Wednesday, May 9

It’s time for another journey to a delightful place. This trip begins like all the others, with the team meeting the BJU van and trailer behind Nell Sunday. Dave Versnick is our driver this time. Everyone’s on time, and we load the luggage into the trailer before pausing for a word of prayer and photos. Lots of photos. Then we say our goodbyes to the family members and friends who brought us. Dads hug their daughters just a little longer. I understand, friend, I really do. I give the parents some words of reassurance, and then we load ‘em up and move ‘em out.

I spend a few minutes encouraging the students to think in terms of ministry during the flights. International air travel is stressful for most people, and lots of them spend lots of time upset with how things are going. So we can stand out by demonstrating grace, mercy, and peace along the way. Let others go first; offer to trade seats so that people can sit together; that sort of thing.

Then I join Dave in the front and leave the team members to become friends. The chatter from the back tells me they’re doing just that. Dave and I talk about his job and about the shared joys of ministering at BJU—we’ve each been here more than 40 years, and we swap a lot of memories during the jaunt down I-85. Traffic is generally light all the way through Spaghetti Junction, but it picks up considerably as I-75 joins us from the west. But we’re doing fine on time, so no worries.

Somewhere along the way I hear Cam’s voice from the back seat. “Dr. O.! Want some jerky? I’ve got, like 50 pounds of the stuff!” Well, I don’t think he has 50 pounds, because that’s his entire luggage allowance, and I certainly hope he brought some clothes. Jerky won’t serve that function very well. Anyway, he passes the jerky forward, and I take a few pieces and send it back. “No! Take the whole bag!” Well, OK. Hope you’re saving some for later.

Despite the heavy traffic in midtown, we’re at the curb in front of the international terminal right at 8, which is half an hour earlier than the time where my comfort zone ends. We unload the trailer, I begin what will be a trip-long ritual of counting obsessively to seven, and we roll our luggage into the cavernous terminal.

ATL’s international terminal is relatively new, spacious, and clean. Even better, it’s been almost deserted every time I’ve come through. We hit the kiosks to check in and then report to the KLM check-in counter in Row 4 to check our bags.

I’m a little nervous. We realized this morning that Kaitlyn’s name is very slightly misspelled on her ticket—as Kaitllyn—and I’m hoping that won’t be a problem. “Should I point it out to them?” she asks. Ah, youth. “I wouldn’t.”

I let everyone else go first, so I can watch how it goes for them. I see the agent print out Kaitlyn’s boarding passes and deduce that we’re OK on that score. As she walks by me, I ask, “Did she say anything about it?” “Nope.” Well, the extra “l” is a very skinny letter, right next to another one, and in the middle of the name. Maybe the agent didn’t notice. Or maybe it Just Didn’t Matter. In any case, We Eight are checked in.

A little stop by the restrooms, and then into security. Might as well be pleasant. The agent reads my name; I respond, in shock, “How did you know that?! Have we ever met before?!” She laughs and waves me on, in spite of everything. Levity helps. Most of the time. But seriously, these people sit there and look at passport pictures all day long. Why not have a little fun?

Security moves pretty efficiently, and we’re on F concourse by 9. Anybody hungry? They hesitate. Well, if you’re not hungry, I’m not going to feed you, but I don’t think they’re going to feed us supper if takeoff is at 10.30, so can you last till morning? I sense some doubt. Come on, let’s get a sandwich.

Upstairs to the food court. Varsity? Greasy burgers and dogs? It’s classic American food, but not wise before a transoceanic flight, if you know what I mean. There’s a little deli; that sounds better. Light sandwiches for all who want one. All but Cam. He’s got jerky. And everyone who doesn’t have a water bottle gets a bottle of Smart Water. That’ll serve as their reusable water bottle for the duration of the trip.

About boarding time we head downstairs and down the concourse to F5 for our flight to Amsterdam. It’s crowded, and we join the line forming in the hallway for Zone 5. Yeah, the Big Spenders. They begin boarding late, but we move right along. Each of us sets off a buzzer when they scan our boarding passes; we need to show our visas since we’re going beyond the EU to where visas are necessary. I step aside and wait for the others to get the green light. Not leaving anybody in the terminal with a question hanging over their head.

Number 7. We’re all through. Down the jetway and onto the 777-200. We’re just behind the wing. Cam and I and Lauren are on the right, row 32, with Cam on the aisle and Lauren by the window. One row back, in the 4 middle seats, are Flavia, Karen, Audrey, and Kaitllyn, or whatever her name is. Since Brigitta is going from Accra straight home to Hong Kong at the end of the trip, I booked her flight separately, and she’s sitting a few rows back.

Pushback at 10.34 pm, just about the original takeoff time. Wheels up at 10.53 off runway 9R. We’re on our way.

By 11.30 we’re at 35,000 feet over Greensboro, having passed a bit south of Greenville, and there’s beverage service. To my surprise, they serve us dinner an hour later. Not really hungry, but might as well eat what they’ve got. They’re out of the chicken when they get to us, so we have pasta with vegetables (eggplant; not my favorite), a slice of good old Tillamook cheese, a bean salad, and some coffee cake. It’s 12.30 am back home and 6.30 am in Amsterdam, but we might as well eat anyway.

As with most Dreamliners, there’s 110V AC power at the seats, even in coach, so I plug in the laptop and get everything else charging off its USB ports. It’ll be nice to have everything fully charged when we land.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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