“If God had meant for people to fly, he’d have given them wings….!” That’s a rather short-sighted bit of wisdom uttered, no doubt, after someone marveled at the often ill-fated early attempts at human flight, most of which ended with either a whimper or some sort of spectacular crash and burn. Until Orville and Wilbur actually managed to fly off the ground for a few hundred yards in their winged contraption, and land well enough to tell about it, most people were pretty sure that human flight was characteristically unnatural, or at best, simply impossible. Well, of course conventional wisdom and the doubters proved to be wrong and now we fly, racking up frequent flier miles by the thousands literally all over the world–and we make it seem relatively easy. Relatively.
Somewhere much too far into our African excursion to back out, I was thinking that the unnamed heretofore quoted myopic visonary might have been right after all. During the course of two very long days on the way to Kisumu, Africa, we logged some 22 hours in planes, and probably almost as many hours in airports, waiting for said planes. (By the time this odyssey ended, Travis and I had flown and lived to tell about it 16 different times–that’s a record I hope never to break!) On the way to Kenya we took off from DFW and sailed over our homeland at 38,000 feet, then off over the Atlantic toward Iceland. The first leg took about 9 or 10 hours, flying all night. Flying, not sleeping! Due to the miracle of time zones, we landed in London not 10 hours later, but on the clock, 16 hours later than when we left Dallas. Just a few hours in London (after a merciful nap) found us back on another Boeing 777, embarking on a 10 hour flight to Nairobi. We flew all night again, another mostly sleepless night that this time cost us 12 clock hours. By the time we landed in Nairobi, I wasn’t sure even what day it was, much less what time it had become. And we still lacked another flight to reach our destination of Kisumu. It was turning into a very long journey.
I will say that flying has gotten more pleasant, especially for those in first class. For those of us back in “steerage”, it’s better than it once was. There’s a quarter inch or so more leg room, and there are TV screens on the back of every adjustable concrete headrest. You can pick your movie! The airline also seemed obligated to turn on the cabin lights and feed us just about every time everyone on the plane had managed to doze off. The food is better, too, but still strange. And it’s a bit unsettling to eat as the monitor on the TV screen tells you that you’re at 40,000 feet, traveling at 658 MPH, and that the outside temperature is minus 73. Knowing that, I’m supposed to pop the foil on my little microwave plate of beef stroganoff and bon a petit? Granted, Orville and Wilbur would have been astounded by the aircraft carrying our team and 300 other passengers; compared to their death-defying experiences, it has gotten relatively easy to get from point a to point b, even when those points are separated by a dozen-thousand miles and 8 time zones. Relatively easy. Relatively.
Now as I get ready to post this blog piece on the back side of this adventure, 14 additional flights later, I don’t really care if I ever get on another airplane. But I would, and I will. Just not today! After most of 24 hours of flying, we finally did get to Kisumu, Kenya, just beneath the Equator. It was somehow Saturday there, in the afternoon. I felt a bit like Ebeneezer Scrooge whose entire past, present, and future had flashed before him all in a matter of hours. In just a few hours I would have to wake up and then be preaching on Sunday, which is pretty much what I do every Sunday of my life. But on this Sunday I would be preaching in a church in the second largest slum city of Kenya. And I would be preaching with an interpreter. And I was pretty sure the message I’d prepared was all wrong for the people who’d be hearing it. But even with all of that information circling around in my jet-lagged brain, after a harrowing trip to eat Indian food in Africa, I crawled under my mosquito net choosing not to dwell on the incurable disease I might wake up with if just the right mosquito found a hole in my net–and I slept like a baby. 30 hours without sleep will make you do that.
It dawns on me as I write this second in a series of blogs that will take some time, I haven’t even said much about Africa yet. That will come in the next installment where I will detail my experiences preaching at the Ringroad Church of Christ, our first full day in Africa. Before you can talk about Africa, you have to get to Africa. And that takes some time. I suppose it’s relatively easy. Relatively.
This longest journey of my life seems difficult and noteworthy to me. But I am suddenly reminded that another mission traveler once journeyed infinitely farther that I. He left heaven to come to earth. He traded first-class divinity for fourth-class steerage accommodations. He didn’t just come to visit, he came to a foreign land to stay for some 33 years. And when his journey reached what looked like its end, before he could go home, he was tortured and murdered. Then after three days in a tomb, he got his wings. And nothing has ever been the same. My journey is not even a half-step compared to his. I’ll bet he was glad to finally get home too.