh and say it’s not her. So we don’t know who they were. Pretty sure they weren’t Elvis.

[News flash: with diligent research I have learned that several female African-American soul singers performed at the Grand West Casino in Cape Town on Saturday, July 6. They included Cece Peniston, Sybil, and Robin S. I believe the first two were the ones we saw. I never heard of any oof ’em, but that doesn’t surprise me.]

By this time the pilots—all 3 of them—say the wind is unlikely to shift. We’re not flying today. OK. We thank them and wish them well and head down the mountain to meet Bill and grab some breakfast. We end up at the Waterfront, right next to the joint where Jordan and I got the raw oysters the other night. This place is a fancy little café with artisan bread and a great menu. We all get something exotic; I get a poached egg, brie, ham, and fresh basil leaves on a bruschetta, and it’s really good. We sit and talk for a while, until the people at the next table start having a business meeting of some kind.

Keri and Auria decide they don’t want to drive all the way back to the house just to pick up the rest of the team and return to Table Mountain and the Waterfront, so they stay while we drive back. I learn later that they take a helicopter ride. Those kids.

When we get back to the house, Jon is working on a large batch of Jon’s Mom’s Macaroni and Cheese, and it’s going to take a while, so we chill until about 1. Then eat (it’s very good, Jon’s Mom) and jump in both vans for the day’s planned excursion to the aforementioned sites.

When we arrive at the waterfront, Table Mountain is socked in by clouds. They won’t open it to tourists when it’s like that, so we’ll have to see if it clears. (It is fairly fickle.) There’s plenty to do at the Waterfront. We were planning to ride the Ferris wheel, but it’s 8 bucks a pop, and after the high scenic views of the area we’ve had lately, the wheel doesn’t look all that impressive, frankly. A few of us consider hiking from Signal Hill to Lion’s Head, but Jason doesn’t think we can complete it before dark, and the clouds look like they might involve rain. But Keri and Auria have made friends with an operator of harbour cruises (it just seems right to spell it with the extra u), and he gives us a deal for the group, so we climb on board.

We cruise the entire harbor, with our narrator describing the buildings, the commercial ships, the private yachts, even the fancy apartments owned by Oprah and David Beckham and the grand hotel where President Obama stayed just a few days ago. This narrator is quite a storyteller, with a personality that makes you like him even when all you know of him is the sound of his voice.

Back on land, it’s obvious that Table Mountain is not going to clear today. We have an hour or two to shop and get some supper; then it’s dark and time to head home for the final time.

At home we have our last team meeting. We’ve had a bunch of these, and it seems odd that they won’t happen anymore. We sing and share testimonies of things learned along the way, and we focus our prayers on thanksgiving for God’s goodness and faithfulness through the 8+ weeks. I thank the team for their hard work and professionalism, then give special thanks to Jon, our music director, and to Joy, the leader of the Cameroon squad, medical advisor, and girls’ counselor. Her work has been extraordinary. She’s going to be home for just 10 days before leaving for Israel to begin 4 years of medical school at Ben Gurion University in Beer-Sheba. We have a special time of prayer for her.

Then it’s time to pack. Over the course of the next couple of hours, the chaos gradually reduces into a few tightly packed pieces of luggage. We’ll have quite a bit of food left over, and we’ll give that to the Knipes. The kids are leaving a number of articles of clothing behind for anyone who wants them, to make room for the souvenirs they’ve bought. We have a hanging scale to make sure our luggage doesn’t end up costing us a fortune.

For the paragliders it’s been a long day, and for all of us it’s been a good and full one. Tomorrow we start the trek home.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Fourth of July. When I walk across the street to the reception area (and wifi hotspot) for the guest houses, Linda Otto, the proprietor, with a big smile, wishes me a happy Independence Day. Now that’s a good woman. It’s a gentle kindness to recognize that someone who’s far from home feels that distance and loves his homeland. Class act. Then she presents me with a milk tart, kind of a custard pie, with an American flag planted in the middle. It’s for the team, she says. She tells me she visited the States a few years ago, and on the 4th of July she was on the National Mall in Washington. Looks like she did it right.

Eric has told us about a hike above Hout Bay that would be a good half-day jaunt, and 7 of us—Jordan, Robert, Catherine, Angel, Joslyn, Joy, and me—decide to go for it. The others would rather sleep. So the Grahams—Eric and the 4 kids—come by at 8, and away we go, following the same route we took to the Cape last Saturday, as far as Muizenberg, where we head up into the hills toward Noordhoek, climbing along the mountains until we reach the Silvermine trailhead, where we park and prepare for the hike.

Initially it’s pretty flat, alongside a manmade lake (tailings from the old silver mine?) and across the dam that forms it. Then we start up into the foothills, and we begin to hike in earnest. It’s generally not strenuous, though there are few steeper spots, but brief ones. As we climb, we get a higher and higher view of the Strand to the east, and we notice that the wind is picking up. It’s a bright, sunny morning, but the wind makes it chilly.

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Finally we crest the ridge, and as we walk along it toward the peak, we can see both False Bay to the east and the Atlantic to the west. The wind is very strong, and the closer we get to the peak, the harder it blows. At the peak I can barely stay on my feet, but we manage to find a viewing spot slightly below the peak, where there’s good shelter from the wind, and we have an astonishing view of Hout Bay and its surrounding mountains. The overlook where we stopped the vans on the Chapman’s Peak Drive Saturday at sundown is far below us; it’s hard to believe that we had a high view of the bay from there.

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As we’re treasuring the whole experience, we notice a cloud layer moving quickly over us from the east, with the wind. The bottom of the cloud is about 50 feet above us; we feel as though we’re almost in it, and its proximity just emphasizes its speed. It’s beautiful.

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We take a team picture with Hout Bay in the background, and, seeing that we’ve been hiking for more than an hour and a half, we make a quick pace for the van. It’s faster downhill, but the walk back still takes us an hour.

It’s almost 1 when we get back to the house, and we have a 4th of July picnic with the missionaries at 2 at the Knipes’ house, so some of us grab a quick bite and review the scripts to the skits we’re doing.

I’ve told the team that this is one of the most important things we’re going to do on the trip. We’re the entertainment for several missionary families at the picnic. We gather to celebrate our unity as Americans and to laugh at our cultural foibles, and the team will help tie the celebration together, give them something to laugh at, and especially create a pleasant memory for the kids. This is ministry, as certainly as anything else we’ve done.

We have 7 or 8 skits lined up, as well as a couple of other miscellaneous acts. It’s a variety show, which Jon has organized into 3 sections to be presented throughout the afternoon.

We begin with an icebreaker, followed by a few skits to set the tone. Then some typically American stuff—the band from Tanzania (Catherine on fiddle, Jon on harmonica, Will on the ridiculous souvenir drum, and Katie on the maraca, with me sitting in on guitar) does “Old MacDonald” and “Turkey in the Straw,” and Keri and Catherine do the Statue of Liberty skit. Jon has renamed the band the Toasted Naartjies (naartjie is the Afrikaans word for clementines, which are sold on pretty much every major street corner), and I tell him I’m going to put on my resume that I sat in with the band in the Cape Town sessions.

Then dinner, of burgers—real hamburgers, with 80/20 fat content, not the impossibly lean stuff they usually sell in the grocery stores—and potato salad and cole slaw and JelloTM salad and Nick Nacks (basically a CheetosTM knockoff) and sodas. And several desserts, with no one feeling any obligation to limit themselves to just one.

Then some more skits, culminating in the longest rendition of “The King and I” that we’ve ever done. There’s a lot of laughter, among the missionaries and their kids and the team. This is a good thing.

We retire to the living room for some singing, beginning with “The Star-Spangled Banner,” continuing with other patriotic songs, and finishing with anthems to our eternal citizenship. It’s a good time of fellowship, followed by sparklers in the yard for the children.

To the Capetonians, of course, this day is called Thursday. But we have a good time.

Back at the house for devotions and planning for tomorrow, our last full day in Africa. We have something planned that will require our earliest start yet in South Africa, so be sure to tune in for the details.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Today is our last day of VBS for the trip. It’s bittersweet. We set off at the usual time (8:30) for our respective locations in Kraaifontein and Guguletu. When my vanload arrives at the Goog, as we call it, there are already 20 to 30 kids waiting outside the gate. Sizwe gets the key from across the street, and we let the kids in. We park the van around back and to the side, so we’ll have the whole back yard for games.

By the end of the session we have over 100 kids, down a little from yesterday but still up from Monday. The kids seem unusually polite today; they call us “Sir” and “Ma’am,” and one girl who accidentally kicks me apologizes immediately. They listen well to the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, especially when Sizwe translates the story into Xhosa. I stand at the back of the room, watching the kids listen to the most important story ever told, and I wish I could see into their heads. For how many is this the first time they’ve heard the gospel presented clearly and accurately? How many are moved by the story of the special Man who didn’t do anything wrong, but they killed Him anyway? In how many is God’s Spirit working in a new way today? I’m thankful that we have such a strong follow-up structure in place; Sizwe and his wife already know the children, and they know him, and as one who grew up here in Guguletu, he will be trusted. This is ideal.

Sizwe asks me to close this last session with prayer, and as I like to do, I pray the Aaronic blessing over them: “Lord, I pray that you would bless them, and keep them; make your face to shine upon them, and be gracious to them; lift up your face upon them, and give them your peace.” For how many will this be their outcome? If the Lord tarries, my life will end before we can know the answer. But there will be an answer.

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As we’re driving back to the house, we get a text from Mrs. Graham. The other group has finished at Kraaifontein and, since the weather is beautiful, have decided on the spur of the moment to drive east toward Stellenbosch, for a scenic view of the vineyards. Now they’ve decided, since they’re so close to Stellenbosch, to go the rest of the way and have lunch at a berry farm that the Grahams really like. We can come if we want.

Oh, let’s think about that. OK.

So we head east on the Stellenbosch Arterial and meet them at the appointed place along the side of the road. Then on to the restaurant in Stellenbosch. The town is a key part of South Africa’s famous Garden Route, a scenic tour of the extensive wine country in that part of South Africa. The vineyards, the surrounding rugged mountains, and the white buildings of the town are all beautiful. We caravan—the Grahams’ van, Joy’s van, and then mine—to the berry farm and park by the restaurant. It’s quaint, with an extensive gift shop at the entrance, filled with jams and jellies and fudge and teas and salad dressing and 8 kinds of vinegar and all sorts of other stuff. Eric asks if we’d prefer outside or inside seating—well, duh—and we get a series of small round cast-iron tables on the stone patio, with a breathtaking view of the farm and the neighboring vineyards stretched out clear up the side of the foothills, to a point where you couldn’t think they could cultivate land at that angle. Even in winter, there’s a lot of green, and today’s bright sun provides a real visual treat.

The menu is astonishing. I see immediately that they have scones, so I order a plateful with all the fixin’s. When they arrive, I give instruction on the proper construction of the South African scone: first butter, then jam (they bring about 20 different flavors in small jars), then clotted cream, then grated cheddar. It sounds awful, but it’s extraordinary. As to the rest of the menu, everything’s fresh and homemade, and the flavor combinations are genius. I order the salmon lasagna with mushroom sauce. (Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it.) To my left, Auria gets sweet potato pancakes; Keri gets the risotto; Jordan gets the chicken pot pie; and the list goes on. This is a really extraordinary restaurant. And the meals average about $7.

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On our way out, we empty the gift shop, pretty much. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but the place has a very good day.

Eric suggests we drive a little further to the town of Franschhoek  (yes, that’s 5 consonants in a row, including 2 consecutive h’s), which is a settlement of French Huguenots with quite a history. We don’t have time for the museum, but we do hit the gift shops, including chocolate, gelato, several art galleries, other gift shops, and some street vendors.

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I’ve told them all to be back at the vans by 5 pm, so we don’t cut too close on the prayer meetings in our churches. They’re all on time, and we make it back to the house in about an hour, with time for a change of clothes and even a little rest.

Joy’s van goes to Immanuel in Beverley Park, where Jordan preaches. My van goes to the Delft home of one of the members of Eindhoven Baptist, where we gather for a more intimate prayer meeting, and Will preaches. Since we’re leaving Saturday, the round of good-byes has begun. It’s not easy. These are our brothers, our sisters, our friends, our family.

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Back at the house, Bill Knipe comes with 3 of the 4 college-age guys from Eindhoven, with whom we’ve spent a fair amount of time: Jason, Brandon, and Mornay. (Jason’s brother, Luke, has to work tonight.) They join us for team devotions and a brief meeting to go over the remaining schedule; then we introduce them to the Official Team Game, which as you know is Signs. Actually we haven’t played it in a while, but we get right back into it and play until midnight.

Since some of us are leaving for a hike at 8 am, that may not have been too bright. We’ll see.