God, the Travel Agent

I didn’t expect this to happen.

In April I’m headed to Zambia on a Rapid Response trip (you would’ve known this if you had read our newsletter… here). What’s a Rapid Response trip? Typically MMS repairs aircraft in their hangar in Ohio. Shipping or ferrying airplanes to Ohio from exotic locations around the world can be quite expensive and so usually only big projects are worth the bother. This means that sometimes an organization needs help with a project but can’t ship it to Ohio so MMS assembles a team of mechanics and sends them to the organization to help on site. Each apprentice gets to go on at least one Rapid Response trip. The cool thing is that MMS covers the cost of the entire trip; The organization doesn’t pay a thing. The apprentice pays for the cost of the trip from the funds he or she accumulated during the support raising process.

Victoria Falls is a waterfall in southern Africa on the Zambezi River at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In April MMS is sending a team to Zambia to help an organization called Flying Mission upgrade the avionics in their fleet of Cessnas. Since I’m going along to help, my ticket was paid for by the accumulated funds in our support account. However, Janice and the kids had to stay at home unless we paid for the cost of the extra tickets from our personal income. The extra tickets would be expensive… like thousands of dollars.

This bummed us out a little, to say the least. It was always Janice’s dream to go to Africa. We also knew a family who was serving with Flying Mission and they had a daughter Adi’s age. It would be awesome for our whole family to go visit them in Africa but we decided to be mature about it and make the decision that had to be made; Janice and the kids couldn’t come along.

A few days later Mike, a staff member at MMS who will be my supervisor on the Rapid Response trip, got my personal information and purchased the tickets for both of us. Well, I thought, that’s that. Even if we magically got money raining from heaven, I doubt we’d be able to get tickets on the same flight. I shrugged my shoulders and gave up on the family going with me to Zambia.

“Still,” Janice said,”we know we’ll need passports for the kids eventually. Let’s apply for them even if we aren’t going to Zambia.” I agreed. After all, my wife is always right, even if she isn’t.

We took Adi and Elliot to Walgreens where we tried to get them to pose in front of a camera. You might as well put Adi in front of a firing squad. She wails and moans and anguishes in grand style over the tragedy of a life being snuffed out so prematurely. The Walgreens photographer, who had fewer photography credentials than a speed camera, tried to catch Adi in between throes of agony but was unsuccessful. The State Department is very picky about passport photos. The subject has to be looking at the camera, the eyes must be open and pointed directly ahead, the shoulders must be squared, they can’t have hair in their face, and the head can’t be tilted one way or another. Getting a passport picture of a toddler is statistically harder than landing a man on the moon. We eventually got a photo that was scraping the minimum requirements.

“If the post office rejects the photo, we can do a free retake,” the photographer lady said. Both parties uttered a fervent prayer that we wouldn’t see each other again. We sped off to the post office with our passport applications.

The lady at the post office didn’t like the photo. “Are you sure you want to use this one? It may work but there’s a chance they’ll send it back and that will delay the passports”

Janice and I looked at each other. We looked like we just went for a casual stroll with a man-eating tiger. There were claw marks across our face, tufts of hair hanging from our clothes, and tear streaked dust caked on our faces. “Let’s give that picture a try and see what happens.” I said. “Maybe we’ll get lucky. Besides, I really doubt the kids are going to Zambia anyway so a delay won’t be a big deal.”

Janice sighed so hard she that she blew papers around the office. It looked like we were in a snow globe. “We should probably just go get another picture. I don’t want to do this all again. We’ll have to pay for another application fee.” I groaned but my wife is always right, even when she isn’t. We went back to Walgreens and put Adi in front of the firing squad yet again. The photographer lady looked like a bunch of masked gunman had just walked through the door. I suggested that maybe this time I could use her camera and take the pictures for her. She threw the camera at me and ducked behind the counter. This time we got a solid shot. The post office lady was pleased. So were we! The passport applications were mailed with much fanfare.

Now rewind to a few months ago, before we even knew I was going to Zambia. We still had my in-laws zero turn mower we had used at our old place in Dresden. Since we moved into town we didn’t need it anymore. It was parked in our one-car garage and I was sick of it taking up space so I told Janice we needed to visit her parents and give it back.

“When?” She asked.

“How about the first or second weekend in February?” I said. It really didn’t matter when we went except that our January budget didn’t have enough money in it for the trip. February sometime would work.

Janice marked the second weekend of February on the calendar. Later a friend from our sending church heard we were coming to visit and asked us to come a week later. “We’re having a Valentine’s Banquet the third weekend in February and we want you to come to that. Could you come a weekend later?”

“Sure,” Janice said. She double checked with me.

“Sure,” I agreed. I requested a vacation day for Friday so we could make the trip worthwhile and so our kids could spend more time with Grandpa and Grandma Detweiler. As I was looking over the calendar I discovered that I also had off on President’s Day, the Monday after the Friday I had taken off. Cool! That worked out well.

As the trip drew closer, we found out that Janice’s Uncle Ray wasn’t doing well. He was having a prolonged battle with illness and as his condition worsened we began expecting to attend a funeral while we were in Michigan. We were right. We received the news of Uncle Ray’s passing on Thursday. His funeral was to be on Monday, President’s Day. As friends and family poured into Michigan to pay their respects we were astonished at how this trip suddenly turned into a big family reunion.

On a side note, having kids at a funeral is like trying to quietly and respectfully operate a petting zoo in the back row of the funeral home. If you get there early you may be able to sneak all the animals in and hide them unnoticed behind a bench for awhile but it’s inevitable that a goat will kick a mule and suddenly all sorts of braying and chaos will erupt. You finally manage to hush the petting zoo when suddenly a mushroom cloud of stench billows above the back two rows. You apologetically nod to the onlookers as you drag the guilty party to the restroom while they engage full reverse thrusters. Full reverse thrusters are quite loud.

But of course I’m exaggerating. Our children would never behave like that.

It was a good service though. It was a great reminder that none of us will get out of life alive and that someday we will stand in front of the Creator of the universe. There will be no preachers, no spouse, no traditions, no self-help books, and no excuses between you and Him. You will answer for how you spent the life He gave to you. He’s placed you in one of the most affluent and prosperous times in history. Travel has never been faster or more affordable. The needs of the world have never been more evident. There has never been a generation in a better position to complete the Great Commission. You will be responsible for what you did with the place in history He gave you. That’s not something to shrug off because it makes you uncomfortable.

But anyway, I’m getting all preachy. It’s good that God gave me a wife. As soon as I get up on my high horse she pulls me down. “Are you riding your high horse again? Get down from there and put your socks in the hamper where they belong.”

At the funeral we met all kinds of people from all over the place that we haven’t seen in awhile and, as it goes in situations like that, lots of questions were raised about what we’re doing with MMS Aviation and our future plans. We mentioned to a family friend, let’s call him Mr. Hinklemyer, that I was traveling to Zambia but unfortunately Janice and the children couldn’t go along.

“Is budgetary concerns the only thing holding your family back?” Mr. Hinklemyer asked.

“Well, it’s the biggest thing holding us back,” I said.

“I’ll put up to $3,000 towards the tickets if the trip works out.”

My jaw hit the floor. Money had just fallen from heaven!

We drove back to Ohio the next day, Tuesday. First thing at work on Wednesday I brought up the new found possibility with Mike. “Sounds good to me,” He said, “but we have to first clear it with the mission in Zambia and we’ll also have to see if the flight has any seats left. There will also be an additional expense for food and lodging that you’ll have to cover.”

I nodded. I figured we should have maybe $500 to $600 to cover those costs. Still, it’s pretty cheap compared to the tickets. We could swing that. This would be a great opportunity for our family.

The next day we got the green light from the mission in Zambia. The day after that we shopped flights and found that, not only were a few seats still available, they were right next to the seats Mike and I had already reserved! The price for additional tickets came out to $2,409.19. I texted Mr. Hinklemyer with the good news. That evening I came home and high fived Janice. We’re going to Africa!

“We’ll still need more money for food and losing and stuff like that,” I said. “Probably around $500-$600. We can take it out of savings or something. We’ll figure it out.”

That night, before the funds for the tickets even left our bank account, Mr. Hinklemyer sent us $3,000. Exactly $590.81 more than the ticket price which will cover any additional expenses we’ll have.

And, because Janice insisted on going ahead with our children’s passports even though I was skeptical it even mattered, they are already in process with pictures that are done right and should be here within the right time frame.

God is a great travel agent, isn’t He?

Blessings from Waxhaw, North Carolina.