Saturday, August 31, 2013

Day Two - Destination Chipata, almost there

There are times when the reality of one’s frailty and ‘smallness’ latches on to the mind like a vice grip, and fear and insecurity well up in the chest so that it becomes more difficult to take a breath.  These are the emotions I felt as I exited the plane in Ethiopia.  My carry-on luggage and I had gotten separated, and the baggage claim personnel couldn’t locate it.   I was doing everything I could to remain calm and explain my dilemma to the airport customer service officer.  I only had about an hour and a half to spare before my final flight to Malawi, and I still had to go through another security screening and get checked in.   So as I waited for the officer to locate my very inconspicuous, black, Swiss Air carry-on, which carried my 35 mm camera, laptop, medication, and other items of value, the Lord brought Philippians 4:6 to my remembrance, and I quoted it to myself, out loud, over and over again: 
 “Now, Phylicia, {says I to myself}, the Lord has told you not to be anxious about anything; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto him.  So Lord, I want to thank you again for giving me the courage to get on that airplane and fly here by myself.  Thank you for getting me safely to this airport.  Lord, would you please help that baggage agent to locate my carry-on.  You know I need it for this last leg of my flight.   Lord, please help me to remain calm.  I know you are in control of this situation.  I will not be anxious.  I will not be anxious.”  
That was my prayer – simple and to the point.  Praise God for the comfort of his Word!

I was so thankful that I wasn’t wearing a watch and my phone wasn’t charged because I
had no way of knowing how little time I had left to catch my next plane.  I passed the time by people watching, and it was an incredible show.  There were brown people everywhere I turned.  I know that sounds funny, but it’s quite something to realize that there are places in the world where my ethnicity doesn’t represent the minority.  While most of the people were brown, their clothing wasn’t.  Colorful, flowing robes and tunics covered bodies from head to toe, and very little flesh was exposed on anyone (a far cry from American culture).  My eyes beheld the outward expressions of religious faith and cultural tradition on display in the form of garments and body art.   Many of the women, both old and young, adorned their hands and feet with a henna tattoo type of artwork.  I found the scrollwork patterns fascinating and strange at the same time, and I tried not stare. Two elderly nuns sat near me and began to carry on a conversation in French.   A contingent of men walked by dressed in the traditional garb of orthodox Jews from days gone by – black pants, long sleeved black jacket, wide brim black hat, and white shirt.  Each of them wore long beards, thick sideburns, and their hair was styled with side ringlets.  I immediately thought of the rabbi from the movie Fiddler on the Roof.  A toddler stood next to his mother and screamed at the top of his lungs while he pulled on her robe.  She just continued to converse with her travel companion and ignored the little boy.   I tried to do the same. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Flying Solo, part 2

...My flight was on schedule to taxi down the runway.  Before I could get my excitement meter revved up with the plane engines, the pilot’s voice came over the intercom to let passengers know that the radio on the aircraft was broken, and we had no ability to communicate with air traffic control.  All passengers with connecting flights would need to de-plane and arrange their travel on another airline.  I heaved a big sigh, got off the plane, and stood in line with several other passengers in search of a flight to Washington Dulles that would get me to that airport in time to make my connecting flight to Ethiopia.   I received my new Delta airlines ticket and proceeded to the proper terminal.  I turned my phone back on after having powered it down in airplane mode, and the following text messages were glaring across the screen.  They were all from Kimberly:

6:21am  “There is no record of my itinerary!! Trying to get it worked out.”
6:36am  “Huge problems!  No record of my ticket purchase and flights full.  Contact me when you can.”
6:49am  “Nothing United can do for me.  I can’t reach the travel agent yet.  Not sure what to do right now!

I was in shock!  I called Kimberly immediately as I walked quickly through the airport, trying to make my new flight to Washington D.C.  Kimberly’s voice sounded frantic and upset.  She tried to explain the problems she was having, but it was so confusing.  She had an itinerary and a confirmation number, but the United ticket agent couldn’t find ANY record of her reservation.  I was growing concerned at this point because Kimberly’s flight from Chicago was scheduled to take off within the hour, and she still had to get checked in and go through security.   I was suddenly very afraid that she had been the victim of travel agency fraud.  I arrived at my new gate just as the Delta ticket agent had started boarding passengers.   I hung up the phone with Kimberly, told her I would be praying for her and to keep me posted.  I handed my new boarding pass to the Delta ticket agent who proceeded to tell me that the United ticket agent keyed in my flight information incorrectly, and he couldn’t let me board the plane.  I couldn’t even speak; I just smiled and prayed.  The Delta agent (who was just talking out loud to himself, at this point) continued to punch in ticket information, looking for my name on the new flight schedule, while he bad-mouthed the United agent for his lack of proper protocol in processing airport documents.  Good grief!  The Delta agent finally handed me a new boarding pass with a confirmed seat even though he kept saying that he shouldn’t allow me on the plane.  I asked no questions, thanked him for the boarding pass, walked down the jet way, took my seat, and breathed!    As the plane taxied down the runway, I prayed that the Lord would intervene in Kimberly’s situation and she would make her flight.  My head was throbbing. I got off the plane in D.C. and headed to the Ethiopia Airlines terminal.  I checked my phone and read this text message from Kimberly:

7:51am “Still no word from the travel agent.  Probably won’t until they open.  Looks like they are in California which is two hours earlier.  I’m going to head back home since there is nothing anyone can do for me here.  Please don’t go without me!  I don’t know if we can leave tomorrow or what the options are. I’m just so upset.” 

My heart sank!  I called Kimberly, and she told me that she missed her flight.  The airline was accusing her of being a ‘no show’ and there weren’t any other flights going out of the airport that day.  She was going to try to find someone who could tell her if there were any flights to Zambia leaving the next day.  I didn’t know what to do.  I had two suitcases of checked baggage on their way to Africa filled with items for the missionaries and the maternity clinic.  I told her I would try to find a ticket agent to help me get information about flights leaving the next day.  I was sick to my stomach.  I sent a message to Kevin and Savannah Pestke asking for their help, and I knew I had to call Harden.  He was already hesitant about Kimberly and I flying to Africa by ourselves, and I could only imagine what he would say.   I dialed his number.  His voice was cheerful.  He had been tracking my itinerary online and told me he knew about the flight delay in Atlanta.  I told him that something terrible had happened, and I needed him to listen.  I tried to explain what was going on with Kimberly’s flight.  I told him that she was going to try to get a flight to Zambia the next day, but I didn’t know if I could get a new flight confirmation for the next day.  There weren’t any ticket agents in the terminal to help me, and my flight to Ethiopia was leaving within the hour.  Then I asked him if it would be alright if I traveled to Africa by myself if things didn’t work out for Kimberly to come with me.  There was a brief silence on the other end of the phone.  He asked me if I would still be able to be effective in my ministry if I went to Zambia by myself.  I told him I wasn’t sure, but I thought it would be alright with Kevin if I still came.  Harden told me I could go, but he didn’t want me to leave any of the airports and deviate from my original flight itinerary.  I was so relieved to have his blessing, but I was a bundle of nerves. 

Day One - Flying Solo

The months leading up to my departure for Zambia were filled with planning, fundraising, promotion, and fervent prayer for the Lord’s favor as my team of volunteers and I endeavored to go and minister to the wonderful people living in the bush region of Chipata, Zambia.   More than two years had passed since the vision for the Global Sisterhood Initiative™ was birthed.  From that time until the present I was in constant contact with missionary/church planter, Kevin Pestke, finalizing the details for our trip.  Our original team consisted of eight members, all with unique gifts and specific ministry roles:  Leo Diaz - photography and videography;  Kimberly Barreras – women’s clinic and children’s ministry; Michael Alvarez - building contractor, businessman, and preacher; Kristin Alvarez – vacation bible school; Taylor and Lauran Alvarez – children’s ministry; Harden Perry (my husband)– feasibility assessment and general support; Me – women’s ministry, clinic worker, and project management. 

As the weeks passed and the time to purchase plane tickets drew closer, our group encountered a myriad of obstacles.  Leo had a heart catheterization, almost flat-lined, and wasn’t given travel clearance from his physician.  Harden couldn’t take an additional two weeks off from his job because he had already requested time off to drive our oldest daughter to freshman orientation week at Cedarville University at the end of the summer.  The Alvarez family had a set-back and weren’t able to raise all of the funds needed for traveling to Africa.  This left Kimberly and me.  I remember how hesitant I was to call her and share my news that it would only be the two of us making the trip.  I was afraid she would have reservations about continuing with our plans, but thankfully, her enthusiasm hadn’t waned a bit.  Our husbands gave us the ‘green light’ to proceed with our travel itinerary.  We updated our passports, purchased airline tickets, suffered through travel immunizations, and packed our luggage.