All the meetings, all the planning, all the giving and receiving, all the praying, and now it all comes to this. Departure day. Here we go.
My wife drives me over to the designated (and traditional) meeting spot, behind Nell Sunday dorm, about 10 minutes before the appointed time of 4 pm. Everybody’s there. Everybody. I’m astonished; this has never happened before.
The folks at Tumaini Children’s Home in Tanzania, which will be our second stop in Africa, have asked us to bring along 10 footlockers for the older children. They’re the maximum size for checked baggage, tough black plastic, with a hinged top. All but 2 of us are bringing 2 apiece, with our own luggage inside, so we’ll be able to leave the footlockers behind when we leave the orphanage. That means that our luggage needs to be smaller than it could be, if it didn’t have to fit inside the footlocker. But since we’re checking 2 bags, and last year I let the kids check only 1, we’re still able to bring as much stuff.
The advantage to the footlockers is that pretty much everybody has some room inside their footlocker, outside their bag, and some weight allowance too. I stuff all the spaces with all the stuff people have asked us to bring. (“Are you going to Africa? Can you take this little tiny thing over?”) We manage to cram bazillions of little tiny things into all the cracks and crannies, and everyone is still under 50 pounds per footlocker. Wow. I don’t think I’d mind doing this every year.
Looks like there’s a thunderstorm brewing—I don’t recall departing in the rain before—so we all gather around, take the traditional photo under the traditional tree, and pray for God’s blessing on the journey and the work. Several family members have joined us for the good-byes, and Mr. & Mrs. Jack Tillman, he a retired member of the BJU Bible faculty, have come as well.
Seth Weaver, our driver, and some of the other men help load everything into the back of the 15-passenger BJU van, and the 7 of us, plus Seth, pile aboard and head for Atlanta. I count them on: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and me. I’m going to do that a lot over the next several weeks.
Some of the more observant of you may wonder about the number: just 7, while there are 8 in the photo. Unfortunately Charity had to drop off the team a few weeks ago, not long after the photo was taken. We’re going to miss her.
The rain never really materializes; before long we’re under scattered clouds in bright sunshine. The kids are chattering in the back. I listen, half smiling with the knowledge that despite all our meetings and planning, these kids barely know one another now. That’s going to change—a lot—over the next 8 weeks.
Seth, our driver, is a GA, working on an MDiv in the Seminary and driving people around to pay the freight. Of interest to me is the fact that he’s a second cousin of Joel Weaver, a classmate and missionary pal of mine from Nairobi, and one of the hosts of the first team I took to Africa back in 2007. Joel and Mary Ann, with their son Paul and his wife Michelle (a member of my 2010 team), are working on starting a Christian camp just north of Nairobi. It’s a worthy project, one many readers might consider supporting.
We zip right along down I-85 until Spaghetti Junction (that’s I-85 and I-285 on the northeast side of Atlanta, for you non-locals). It’s always a dicey call whether to take 85 straight through the city or go around on the beltway. Seth opts for the latter. We have plenty of time, so there’s not much risk.
We stall and crawl for a while but arrive at ATL just after 7 pm. Seth drops us off at the curb in front of the international terminal, where we load the footlockers and the few other bags onto carts. I note that the luggage carts are free now. Way to go, ATL. Definitely a step toward civilization. (They’re always free in African airports, so far as my experience shows.)
As we walk into the terminal, a college student stops us, because he’s seen us disgorged by a BJU van. He’s Garrett, a student at the University of Georgia, who’s setting off on a mission trip to Scotland—with his bagpipes. He’ll be doing an internship there with Baptist World Mission. Small world. We have a quick word of prayer together before proceeding with check-in.
For obvious reasons, there’s less traffic in the international terminal than over in the Big One. No lines for the check-in kiosks, no lines for the luggage drop. I leave my luggage with Richard, who asks what all the footlockers are for (actually, he asks what’s in them; I guess they do look like they contain some sort of special equipment). I explain what we’re doing, and ask him if he’d like to come along. He would, as it turns out.
The security lines are actual lines, but they’re not long at all. We’re through before 8 pm, and we won’t have to worry about 700 pounds of our luggage until Accra tomorrow night.
We find a restaurant here in the terminal and get some paninis for our last American meal for 2 months. The Varsity has an outlet here, but I’m thinking the greasy burgers and fries, while thoroughly American, are probably not a good idea before a transatlantic flight. We also each get a bottle of water; we’ll use the bottle throughout the trip.
We arrive at Gate F-3 before 9 for a 9:35 boarding call. There’s a marble slab along the wall with outlets, so several of us plug in for a final charge before a couple days of uncertainty en route. I quickly find that now wifi is free at ATL. Yikes. Free carts, plenty of outlets, free wifi. Travel is hardly even interesting anymore.
We board the 777 on time and find our seats, all on the right side of the plane. Bethany and I are forward, with Jojo and John right behind us. Rachael, Lora, and Sarah are in 2 rows in the back. We push back at 10.25 and take off on runway 27R—at ATL all runways are 9/27—just a scootch late at 10.45. We turn left (south) and go through 210 degrees to orient toward Amsterdam. Seems to me like we’re going the long way around, but I guess traffic, weather, and who knows how many other factors affect these choices more than distance.