Wednesday, May 30, 2018

We’re early into AMS, and at the gate before the 7 am scheduled arrival time. We have to go through security—I’ve noticed a lot of airports in Europe and Africa do that to you, even though you haven’t left the secure zone. AMS has a pretty snazzy-looking set of baggage belts—the whole thing looks like some kind of science-fiction contraption. The inspectors give orders with Dutch efficiency, and we’re inclined to do whatever they say.

Quick toilet stop—mostly to brush teeth, for the sake of team unity—and we head for Concourse E. Pass a Starbucks, but since I don’t know how long the walk is, I want to make sure we get where we’re going. All passengers for the concourse are routed to E-1, which is just a document inspection station and the usual questions about whether you packed all your own bags. Then they give you a slip for your actual gate. Ours is E-2, right next door, so now we know we have plenty of time. Everyone drops bags at my feet and heads back to the Starbucks. I’ll tell them, in the sternest voice of the trip, “Don’t be late.” If these kids make me miss my connection with the Tanzania team, so help me, I’ll …

They’re back 20 minutes early. Sometimes I am such a pessimist. These kids have done the job the whole trip. I need to just chill.

But I do note that they didn’t bring me anything from Starbucks.

As we’re boarding, Brigitta lets us know by text that she’s home. That’s good news.

Boarding is much faster here than for the earlier flight, and we quickly find our seats in rows 36 (Lauren, Kait, Karen, Flavia) and 37 (Cam, Audrey) of the A330. I’m in 36H, over on the right, on the aisle (hallelujah), next to a very interesting, garrulous Dutchman who’s on his way to a big knife show in Atlanta. He makes extraordinarily artistic knives (he shows me pictures) that sell for thousands of euros apiece.

Takeoff is on time at 8.35 am, which of course is 2.35 am EDT. Breakfast shows up soon after, and then they take the cabin dark, even though it’ll be daylight outside for the entire trip. I guess they figure most of the passengers will want to sleep, and I guess they’re right.

And that’s certainly true for our crew. They all appear to be sleeping for much of the time, and occasionally interacting with the entertainment screen at their seat. Mine goes dead an hour into the flight, in the middle of a documentary. Drat. Now I’m curious how it ends. In my amblings around the plane during the flight, it appears that mine is the only system that’s failed. I also note that toward the front of the plane, there are four or five rows with only 1 person in them, and said persons are stretched out on what amounts to a bed. I think about asking to sit at one of those seats to access the entertainment system, but I just can’t bring myself to do that to someone with the once-in-a-lifetime deal of an entire empty row. I had that experience once, and it really is a minor miracle.

The food on this flight is quite good. I have cheesy scrambled eggs right after takeoff, with a small wedge of brie on crackers and a generous piece of coffee cake. Later in the flight there’s a warm croissant with ham and cheese, and they end the flight with a Dove ice cream bar. Good for you, Delta.

We’re nearly an hour early getting into Atlanta, and with a headwind at that. I don’t know how they do it, unless their scheduled times are just ridiculously conservative. Immigration in Atlanta is very efficient, with no forms to fill out, just kiosks—lots of them available—where you answer the standard customs questions and get your photo taken so they can compare it with your passport. Soon we’re in the baggage claim, where all of our luggage arrives, mine last.

And out to the next major personnel development. Lauren has a continuing flight from here, so she’ll leave us. We come to the separation point, and the lady there is quite patient with our taking the time to hug and cry and take photos. Then Lauren heads back into the bowels of the system, and the remaining 6 of us walk out into the Atlanta sunshine. It’s 12 noon—the time when were scheduled to land—and we’re ready for pickup. I text Jonathan, our driver—it’s nice to have phone service again, but I have to pop the Ghanaian SIM out before I get it—and he’s understandably still a few minutes out, so we wait on the curb.

Soon enough he shows up, and we load the luggage into the trailer before climbing into the van. Not counting me, riding shotgun, there are 5 team members, and 4 bench seats, so this vehicle is the closest thing to a dormitory we’ve had while traveling. Before the inevitable happens, I confirm the obvious: we’ve eaten well on the flight; is anybody hungry? Do we need to stop for a meal? Nope. OK, we’ll head straight home. Soon all the heads have disappeared. I note that beating jet lag means staying up until bedtime when you arrive, but these kids are exhausted, and frankly, they have all the time in the world to get adjusted now. Have mercy. Let the kids sleep. I tell Jonathan that I’m fading fast too, and I apologize for the boring drive he’s facing.

And then I doze off.

I come to as were exhausting Georgia. Welcome to SC. Home’s a-gettin’ close. Then Greenville County. Then Greenville city line. About then, with the stops for traffic lights, the crew wakes up, sits up, and stares. It’s not early morning, but I still think I should avoid the loud voice thing, so we ride quietly though town and onto campus, back to the spot where we started exactly 3 weeks ago. The waiting cars disgorge their contents—friends and relatives—and we are reunited. After the hugging starts to die down, I ask if we can get a closing photo under the tree where we started, and we do the best we can at the “after” shot without Brigitta and Lauren.

And then the crowd disperses. Audrey’s folks, coming from Myrtle Beach, are still a few minutes out, due to our unexpected earliness, so she waits with my wife and me in the air-conditioned van for the few minutes it takes her parents to arrive.

Brought ‘em all back, alive and even healthy, and changed for the better, I think.

Contract completed. Done.

Now, another one starts tomorrow, so not Done done, but done with phase 1. It’s a little odd to be at home between Ghana and Tanzania—the previous 4 teams there have gone both places—so a night in my own bed will be a treat.

I know most of the current readers will drop out at this point, and I don’t blame you. A new set shows up tomorrow.

Enjoy your summer, and pray for us. The work goes on.

God bless you all.

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Dan Olinger

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

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