Here to There

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow let’s go into this city, and spend a year there, and trade, and get gain.” Whereas you don’t know what your life will be like tomorrow. For what is your life? For you are a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. For you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will both live, and do this or that.” (James 4:13 15 WEB)

The first time I climbed aboard an airplane I was married, in my twenties and headed to my best friend’s wedding in Ohio. I flew from Jacksonville, Florida and returned to the small, miniscule, airport in Gainesville, Florida where the airplane barely had enough room to stop. I was excited and scared all rolled into one.

My second flight was to Guam. There was a big difference. After a few years on the mission field, trips here and there about the Pacific, I became a seasond traveler. While my height didn’t quite fall in the standard for airline seats I could easily enter a state of the living dead and become a zombie from one end of a flight to the other. Other than the food few things bothered my ability to drift off to another world during a flight.

In the 1990s I had the opportunity to help at our offices in Sri Lanka. This was not a normal flight. Not by any means!

The first leg of the flight was not direct to Taipei but via Saipan. After checking in on Guam I headed past the first ticket gate to the gangway for the plane I was told was at Gate 4. As I approached the airplane ramp the attendant in the hall said, “Oh no, your gate is over here,” and directed everyone from Gate 4 to the door for Gate 3 and everyone for the Manila flight to Gate 4. Gate 3 went outside down the stairs and across the tarmac to the waiting 727. Gate 4 was a regular gangway connected to another Boeing 727 preparing to depart. As I and the other passengers began to ascend the stairs to the waiting aircraft a man came out and said, “This is the wrong plane you want to be on that plane,” pointing to the plane docked at Gate 4. We all shuffled back across the tarmac and up the outside stairs of Gate 4 (the stairs reserved for ground crew.) As we approached the top of the stairs a similarly confused set of passengers were exiting the same gate attempting to descent the outside stairs of Gate 4 to reach the aircraft sitting in the Gate 3 location. Needless to say it was interesting watching the passengers shuffle between both planes until everyone was on the correct flight.

Finally, they pushed the plane away from the gate and we waited, and we waited, and we waited. As the rustle of discontent began to rise in the cabin we heard a message over the speakers. I don’t think the engineer knew he was connected to the speakers when he commented, “Just call the tower and have them to pull us back into the gate. Then call maintenance to see what they can do.” I was curious, to say the least and I watched as a flight attendant opened the cockpit door and whisper to the flight crew to tell them the intercom was coming out over the speakers. The look on the flight crew’s face was great. Immediately there was a “click” as the intercom speaker was turned off. A couple of minutes later they informed us we had to go back because they couldn’t start the engines.

We finally left after the maintenance crew brought out a jump starter, fired the engines up, and sent us on our way. We arrived in Taipei about an hour behind schedule. The flight via Saipan to Taipei was uneventful until I got off the plane. I was the only white 6 foot plus passenger on the plane. The airline personnel on the ground knew they had to do something with me. I just didn’t fit into the crowd! After a lot of discussion, which I couldn’t understand, they relieved me of my passport and tickets, deposited me in a transit lounge and left me without any explanation. With five minutes to spare before my next flight boarded, the airline personnel returned with my precious documents and a boarding pass for the remainder of the trip.

I’m not a fan of airport terminals. I’ve been in some very poor and extremely uncomfortable airport terminals around the world. Some were mere grass huts while others so massive they contained their own subway systems.

When I arrived in Singapore I enjoyed what I consider the best airport I’ve ever seen. As a transient passenger I was treated well with all the conveniences I needed. Even a meal at the airport restaurant was reasonably priced, something US airports need to consider. As I walked around to kill three hours of boredom I thought to myself, “Where was this terminal when I was carting four small children all over the globe?”

We were boarding the plane to depart. Everyone was checked in at the gate waiting for the bus to corral us to the waiting aircraft. As we stood up to walk to the bus the lady carefully announced we were headed for Bombay. This created quite a stir until someone at the counter corrected the error with the proper destination.

I did fairly well for someone who doesn’t like to fly. I survived until the last couple hours on the final leg to Colombo. At that point, it was hot, I was tired (being about 3:00 a.m. my time) and I couldn’t straighten my aching knee. I made it to the ground without accosting any flight attendants then spent forty five minutes waiting for Immigration to pass everyone through their routine. The hour drive to the office and the guest apartment was exciting with the unique Sri Lankan driving technique. It reminded me of Bangkok and Thai driving methods. Our driver was calm as a cucumber when a cycle without any lights would appear unexpectedly before our front bumper or a truck on the side of the road decided it was time to move and chose our lane while we were still occupying the same space.

Jesus did a lot of traveling during his earthly ministry. He walked everywhere. I think he would have still walked even if there were airplanes, buses and cars. When you walk you meet new folks, talk about life and see how they live. It’s from these visual interactions Jesus drew some of the parables with the most impact. On a plane you hunker down in your seat and try to endure the long flight.

Studies over the last couple decades indicate we’re moving fast. We’re moving so fast we can’t keep up with modern technology and the demands it makes on our lives. Stress increases, worry increases and our ability to cope with life decreases. It seems to me, we need to return to walking and talking so we can understand, relate, and celebrate God’s presence on a personal basis. Maybe I can book passage on a cargo ship for my next furlough from Europe!

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