Tough start! We board the subway to the airport. All is going well. All passports present and accounted for. All money belts, luggage, and backpacks on board--bodes well...or so it seems. Stephanie Clarke, Kendra, Kayla, Stephanie Haupt, and Scott take a hard right and head for the sparkling, sleek, and techno-smooth Terminal II, so they can return home to good old Medford (actually it’s not very “old” at all by European or African standards). The Africa group heads to the terminal of many fond memories for me--Terminal I. We will meet again shortly over at Terminal II to say our goodbyes. It’s hard to believe that after two years of working together, we are now about to say our first goodbyes. We’ve gone from friends, to special friends, to something even more. We are no longer a loose confederation of individuals affiliated by a common purpose. We are now more like an extended family united by the love of Jesus and his mission for the world. It feels special...because it is!
Where’s the tough start? Stay tuned. The Africa group begins to check in. We are quite early and the British Airways employees are few and far between. We finally get a little attention and begin the check-in process. Then, like a bolt of lightning from an angry Mount Olympus, we are informed that Riley has a puzzling and profoundly perplexing passport problem. It’s impossible. Her Ugandan visa stamp is prominently displayed right smack dab in the middle of her passport--replete with vivid Ugandan national colors. How can you have an approved visa and an unsatisfactory passport? This can’t be! There’s no way this can be happening. We try everything from calling the US embassy and the Ugandan embassy staff in Munich. The visa stamping embassy bears the blame but the British Air staff simply will not put her on the plane and there is no time to correct the wrong.
In spite of this deeply disturbing and incredibly emotional turn of events, Riley’s grace under fire was truly one of the most beautiful and precious things I have seen in some time. Paul, from his prison cell in Rome, (which we had just visited about two weeks prior, and where we then read chapter four of Philippians) wrote these words, “...and the peace of God, which surpasses understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds.” Riley not only heard these words read aloud, but now she was living into them and their resonance was ringing true in her. That’s music for the soul.
I can’t imagine what she must have felt, as she was informed that not only could she not board the plane for Africa but, to add insult to injury, she finds out that there is not a single seat on the Lufthansa flight taking the rest of our group back home. She can’t go to Africa. She can’t go home. Where pray tell will she go? To make a long story short, with the help of airport & airline staff, and with the help of the Lord (oh, how we prayed) we were able to get Riley a room at Hotel Kempinski (one of the finest in the Munich area--which just so happened to be only yards from Terminal II). A stunned and groggy dad, Chris, (it was about 5 AM Pacific time) gave the approval for her to stay and Lufthansa finally pulled a few more strings to get her on the next day’s flight. Emotionally exhausted, we hugged, kissed and said our goodbyes. It was a sad and yet profoundly beautiful moment. Riley had obviously become deeply embedded in our hearts. We were sad for her and yet incredibly proud of her grace, calm and courage.
Riley goes to get some food and rest. The Europe group heads for home. And the African group flies to London, as the setting sun prepares to tuck the jewel on the Thames in for bed. After surviving the labyrinthine machinations of Terminal 5, we board our flight and cut our way into a Mediterranean night in search of an African morn.
Very few places in the world can claim the power and pathos of an African sunrise over Lake Victoria (3rd largest lake in the world...or so I’ve been told). As we debark, we are greeted by masked officials with medical questionnaires and probing stares. Apparently, someone had arrived the day before on a flight from London with a full blown case of the now seemingly ubiquitous Swine flu. We tried not to cough or appear in any way sickly. We were in. And we were as excited and curious as children on their first day at kindergarten. What an adventure awaited us. We would have to lean into this experience with due weight--and so we did. That was...until we were all crammed into a minivan designed for seven in America, now converted “African style” into the same size van surprisingly ready to load a small village. Within 12 minutes almost everyone was asleep--nothing like being up for almost 24 hours and getting into a moving vehicle to take us back to childhood slumber. Actually, I stayed awake with John. We couldn’t believe our eyes--Kampala was embracing a new day and we were there to join the group hug. “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”...and so we shall.
We drive about 40 miles from Entebbe and insinuate ourselves into the heart of downtown Kampala. It’s hard, if not impossible, to describe. It’s like Brownian movement under a microscope gone IMAX. It is simply stunning and stupefying that so many people and so many bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, automobiles, trucks, and scurrying human beings could proceed with such velocity in so many competing and converging directions. It was both miraculous and mortifying. I learned in Rome that to ask a taxi driver to slow down will only make them speed up. Rick Steves suggests that a better strategy is to tell them, “I think I’m going to throw up.” I now know how to say this in Italian but not in Lugandan or any of the Bantu languages. Oh well...tighten the seat belt and pray...uh oh, there are no seat belts, maybe I should just pray and pray.
After a stop in a downtown bakery, where Formolo and Smith braved their first manly foray into the macho wilds of black coffee drinking, we made it to the Ivy’s Hotel--not far from the Anglican Monastery where I stayed last summer. The Ivy’s staff was friendly and the bed was waiting my immanent collapse. It came. After a few hours of rest, off we went again, now to get some money exchanged. In Italy and Germany, a dollar was worth about 64 Euro cents. But in Uganda a dollar is worth about 2,000 schillings--can I get an AMEN?...or as Kyndal put it, 2000 “mother lovin” schillings! Most of us exchanged about $100, thus getting about 200,000 schillings in return. We felt like Donald Trump...but without the bad hairdo...(but then again, there’s Formolo--have you seen his hair after a good nap?).
Now we have money and we’re at least half awake, so Rhita takes us to the special restaurant that Caleb introduced her to called The Crocodile. It was wonderful. I had the mushroom risotto with an African flair. Good food. Good fellowship. And now all we need is some bottled water for our rooms (for drinking, brushing our teeth, and any thing else that involves intake) and a good nights sleep. Now may the mantle of an African night cloak us in it’s mysterious darkness until morning’s light.
Nothing quite like the combination of a view from 33,000 feet and the mystery of an awaiting African continent.
A picture is worth a 1,000 words. A family of 7 go for a ride on the wild streets of Kampala.This is from one of the Kampala daily newspapers. This is the kind of thing we saw on a regular basis--all you need to add is another 1,000 zig-zagging, heavy laden, gyrating vehicles.
The students react in their own unique ways to sights, sounds, and smells of the Kampala traffic experience.
Caleb and Rhita with the group at the Ivy's Hotel front porch. Caleb and Rhita are more than hosts to us--they are family! I love them more than words can tell. God has blessed me richly by letting me share the sacred journey of life with them. They are Jesus Followers who make me proud to be a Christian.
This was my first privilege to hold Caleb and Rhita's 5 month old baby, Joshua. Isn't he adorable? It was also my first opportunity to meet sweet Mirembe, who our family commited to put through high school and possibly college. She has many physical challenges but within her little heart beats a sweet, sweet spirit. She is as delicate as spring flower. She is the beautiful girl in the blue dress. What an honor to share her life over the years. On this trip, Bonnie and I also commited to add baby Shukran to our care. Shukran is 2 and Mirembe is 5. I will show you a picture of Shukran dancing in one of the later entries. She is one of a kind. She makes me laugh like no other. If you would like to enrich your lives by sponsoring one of these amazing children from the Amahoro homes, send me an email. I can't think of a better thing to do. Jesus reminds us that we have beeen "blessed to be a blessing." I don't know who is blessing who. With the way of Jesus, we all join the circle of blessing. God is good and love always wins!