Africa- Getting There Was Half The Fun!

by | Oct 3, 2012 | Missions Articles

I recently returned from a trip to South Africa, where I joined a group of Pastors on a “Vision Trip” hosted by a great organization called Children’s Cup.

I was so excited to go on this trip for a number of reasons, but the biggest being I’ve never been to Africa and I’ve always wanted to go, and secondly, I’ve been a huge fan of Children’s Cup for a few years now and I was really pumped to be able to actually experience the ministry (they feed over 10,000 kids a day) they were doing first-hand on the ground.

My expectations for this trip were through the roof. I knew that it was going to be an adventure of a lifetime, full of amazing experiences of God working around me, through me and in me, but I had NO IDEA that the most adventurous part of the trip was going to be just getting there.

So here’s what happened…

Now, right off the bat you should know something about me, I really don’t like to travel. I like visiting new places, I just don’t like the “GETTING there” part. The planes, the crowds, the schedules… the whole process just stresses me out. Usually at least once before a trip I’ll find myself asking the Lord if He could just transport me to wherever I’m going, and then, if it’s not too much trouble, bring me back at night so I can sleep in my own bed. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m still holding out faith.

The only thing about the travel process I don’t like even more than the process itself is having to do it alone, and for this trip I was going to be alone until I met up with the rest of the team in South Africa. But, I’m a big boy, I think I can handle one quick trip to the other side of the world by myself, what could possibly go wrong?

My trip was starting in Dallas-Fort Worth, where I would fly overnight to London, have an 8-hour layover in London then take another 8 or so hours flight from London to Johannesburg, South Africa, where I would meet up with the team and we would all then take a short 45-minute flight from South Africa to The Kingdom of Swaziland, where we would be spending most of our time.

Other than an overly dramatic, tears and scream filled good-bye with my kids in Dallas and then running into Carman, the greatest Christian recording artist of ALL TIME*, my flight to London was pretty uneventful.

*(If you dispute that claim, I present: Satan Bite the Dust, Lazarus Come Forth, A Witches Invitation, THE CHAMPION… like I said, the GREATEST)

After sleeping almost 7 of the 8 or so hours of the flight we landed in London, where we were immediately taken through security and searched. (my second search, the first was in DFW airport.) I had checked my main bag all the way through to Swaziland, so all I had with me was my backpack with some minor necessities: laptop, shaving kit, Bible, and a change of clothes just in case my luggage was lost or didn’t make it on time.
Just like in DFW Airport, the security agents in London x-rayed my bag, completely unpacked it, went through every article in my possession, x-rayed the empty bag, and then handed it all back to me to re-pack myself after they had cleared it.

I was excited to have such a long layover in London since it’s one of my favorite places on earth. After re-ticketing for my next flight to South Africa, I headed towards Customs, had my passport stamped, went through ANOTHER security check, this time by the UK Customs agents, where they unpacked EVERYTHING again. (If you’re keeping track, this is now the third time my bag has been un-packed, x-rayed and cleared.)

I jumped on the train and spent the next five hours footing it around London in typical tourist fashion with my camera in one hand and my map in the other. (More about that in another post.)

I had decided that I would only give myself 5 hours in London so that I could get back to the airport with 3 hours to spare to have time to hang out, grab some food and get ready to leave… I’m glad I gave myself that extra time!

When I returned to Heathrow Airport, I began what was now my 4th security check. This time however, it did not go like the checks before. They scanned my bag, scanned it again, asked me if they could search my bag by hand, then scanned it again. They scanned my empty backpack once, then twice, and then a third time. By now there were three or four security agents staring at the monitor talking about what they were seeing. They finally took my bag out of the scanner, started searching through the empty bag by hand again, only this time they found something. I wasn’t sure what they had found, I just knew they found something.

Immediately one of the guards hit a button that was on the wall behind him, sirens began to sound, lights began to flash, security doors began to shut, immediately two more security agents were at my side, while a third took my passport and boarding pass. The two guards by my side took me by the arms and “escorted” me to a private room where I was left by myself. A few minutes later, another security agent, obviously a supervisor, opened the door and informed me that the police were on their way and that I WAS going to be arrested. When she left the room I pulled out my cell phone, which they left with me, and I texted my wife.

About an hour later the door opens again and in walked two very unhappy looking police officers and one of them was holding a knife. Not just any knife, my knife. The knife I took with me hunting a few months earlier. The knife that was with me the last time I used the backpack that I had grabbed for this trip. The backpack that I obviously didn’t take the time to thOroughly clean out.

To be honest, I felt a little relieved when I saw what they had found. I had all sorts of horrible images of all the bombs and drugs that someone must have snuck into my bag when I wasn’t looking. I didn’t think having the knife was that big of a deal. I apologized to the officers, told them it was a mistake and said that if they needed to they just could throw the knife away, thinking that the problem was that I was trying to take a knife onto an airplane.

The officers explained to me that even though it was a crime to bring a knife onto an airplane, it was a more serious crime in the United Kingdom to bring this type of knife, a “locking blade” knife into the country. In their opinion, and according to the law, I was carrying a concealed weapon with me into London. A concealed weapon that by law meant I was to be arrested on the spot and charged with a crime. (The officers told me that there are very strict, no tolerance violent crime prevention laws in the UK.)

Over the next hour I tried to explain to the officers about where I got the knife, why it was in my bag, how I overlooked it while I was packing, how I had already gone through 3 different security checks, two of which happened in their airport and that my flight was now leaving in a little over an hour and I didn’t want to miss my flight because the team PASTORS that I was meeting up with would be delayed on the MISSIONS trip to help feed all the STARVING CHILDREN in Africa.

I don’t know if it was the starving children, the missions trip or the fact that I had been through a couple of security checks already in their airport and had been let through with this “violent weapon” that convinced them, but before too long I had a Police supervisor in front of me.

After what seemed like an eternity, we came to an agreement that they would let me go on my way as long as I would sign some papers where I admitted to bringing the knife into the country and concealing it in my bag while I was in London.

I signed the papers, they confiscated the knife and warned me that I would probably always be pulled out of line to be checked if I was ever in the UK and then they hurried me along to my gate where I was just able to get on board before they closed the door.

When I found my seat on the airplane, I quickly texted my wife and told her everything was ok. Said a long, grateful prayer to God thanking him over and over and over again for getting me through that ordeal and then I closed my eyes to sleep and try to enjoy what I THOUGHT was, compared to what I had just gone through, an easy trip to Swaziland.

My flight from London to Johannesburg was great. It was my first time flying Virgin Atlantic, and they are AMAZING. If you ever get a chance to fly them, you should. (Maybe I’ll get a couple of free flights for this plug?)

This was supposed to be the easiest leg of my trip. Land in Johannesburg, re-ticket for the quick regional flight from there to Swaziland, meet at the gate with the rest of the team, including my friend Dan from Children’s Cup who was coordinating the trip, and all of us fly together to Swaziland. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. That’s not how it went AT ALL!

I get to the South African Airlines counter where I am supposed to get my boarding pass for my next flight, hand the lady working the counter my passport and a copy of my itinerary. She looks me up in the system, gives me a puzzled look and says, “I’m sorry, but you canceled this ticket.” I explained to her as nicely as I could that there was NO WAY I would have canceled my ticket. Why would I fly all the way to South Africa knowing that I had canceled my ticket to the actual place I was going?

After going back and forth with this woman for a few minutes, she told me there was nothing she could do for me there. She pointed to a door and told me there was someone that would help me on the other side. I thanked her for her help, grabbed my things, walked out of the door she pointed me to and found myself standing on the street in front of the airport.

I can’t believe this is happening.

I literally ran back inside trying to find someone that would help me before my flight left. I finally found someone and they pointed me to the first of seven counters I would eventually have to visit to figure out why my ticket had been canceled and how I was going to get on the next flight out, since my flight, and the team, had already departed.

To be honest, this was more frustrating than my experience in London. At least in London, they were nice enough to explain to me what was going on. Here, everyone I talked to just seemed annoyed that I would even expect them to help… Well, not really help, just do their jobs.

I bounced around to seven different counters over the course of an hour and a half. I don’t know if the people just didn’t want to help me or just couldn’t, all I know is that the only answer I was getting was “NO”.

So there I was. I’m in a country I have never been before, in an airport where no one seemed to want to help, and all I REALLY wanted to do was get on the next flight back to the USA and go to bed. I decided before I had a complete nervous breakdown to step out of the line I was in, find a quiet corner and pray. I know that those of you reading this would have been praying much sooner than that. I’m sure you would have dropped everything the minute you heard your ticket had been canceled and began to give it over to the Lord. Not me. It took me a little longer than that, it seems like it always does. Let me get to the end of myself FIRST, then I’ll give it over to God. (I’m still learning, I’ll get to where you are soon.)

“Lord, what is going on? Am I missing something? Maybe you don’t want me to go on this trip. Maybe the whole thing in London was you trying to tell me to go home, maybe something bad is going to happen to me, and you’re trying to protect me. Tell me what to do!” After I had finished praying, something CRAZY happened. THE LORD SPOKE TO ME! Ok, maybe He didn’t speak to me in the sense that I actually heard his voice. No, I didn’t hear his voice, but I remembered His Word.

I remembered the first Bible verse I had ever memorized as a kid, Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose”.

Honestly, when that verse popped up in my mind, I literally started to laugh. I don’t know if I really thought it was that funny or I was just so overly emotional and tired that I was delirious, but I literally started to laugh out loud.

I got back in line, and began to repeat that verse over and over again. FINALLY, after the longest most frustrating process, I was able to just BUY a one-way ticket to Swaziland and be on my way.

I took my new boarding pass, walked through security again, found my gate, bought a Red Bull, sat down on the floor, and began to pout. I was so angry. I was tired. I wanted to go home. I wanted to know why the Lord had put me through all of this. What “good thing” could possible come of me missing my flight and not connecting with the rest of the team?

As I was sitting there praying and pouting, more pouting than praying really, a couple sat down on the floor next to me. They were obviously American, and after all I had just been through, it was great to be able to talk to someone who, at the very least, I could understand.

I asked the couple where they were from and they said Texas. I told them that I was also from Texas and then they said they were actually from Dallas. I told them that I was from Dallas. It turned out that this couple lives just a few minutes away from where I live! They had just graduated from seminary and were leaving for a couple of weeks on a medical missions trip to celebrate. When they get home they were going to begin the process of planting a church.

We talked for a few more minutes, prayed for each other, exchanged information and then they had to run to catch their flight.

As they walked away Romans 8:28 began to repeat in my head again. I was stunned. Awestruck might be the better word for it.
I sat back down on the floor, where just 5 minutes earlier I was pouting and complaining to God, and I began to pray again.

“Lord, did you just bring me all the way to South Africa, all the way to the other side of the World, then cause my ticket to be canceled so that I would have to take a later flight, just so that I could connect to a couple that lives right down the street from me?”

This time the Lord did answer me, He said, “I did want you to meet that couple, but that’s not why I did all of this. I did it so that you would understand that I have a plan, you’re a part of that plan, and MY plan is WAY better than your plan.”

Yup, I got the message. I had high expectations for this trip. I knew that God was going to use me to speak into other peoples lives, I just had no idea that the trip would start by the Lord speaking so clearly into mine.

I did make it on to Swaziland where the rest of the team was waiting for me in the airport. The trip was amazing, and not near as stressful as the first 48 hours of it had been. I experienced things, and met people that I will never forget. And I was reminded that the Kingdom of God is advancing all over the earth in ways and places that we have probably never heard of or will never see, but we get to be a part of it right where we are.

I can’t wait to share more about my trip in following posts.

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