August 4, 2004
Muli Bwanje! We have arrived! To say the least, it was not an easy journey. In fact, it was, at times a bit of a nightmare. But through it all I was struck by the wonderful people we encountered along the way.
Let’s start at the beginning. Some absolutely wonderful friends, family members, colleagues and partnership advocates came to Pittsburgh International Airport to send us off with prayer and Psalm readings. It was just the inspiration and warm send-off that we needed. Once again it was reaffirmed in our hearts and minds that God’s call for us to go to Malawi was strong and clear.
Then Murphy’s law took control. Due to a mainframe crash, American Airlines was running several hours late, so they tried but failed to get us on an earlier flight. The flight we did get on was several hours late so we had to race through O’Hare to catch our flight to London. After dashing up to the gate, with passports and boarding passes in hand, they told us that the flight to London was delayed also. The girls were hungry, but we had already cleared security (an ordeal at every airport- but one we gladly submitted to) and so they had to wait until we got on the 777 to England. It was a nice flight, but long, and it is always hard to sleep while sitting up in a chair.
British Air would not hold our bags since our layover in London was more than 12 hours, so we stored them at the airport and went into town. Here again we met some wonderful people. I asked one proper looking British gentleman how to get to St. Martin’s In the Field’s Church on Trafalgar Square, and he said, “follow me I am going that way.”He proceeded to point out buildings and things along the way and was an excellent tour guide. He even said that in February he had gone to Buckingham Palace where the Queen presented him with a special award for service to the Realm.
When we went to check in at British Airlines, they told us that we had to haul our 700 pounds of luggage to the next terminal. They would not transfer it for us. This meant that we had to place ten suitcases, boxes and all our carry on bags onto six dollies and wheel them through the terminal, into a lift (British for elevator) across an overpass and down another lift. That was the easy part. Then we had to take all the baggage off the dollies and load them onto a tram. Here again we met some wonderful people. Some of the airport personnel at Heathrow reserved a whole train for us and called ahead for more dollies at the other end, but loading that luggage on and off in a hurry raised our blood pressure a few notches. One wonderful woman even pushed one of our dollies through the entire airport for us. The airport itself was jammed - it had shut down due to severe thunderstorms, so thousands of passengers were stranded. Lines were long and tempers were short, but God is good and a patient BA employee made sure that our bags were duly checked through to Malawi. Then we went to the International Departures terminal and waited with everyone else.
While waiting in line for a Whopper (the girls and Dan had their last taste of fast food) Brooke and Heather met a female track star from Jamaica on her way to the Olympics in Greece. Dan chatted with a family of Christians from South Africa who own a scented geranium farm and some guest houses. I met another Christian woman, a cook from a nursing home in Denver who was on her way to visit her mother in Romania for two months.
Finally, hours later, we boarded our 747 to Johannesburg. We flew through the night and landed in Africa the next morning so late that we had to rush to make our connection. It was then that a South African Airline employee held us up for more than half an hour trying to charge us an exorbitant fee for overweight bags. (They were not overweight- as he finally found out!) We barely made the jet to Blantyre. I am sure you can guess that our luggage did not make the flight with us. We feared we would never see it again.
By this time we were all exhausted, but even on that flight we encountered interesting people. Brooke sat next to a Presbyterian Pastor from Korea who was also visiting the CCAP (Church of Central Africa Presbyterian). I “talked”to a college student from Italy here to do “voluntario”work for three weeks. Despite all the hassles and headaches, we remembered that God is there to give us sustenance when needed.
We got a big dose of it on arrival in Malawi. Our spirits were raised when we landed at Chileka Airport and saw a sea of black and white garbed women from St. James’women’s guild. They were singing to welcome us! The CCAP had arranged for us to go through the VIP entrance so none of our carry-ons were searched or taxed. Still, it took us over an hour and a half to deal with the lost luggage. The women and choir waited and sang the entire time, and then formed a tunnel and we walked down and shook each person’s hand in greeting. Their tenacity and dedication amazed us! We knew that we had arrived in the Warm Heart of Africa.
But God was not finished bringing wonderful people across our path. Heather and I went to the Synod office to try and send an email to Pittsburgh letting everyone know that we had arrived safely. We had no success. We were at our wit's end when a woman with an adorable four month old baby walked in the office. Heather asked, "what is her name?"
"Rejoice," replied the mother, with a proud smile.
Heather and I looked at each other.
I said, “Let’s go get some rest. We can try again tomorrow.”