Somebody had to do it. These kids are getting so excited about finally leaving for Africa—posting on Facebook, and all that other hipster-like stuff—that I’ve decided we just need to do it. So we’re off.
This is the earliest departure time for any of my teams: 7 am. Since our flight leaves Atlanta at 12:30, and it’s a 3-hour drive to the airport, I figure it’s prudent.
We meet at the OATCDP (Official Africa Team Campus Departure Point), right behind Nell Sunday (and consequently right in front of Performance Hall). I show up a little early, because I have 5 boxes of stuff for the orphanage that we’ll need to load onto the trailer. The trailer—and the van pulling it—aren’t (isn’t?) here yet, but the team members start showing up right away; Matt wins the prize for being first, thanks to his Dad’s help.
Soon Kurt Petterson, our driver, arrives, and we load everything up. I collect the final airfare checks, endorse them, and lock them in the glove compartment of my van for my wife to pick up and deposit later today. (You didn’t really think I’d drag her out to Nell Sunday at 7 in the morning, did you?) We circle up for prayer (thanks, Steve), and The Greenville Nine climb into the van. Away at 7:10. Awesome.
As we set out down I-85 for Atlanta, I listen to the kids behind me. The conversation is relaxed and lively; they’re excited, and they already feel like friends. Good. That sense will grow immeasurably over the next 2 or 3 days.
The ride is uneventful—I try to make a big deal about crossing into Georgia, but they don’t seem to think much of it—until about 10 miles north of Spaghetti Junction, when the highway becomes a parking lot. Ooh. Not good. Kurt’s used to this, though, and he calmly strikes off into the hinterlands toward the southeast, working some state and US highways to intersect the beltway northeast of the city. There are stoplights, but at least we’re moving. Soon we’re back on the beltway, then on I-20 back into center city to catch 85 the rest of the way to the airport. We pull up at the ATL departures curb at precisely 10:30, which is the ETA I was shooting for. Poifect.
We load all those boxes onto carts–$5 a pop, thanks to the free enterprise system; in Africa, they’re routinely free, mostly because nobody there could afford them otherwise, I suppose. Anyway, up to check-in, where there’s literally no line, and as each of the first 5 team members steps forward to an agent, I bequeath a box to him as his second free bag. Works like a charm. We have our boarding passes in minutes—Lois takes the longest, for some reason—and on the way to the gate I text Asher, who has chosen to join us here at the airport rather than riding the van from campus. As soon as we can get through security, we’ll be Ten.
I notice that my boarding pass has something on it that I’ve never seen before: “TSA Pre √.” Wonder what that means. As we approach security, I see a sign with the same words (and the words “Known Crew Members”), and that line is empty. I start tentatively in there; the agent looks at my boarding pass and motions me on. Cool! Then he tells everyone else to go to the other line, which looks really, really long. So. I get special treatment. (I find out later that the fact that I fly more often than they do probably made the difference.) For about three-tenths of a second I consider going with them as a show of solidarity and servant leadership; then I smile and say, “See you on the other side!”
So this Pre-Check thing is awesome. You leave your shoes and belt on, and you set your carry-on on the belt without pulling out the plastic bag of liquids and the laptop. They motion you through the metal detector (I learn that RFID-resistant wallets set the metal detectors off), and you’re done. Since I’m the only one there, I’m through in 15 seconds. And then I wait for the proletariat, who have to stand in line. I could get used to this bourgeoisie thing. Workers of the world, stand in line.
No issues over there, and we’re through in plenty of time. We find Asher at the gate and head for the best-looking joint on that terminal wing to get some lunch. Burgers and chicken strips, mostly, and bottled water for those who don’t already have their own water bottle. We’ll use these bottles for the rest of the trip.
Well fed, we return to gate T15 and board. Turns out that one of us has never flown before; this should be fun. Since my Dad was a private pilot, I’ve been in love with flying since elementary school, and it tickles me to watch newbies enjoy the first flight. She’s seated 1 row ahead of me and across the aisle, so I enjoy the show. The Embraer 145 climbs smoothly out of runway 26L, and despite a little turbulence, the flight itself is routine. As we land on runway 1C in DC, I ask how she liked it. “It was cool,” she says.
We’re on time into Dulles, despite leaving Atlanta a half hour late, and we pour into gate C28 with 3 hours free and nothing to do. Our departure gate is not far from where we find ourselves, so we find an empty gate, where we’ll be out of other people’s way, and set up camp. The carry-ons are piled in a corner; there’s a lively game of Dutch Blitz on the floor; and several of the group sets off to explore. Since they speak the local language, I guess it’s safe.
We’re picking up three more team members—Lydia, Sarah M, and Hannah—here at Dulles. Sarah and Hannah join us shortly after we arrive, and Lyddie arrives just as we’re about to begin boarding. Everybody’s here, and we are now Thirteen, which is the Official Complete Team Number.
This is a work of God’s grace. It costs a lot to go on one of these efforts, and every single member of the team has succeeded in raising the needed funds. Most of these kids are of average means; this is the work of God’s Spirit in the hearts of His willing people to bring something to pass that could not have happened otherwise. I have never gotten over the wonder of seeing God make hard things easy. Because of its multiple venues, last year’s trip cost half again as much, and God brought that in; I was confident this year, but I still consider watching it happen to be fun.
We board at Gate C4 and take off from Runway 1R. I’m expecting this leg to be the least pleasant part of the trip. Transatlantic flights are typically red-eyes, because most travelers want to arrive at their European destination in the morning, so they can get a full day’s work in after they arrive. Red-eyes are called that for a reason. 🙂 You’re in a seat that reclines only slightly—not enough to help you, but enough to seriously inconvenience the person sitting behind you—and you can get a fully reclining seat only if you pay the airline a year’s salary. Most people can’t sleep well sitting up. So this 7-hour flight is going to be challenging.
Not to get too personal here, but it’s rougher on me, because I have restless-leg syndrome, which in my case is exacerbated by sitting or reclining. On boarding, I find that I’m in the middle seat of the middle section, between two ladies I don’t know. The prospect of being stuck between two sleeping people, unable to extract myself and walk the aisles, is about the worst thing possible. Early in the flight, while the ladies are still awake, I excuse myself and walk through the plane to check on each team member—we’re scattered—and find that Matt is sitting in the back row, by himself, with an aisle seat available. I ask if he’d mind if I joined him, and he graciously welcomes me, even though that means he’ll be a little more crowded. I like this kid.
So it’s a tough flight, with a lot of walking around and wishing we could sleep, but well worth the objective. Sure beats taking a slow boat to China, the way Hudson Taylor did.
And when we land, it’s tomorrow.