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Friday, December 19, 2014

A Gift From All of Us: Conclusion

Yesterday’s post described my desperation to get home for Christmas. The auntie I’d had the most contact with during all of my childhood had died in July, but living in the jungle of West Africa, I’d only learned of her passing in late September. As October drew to a close, letters from home spoke of my father’s newly-diagnosed brain tumor and the need for surgery. Even without the family crises, the mere remembrance of last year’s lonely, miserable first-Christmas-in-Africa, made my Swiss colleague and I long for Christmas at home.

To re-cap the story up to this point: On Sunday, we’d walked the five miles of rugged terrain out to the inter-city roadway, waited hours to climb into a taxi-truck and ride two hours to the nearest city. That evening’s phone call home let us know that we had enough travel money in our Stateside bank account to catch a special holiday-rate flight home, if we could get the check cashed into local currency, purchase the plane tickets and get the necessary government visas—all in a matter of days, not weeks.

We concluded our business in town by Monday afternoon and reversed the journey of the previous day, all the while speaking of our longing to get home for Christmas.

Tuesday morning, we decided to go for it. Treating seventy-eight patients took all of the daylight hours; preparing the clinic for our absence would have to wait for Wednesday since we only had oil lamps.

Wednesday we worked at getting medicines ready for those patients who would return to have our apprentice re-fill their prescriptions; packed up vulnerable items in the house to protect them from the various small wildlife who might succeed in invading our home when we were away; and used the last half-hour of light to throw clothing into our suitcases.

Thursday our weary legs carried us back out those five miles, singing “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” all the way out to wait for another taxi-truck to return us to Kamsar.

By late-afternoon Friday our American check had been turned into all of the cash needed, one little paper bag of currency at a time, but we missed the taxi-truck for the twelve-hour ride to the capital city.

Once again, our good friend at the mining company accepted the challenge, securing a seat on the company’s employee-only commuter plane.

Rejoining the story...

After one turbulent half-hour flight, we landed in the city and bolted for the taxi stand nearest the airport. We needed to drop our suitcases off at a missionary friend’s house before going any further.

By the time this had been accomplished, however, night had fallen; the travel office had closed. We had to wait for the office to open Saturday morning. The chances of making that Tuesday flight looked even more impossible than it had just three days earlier.

“God can still pull this out,” I said to my downcast friend. Was she also remembering all that had gone into getting us this far? The Lord could do it, but would He?

“Now, that we’ve come this far, my heart is set on being with my family this year. Let’s keep praying!” Anne-Lise said.

Early Saturday morning, we slipped and slid our way over the boulder-strewn side street to the closest taxi stand. We took the first one we saw, not examining the condition of the vehicle as usual; we just had so little time now.

“Okay, ladies,” the travel agent said, “The ticket to Switzerland will be a bit more than the one to America. Let’s see.”

Oh, no! It can’t be; we only have the exact amount in local currency with us. My horrified expression could not be disguised as the anxious thoughts claimed my attention. We’d come so far; we were so close.

“Here you are. Will you be paying for both tickets together?

“Yes, we will,” said Anne-Lise. My stomach tightened as we waited to hear the amount. “We brought the cash with us; may we have the tickets now instead of returning for them on Monday? We’ll need a photocopy to apply for the exit visas.

The agent looked up at us. “You don’t have exit visas for this Tuesday flight? I’m not sure you can get them in time.

“We know it’ll be tight,” I said, struggling to see the figure on the paper before the agent. “We just need to try.”

“Okay, well are you exchanging US dollars with us or do you have the local currency?She slid the paper over towards us. My heart fell as I noticed Anne-Lise’s ticket was a whopping $100 more than we had planned. It was over; we’d tried but failed. I heard Anne-Lise affirm we had local currency and listened to the calculator on the agent’s desk click out the final total.

We sat in stunned silence as the agent read off the amount due. Her eyebrows arched, as her head tilted to the right. “A problem?”

“No, nothing like that,” Anne-Lise said. “We thought it would be higher in the local currency; that’s all. No, we have the money right here.”

As I watched the money being counted, I fought to hold back my tears of joy. Of course, the exchange rate would be different when coming from the mining company friends than the business folks. One major hurdle down and the most difficult still to come: the visas.

We climbed out of the next taxi at the home of a missionary friend who had charge of securing visas of various kinds for the missionaries. “You want this when?” Kent asked. “You are not seriously thinking you can make a flight on Tuesday, are you? This is Saturday night and the offices are closed on Sunday, you know.”

“Yes, I know. Can you please try? I’m just desperate to get home for Christmas this year.”

The giant of a man, clothed in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, smiled at us and shook his head. “I’ll try, but I’m not making any promises.”

We spent Sunday worshipping at the church just down the street, and then waited for the phone to ring. Not only did the phone not ring on Sunday, but Monday proved equally as silent. Repeated inquiries resulted in the same response, “Still waiting to hear.

On Tuesday morning, a friend contacted Kent twice. He still had no hint of when the visas would be released, but admitted it didn’t look good.

At four o’clock, I headed for the cottage to repack my suitcase for the journey. I thought of the FAX I’d just sent my parents. I’d drawn Santa’s sleigh and put cut-out headshots on stick figures inside the sleigh. I wrote the arrival time for the flight. I dreaded the possibility of notifying them I wouldn’t be coming after all.

“Dannie, maybe we should face facts here. If we’re going, we have to leave for the airport in two hours.” I kept shifting the contents of my suitcase. “Do you think we’ll get the visas at the very last minute? Has God told you we’re going home tonight? Oh, I so want to be on that plane.”

“No, God hasn’t told me anything. We may not be flying out tonight; but I need to do my part, if I expect God to do his, don’t I? If I ask God to provide the visas for that flight home, I’d better be ready when he brings them to us, right?

In fact, just fifteen minutes before we needed to leave for the airport, a car honked at the gate. The visas had arrived.

Thirty-some hours later, having bid Anne-Lise adieu in Paris where our connecting flights took us in opposite directions, I stood on the plane and draped the bright-red ribbon with large bow around my neck and shoulders like some kind of beauty pageant contestant. I shifted the gift tag so that my parents would see it as I approached. I could hardly wait to share about what God had done through the kindness of so many people to bring me home for Christmas.


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