Seventeen and a half hours. Three countries. Four airports. Three flights. Two layovers.
And thus begins missionary furlough – the time that a missionary spends in their native country.
My family’s furlough is just a few weeks away. It will start with what I believe to be the greatest curse known to the missionary parent – the trip back.
The Trip that Just Might Kill You!
First, we pack an obscene amount of stuff. Over the years, I have perfected the art of traveling with as little as humanly possible. I’ve puffed out my chest with pride over my tiny, easily manageable carry-on while others wrestled their mammoth suitcases. Travelling with kids has broken every rule I ever had about packing light!
So, this summer, we’ll haul our two kids (both under four), two suitcases, three carry-ons, stroller and car seat to the airport. Oh, yeah, don’t forget my purse, crammed to overflowing with snacks that we pray will keep the kids somewhat distracted on our 17 and a half hour trip (and that doesn’t include drive time to or from airports).
This particular trip, we are blessed to depart in the middle of the afternoon. I can’t tell you how many times missionary travel means dragging confused, sobbing children out of their cozy beds and cramming them into cars, trains or airplanes at ungodly hours!
The flights – Sit back, watch a movie, catch some sleep…yeah, right!
We have three separate flights to get to the U.S. – two of them are a couple hours each. The other – the flight from the pit – is nine and a half hours.
If you’ve ever tried to entertain a one year old on a nine-hour flight, you have my sympathies. At this age, sitting will not do. Being held too long will bring about screams. No cartoon is interesting enough to keep his attention more than ten minutes. No toy can subdue his longing to be on the move.
He’ll want to crawl down the filthy airplane aisle on his hands and knees. He’ll climb up the back of our seats to make gibberish conversation with the less than thrilled passengers behind us. He’ll practice every acrobatic move that a one-year-old could possibly manage, all in our laps – with no leg room, toys strewn at our feet, tray tables falling, and annoyed passengers glaring daggers at us from the next row.
We ARE those people who get on the plane and make every other passenger grimace at their misfortune to be seated near us – we have small children.
Thankfully, Nora is three and a half and will be perfectly happy to watch hours of cartoons and eat more snacks than would EVER be permissible at home. Don’t judge me. Please!
As each flight nears its end and we approach our gate, we gather up the strewn toys, the snacks that are now a crumbly, half eaten mess, and the kids. After landing, we somehow carry one child, three carry-ons, and my purse off the plane, banging into every seat and every poor, unsuspecting passenger we walk by. We pray that Nora is still in a good enough mood to walk happily off in front of us!
The layovers – stairs…security…more stairs…
We’ll have two layovers on this trip.
Each time we de-plane, it’s time to figure out where our next departure gate is and PRAY that it’s not far away or up any stairs. I could tell you horror stories about one layover we had in Munich! I lost track of the number of stairs we climbed, along with all our luggage, a baby, a stroller, and me experiencing severe nausea.
We usually have to go through security. Again. We do this at least twice each trip.
Depending on the level of security, this means all of us taking off shoes, belts, and jackets and emptying pockets. We try to remember to take out every bag of pre-packed, permissible liquids and every electronic device – all of which have to be placed in separate bins for scanning. If we forgot to drink all our water beforehand, we stand by the security belt and chug a liter of fluids so we can keep our bottle for the next flight.
Then we coax our three year old to walk through the security scanner on her own. “It’s ok, sweetie. Mama’s right behind you. You can go. Don’t be scared.” All the while, Titus is squirming in our arms and the never ending line of hurried people behind us is getting more and more impatient.
Through security. Whew! Not much time left. So, we wrestle everything back into our tired arms and hurry down the terminal toward the gate. Only now our bladders also feel like they might explode from the liter of water we just drank!
Sometimes we make it to the next flight on time. Sometimes we don’t.
When we don’t, we gather up the mountain of people and stuff and traipse through the international airport, looking for a service center. We wait in a loooooong line of irritable people who also missed their flight. Once we reach the counter, we cast pleading eyes on the ticketing agent and pray that A) we won’t have to run – again – to the next flight and B) if we get stuck overnight, they’ll at least offer to put us up in a hotel room.
And the destination! Let the jet lag begin!
When we finally reach our destination, we de-plane for the last time. By now, my hair looks like I haven’t brushed it in a week. Eye-liner and mascara are a smeary mess overlapping the bags under my tired eyes. I look with envy at the business women with their smart looking suits and perfect appearance – you’d never know they just got off a plane.
By now, every one of us feels sick from being in the air so long, eating snacks and airplane food, and not hydrating enough. We are 100% exhausted. Nora’s cranky from watching way too many cartoons. Titus is cranky because he hasn’t been allowed to move about freely for a day and a half. And already we feel the jet lag. It’s 11:45 PM in Indianapolis, but 6:45 AM back in Ukraine. And we haven’t slept all “night”.
We come through the gate, into the eager hugs of loved ones who’ve been straining their necks to catch site of us. The emotions at that point are a storm. Excitement and joy to be reunited, exhaustion from the trip, and anxiety over how the kids are doing. I remember one time, when my toddler niece had just completed a similar trip – she burst into tears at just the site of all her adoring relatives wanting to hug her!
We head to the luggage carousel. I have the same feeling every time we do this. Stand by the carousel, watching it go around and around, and pray earnestly that nothing was lost. At this point, I’m pretty sure that if we also have to deal with lost luggage, I’ll just break down into tears of exhaustion!
Once we have all the luggage, we pack everyone and everything into someone’s car. Our foggy brains have just enough mental capacity to say goodbye to those loved ones who came to greet us. And then we’re off to our final destination. Finally.
And we pray. Oh, how we pray! That when we arrive, we can climb into the sweet relief of a comfy bed…and not be awake – all – night – with jet lagging kids!
And so begins the journey we call furlough. More on that next week!
Tell me your story!
Whether you’re a missionary or not, have kids or not, what is your funniest travel memory? I LOVE these stories, so please – do share!!!