" 2015 "

Sunday, July 12, 2015

We enjoy one another’s company as a group, including some joshing with one of the flight attendants, who gives it back to us as quickly as we can give it. They feed us supper shortly after takeoff; a cold sandwich mid-flight; and breakfast just before landing. And plenty of water and other beverages as we wish. Several watch movies—I watch “Unbroken”—and try to sleep as best they can, some better than others. I point out when we’re leaving Africa, over the Angolan coast, and when we’re crossing the equator, but nobody seems very interested in that.

We land in Atlanta 10 minutes early, at 5:19. This is the easiest oceanic flight I’ve experienced, though I’m not sure whether the others bore it as well. Some of the girls get a text from Gershon that he’s home in Hong Kong, with a picture of his girlfriend to prove it.

Through Immigration—they’ve got a kiosk system in ATL that’s pretty impressive—and then customs, where they just wave us through. Here’s where we lose our next group; Michaela, Charity, and Emily are flying on from Atlanta, and they’ll recheck their bags here and re-board. Since we don’t have boarding passes, we can’t go with them to their gates. So it’s another photo.

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Amber’s folks are waiting for her in the lobby, so we peel her off next. And take another photo.

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And suddenly, just like that, we are Four.

The BJU van is waiting for us at the curb. Boy, that was easy. Our driver is Travis Pelletier, a GA working at Transportation for the summer. He’s sacrificed most of a night’s sleep to come get us.

I tell the 3 remaining girls that we don’t have to stop to eat, since we had breakfast on the plane about 4 am; but it’s 3 hours to Greenville, and if they get hungry, we can get something. About 2 hours in one of them pipes up that she’s hungry, so we stop at Cracker Barrel in Commerce, GA. The country music is blaring, and we finally realize that yes, we’re back in the good ol’ US of A.

Properly breakfasted, we head for SC. First stop is at the rest area at Exit 1, where Sarah’s mom is waiting for her. Photo.

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Then Mt. Calvary Baptist in Greenville, where Jessica’s family is in Sunday school. Photo.

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Then campus, where Jess’s friend is meeting her. Photo.

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Well. That’s that. Down to 1. Travis kindly drops me by my house, which is quite close to where he’s returning the van. Time to 1) hug my wife, 2) trim this infernal beard, 3) finish the blog, and 4) unpack. In that order.

Africa Team #5 on my watch is now safely back. God has been gracious. We’re grateful,

And sleepy.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Our first deadline is 10 am, check-out time from De Keurboom. We’re all up in plenty of time, and everybody’s doing what he needs to do. I go over to pay the bill, and I tell Linda what we’ve broken: 3 glasses, a Pyrex casserole lid (put it in a hot oven, and “room temperature” here was about 50 degrees at the time), and, believe it or not, a glass shelf from the refrigerator. We were sitting in the living room the other night, and we heard a popping sound and could see nothing that seemed suspicious. Then Amber opened the fridge, and a shelf had crumbled. There had been 2 light bowls on it. Strangest thing I ever saw.

Anyway, Linda was very gracious about it all. I feel as though we should have done better on that score.

We’re packed, loaded, inspected, and out in the van at 9:58. They’ve aced their final assignment.

Flight’s at 1:15 pm, so we should be at the airport by 11:15. It’s a 20-minute drive. Not really time to do anything else—a stop at Limnos, unfortunately, would take too long—so we head to the airport. I drop the whole crew off at the arrivals curb and tell them not to wait for me while I turn the van in. I figure we can just gather at the gate; they all know what they’re doing.

Van turn-in is routine, but I notice we’ve left a bunch of sand in it. Come to think of it, we did a lot of beach stuff, even though it’s winter.

I walk back to the terminal and check in to find the others still in the check-in area; one of them was overweight on her carry-on and had to pay a fee. They tell me Jason and Luke have texted them with word that they’re on their way to the airport. We have plenty of time, so we can remain outside security for one last good-bye. We’ve made friends here. And those friendships will be able to continue in a way they couldn’t for an earlier generation, thanks to social media.

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Through security quickly, with plenty of time for Mugg & Bean coffee and light breakfast. I use up the last of my rands—very efficient—and we head for the gate.

It’s less than 2 hours to Joburg. Since Gershon is flying from here directly home to Hong Kong, this is our final flight all together. We lift off through several layers of overcast and then top out above the clouds, where the sky is blue and the sun is shining. It always is, you know, no matter how gray it looks down below.

Gershon has the quicker connection in Joburg, so we decide to just follow him around and see him off. We gather near his gate and take the traditional final full-team photo, then wait at the gate while everyone else on the wide-body loads. Then it’s hugs all around, topped off with a group hug, which I document photographically for the Dean of Women. He walks down the ramp and out to his plane. And now we’re Eight.

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The girls aren’t very happy about that. I take them to a Haagen-Dasz kiosk and cheer ‘em up as best I can.

Two hours to boarding. We’re not hungry, so we decide to just wander around the terminal, shopping or whatever, and gather at the gate.

Everybody shows up on time, and I do my last boarding count of the trip. 8. Good.

This is one of the longest flights in the world (not counting military, of course)—over 16 hours. We’re all seated together, 2 rows of 4, at the rear of one of the sections, right in front of a toilet. That’s nice, better than being scattered around the plane as we have been occasionally.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Last full day in Africa. All the work’s done. Time to make some final memories. Time for the Cape of Good Hope.

We’ve invited the Simpsons and the Paynes to come along. It’s the least we can do to show our appreciation for all they’ve done for us these 2 weeks.

We go by Kevin’s house at 9 am, where the Paynes are waiting as well. One last time over familiar roads—the R102, Van Riebeeck, southeast past the Eersterivier church to Baden-Powell Drive (named for the founder of the Boy Scouts, which originated here in South Africa), then southwest along the eastern stretch of the Strand, the beach at the north end of False Bay. We stop near Muizenberg to run out on the beach, but there’s red tide visible in the breakers, and we decide that’s not something we want to soak in.

Past Muizenberg and Fish Hoek and onto the Cape proper. Down the coastal drive to Simon’s Town, where, as I tell the team, I would want to retire to if I were the retiring type. It’s a fishing village with a small naval base and a large British feel. We stop for an hour there to see the African penguin colony—I believe the only free penguins outside of Antarctica—which used to be called jackass penguins for their distinctive bray. The people who decide such things decided that wasn’t a very attractive name, I guess, and renamed them.

Then south to the Cape of Good Hope National Park. Pay at the gate, and drive across the windswept craggy grassland—very much the way southern New Mexico would feel if it were surrounded by ocean, if that makes any sense—until we see the Cape itself. It’s not very impressive looking—a promontory of middling height, much lower than Cape Point, its neighboring promontory on the eastern side of the Cape. We park, eat some lunch, and take the requisite photo at the large wooden sign. We can prove we were here.

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Then the hike up the Cape behind us, to see the southwest corner of Africa clearly. The coast comes down from the north and then turns sharply east, toward India. Perhaps, think the explorers, this is the corner. And so they call it Good Hope.

There’s a path from here across to Cape Point, which we follow until we reach the stairs—over 200 of them—leading down to Dias Beach, a U-shaped beach in a bowl between mountain peaks, feeling very isolated. Down we go.

This is my favorite spot on the planet. It feels like the end of the earth. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, we run down the sandy slope onto the beach proper, and the crew, ever the tourists, feel obligated to run into the water. It’s frighteningly cold, which I could have told them.

They play on the beach for half an hour or so while I sit on a rock and savor the location. The girls throw Gershon into the water—he’s had that coming for some time—and then we walk the length of the beach to the east end to take another photo.

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There are some great climbing rocks here. I lead the crew up and over, avoiding the high sea spray until we can see an unspoiled, hidden beach around the corner. It’s in a bowl of sedimentary rock, and the layers make climbing pretty simple, so I work my way down to the second beach, which I’ve never stood on before. I find some evidence of a shipwreck here—I learn later it was an Iranian tanker being transported to scrap, which ran aground here in 1970.

Back to Dias, up the 200 steps—we take our time—and on over the path to Cape Point. Toilets, drinking fountains. And Tony and Kevin have brought the vehicles around, so we don’t have to walk all the way back.

We’re tired, so we take the funicular railway up the hill instead of hiking it. Then follow the lighthouse keeper’s path out as far as the authorities will let us go. It’s highly scenic, probably 2000 feet above the water—we spot some whales breaching—and at the top of a steep precipice right next to the path. Time to pay attention. At one point we’re essentially on a knife edge with precipices down both sides. Awesome view.

Another photo out at the end of the trail, and then back to catch the last funicular down. We meet the Simpsons and the Paynes in the parking lot, load up the vans, and head north. I’m hoping to time it so we catch sundown on Chapman’s Peak Drive overlooking Hout Bay.

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We end up about 15 minutes later than peak viewing, but it’s gorgeous nevertheless. Ronald Reagan once spoke fondly of driving the Pacific Coast Highway at sunset; this is a parallel experience.

Into Hout Bay for supper at Mariner’s Wharf, a fancy seafood joint. We all order what we want, and it’s all delicious, and the waitress is a hoot. And we feed 16 people for about two hundred bucks. I love this continent.

Down the highway to home. We invite the Paynes and the Simpsons to stay to help us finish off our ice cream and enjoy a little fellowship.

Then our final team devotions. Good singing, good testimonies. I share the unique contributions that I think each member has made to the team, and I congratulate them on their success. Then we pray, thanking God for grace of many kinds—protection, strength, direction, forgiveness, companionship, local leadership. And much more.

Logistics—we have to be out of the house by 10 am, and the flight is at 1:15—and then to bed. Tired. Grateful. Done.

Homeward bound.

Thursday, June 9, 2015

Another slow start, with time to think, write, catch up on details. Charity and Michaela braise some chicken for lunch, with rice. It’s wonderful what a couple of bouillon cubes will do.

Today is our last assignment for the trip—one more VBS at Immanuel in Eersterivier. We have a good bunch of kids, all of them energetic but not unmanageable. We’ve collected well over 100 contact forms for families in the neighborhood of the church; Pastor Kevin and Lydia and the other church leaders will have plenty of work to do in the follow-up stage. I’m glad we’ve been able to play a role in broadening the contact base.

We turn the children  loose with a lollipop and the South African equivalent of Cheetos, and they all go home happy. We stop to pick up milk and bread in preparation for tomorrow’s trip to the Cape, and then we have leftovers for supper. Cleaning up the food supply.

What to do on our last open evening? The team decides unanimously to go back to Century City. Bring American kids all the way to Africa, and they want to go to the mall. I turn them loose there and tell them to be back at the van at 10 pm.

Well, I’m bored. I spend much of the evening out on the north side of the mall, at the Canal Walk. I’ve mentioned that this mall is based loosely on sort of a Venice theme—perhaps with a little San Antonio Riverwalk thrown in. I walk along the wide sidewalks that frame the water features, ambling by the upscale office buildings and the occasional hotel. At the east end, next to a fancy building called Knight’s Bridge, is a water feature with fountain waterfalls ablaze with bright blue light; at the other end is a pedestrian suspension bridge reminiscent of Liberty Bridge in Greenville, though about half the size. My walk brings me by a well-lit storefront with an open front door, through which I see men in Muslim headdresses reciting their evening prayers. That’s something we saw a lot more of earlier in the trip.

I glance up and right at 12 o-clock high notice my old friend the Southern Cross, which so faithfully kept watch over our dorm room at Tumaini. Higher in the sky because we’re farther south. But still there, watching.

Back inside, where I run across some of the crew at the food court. A few get a snack as we wait for others to show up, in ones and twos. We’re all there by 10 and head to the van.

Back at the house, Salvin sits in on team devotions. I talk about things to watch out for in the repatriation process. Salvin says his goodbyes, and we take a picture.

Full day tomorrow at the Cape. By shortly after midnight we’re winding down, and then to bed.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Good day to get stuff done—laundry, paperwork, journaling, whatever. The house is command central, but things are pretty quiet and casual.

Amber makes some world-class chili for lunch—a lot of it—and we all love it.

The weather’s been really warm the last few days. By time for VBS at 2, it’s above 70 degrees. We have about 75 children at VBS, and they’re pretty well behaved, so it all goes well. Luke and Salvin come by to help, so it’s almost ridiculously easy.

Supper of leftovers—we need to start thinking about not leaving a bunch of half-eaten food behind. I suspect we’ll have some staples to donate to the next renters.

Prayer meeting tonight is our last preaching assignment. Kevin will bring an electronic keyboard, and one of us will play for the congregational singing. We’ll do a special number, and I’ll preach. Last time for the trip.

And so it goes. Michaela plays, we all sing, and I preach; then we pray for most of the hour. It’s a good time of fellowship.

Jason, Luke, and Salvin come over to the house afterwards, and we eat junk food—Jess makes cookies—and play Signs until way too late. Actually, we’re just getting adjusted to US time. Or so we say.