8.17.2011

One Year Later: Memories From Africa - Part 1

In about one month I will be boarding another flight to Africa.

My second trip to Swaziland is coming all too fast these days. It's a good, busy, hard to handle, kind of fast. Life will move very quickly the next few weeks.

During these brief weeks I would like to share some memories with you. Stories from my initial journey to Africa. Good times and challenges. Possibly some things that I haven't shared yet.

I'll post some pictures and notes for you to follow along. Truly this is for me as much as you. In an effort to remember, and to prepare for another journey into adventure, hardship, and joy. 

Here goes...

Ten pieces of luggage.

Two of seven travelers.

Thousands of miles to go.

We loaded up the van early that Saturday morning in September. After several months of planning, fundraising, and thinking about this day, it was finally time to go.

We'd found favor with our airline and were able to travel with four checked bags each, plus carryon bags. In those ten suitcases were hundreds of changes of clothes, a bounty of school supplies, some basic first aid, and almost 100 backpacks.

We had packed and re-packed using our best Tetris strategies. Using our bathroom scale we'd see if we could pack our bags Price Is Right style...as close as possible to 50 pounds, but not a hair over!

I remember feeling shell-shocked as my Dad and I loaded the suitcases into the van that chilly morning.

Less than 48 hours before we heard the tragic news that my father-in-law, Richard, had unexpectedly died. My wife, Danielle, was battling tremendous emotional pain and forced to stuff the grief that she needed to feel.

Both of us believed that the trip needed to go on, but neither of us knew for certain how challenging that decision might be.

We prepared through the tears.

With the bags in the van, we were as ready as we could be and it was time to depart.

Our last family picture before leaving the driveway captured the sense of wonder mixed with dread at the days ahead. We were amazed that the day had finally come, and we were in awe at the difficulty it had become to go.

The boys were excited to have their grandparents staying with them for the next couple of weeks. We were very thankful that my Mom & Dad could be there and keep them for us until our return.

I was much more aware of the fragile state that we live in that day. I knew that in spite of our best efforts, there was still a slim chance that the worst could happen in our lives.

We made the drive to the Minneapolis airport in just over an hour. Talk was nervous and subdued along the way. When we arrived to the airport and unloaded all those bags seemed like we had twenty travelers instead of just the two of us! 

I remember giving my Mom a hug, and then turning to hug my Sons goodbye.

In that moment I broke. Tears couldn't be stopped.

I don't think I'd have admitted it, but there was a tangible fear that something could happen to any of us and we'd not be reunited. I remember hugging and praying with them there on the sidewalk outside ticketing, crying all the while.

We had arrived to the airport with plenty of time. That was good for travel plans, but not so great for our mental state. Danielle & I were tired already. Our emotions were ragged as ate our breakfast at a little cafe in the terminal.

Richard's untimely passing was going to be harder than either of us knew. His funeral would be held while we were in Africa. Jesus' comment, "Let the dead bury the dead..." had come to bear and we had no clue how to walk it out, other than try to keep moving. (Luke 9:60)

As we boarded our flight, we had a few moments to reflect on what had happened over the past few months, weeks, and days. We attempted to temper our emotions and look toward the days ahead. 

And we traveled with Richard's memory in our hearts and the knowledge that he'd been so excited for us in this mission to Swaziland. We made a picture of the two of us with a Take5 candy bar in his honor.

Richard had worked for Hershey in Virginia supervising the lines that produced Take5 and several other treats. He had cheered for us in preparation for this day. And we were comforted to know that he was cheering from Heaven's grandstand as we taxied to the runway that cool Saturday morning last fall. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

If we had known before how emotionally raw we would be over the next couple of weeks, I'm not sure we could have pressed on. Thankfully we didn't know! 

Within minutes of hearing the news of Richard's death Danielle had said, "God knew that this was going to happen. He didn't change his mind about the trip."

That simple statement rang true as we stepped out of our world and into a much bigger story.

I'm excited to tell you more about it in the days and weeks to come.

Bless you in your journey! Step out of your world today!