In the life of every missionary there is a subtle balance between ordinary life and crazy wild ingenuity in order to succeed. These realities are accentuated on the many adventures of travel from one country to another. When returning from the USA to the field it is necessary to apply every skill known to keen travelers in order to take full advantage of expensive across the world tickets. Coming from the Capitol Washington, DC and departing on the Dulles international airport on my recent return was the greatest challenge I have faced yet.
After two weeks of travel in the USA and speaking in several churches and a district convention, I began the difficult process of calculating just how much I could carry back to the field. Through out these weeks I had consistently ordered necessary parts for the Jesus Film generators, replacement bulbs for projectors, laptops for our national leadership team, printer cartridges for the office and new books for the leadership training. It is also birthday month at our house in May so it was necessary to pick up new shoes, shirts and shorts that actually fit our 13 year old growing boy, and special gifts and clothes for our daughter.
Of course there is also the order of favorite foods that the whole family would like and can’t get in our part of the world. Candy bars, rieses pieces, corn chips, fritos, poptarts, and special spices. To top off the list of crazy things now being forced into my duffle bag is a large cool water thermos that has taken the place of the Senegal drum that I had taken to the states.
As I began to weigh the bags it became painfully obvious that these bags were going to be overweight. How to carry more without putting it in my bags?” I began to pounder. Then it came to me. Jacket pockets are never weighed. My gracious host and partner in this whole operation agreed to sew in a pocket to my jacket. In order to protect the innocent lets just call her agent KP. The next day when Agent KP returned my jacket it had the largest pocket I had ever seen sewn on the inside of my jacket.
I made a trial run. Pulling from my bag the heaviest item, a packet of 48 AA batteries that had to have weighed 8 lbs and another two laptop batteries, I was pleasantly surprised they all fit nicely into my new secret pocket. My hopes were soon dashed as once I put it on, the jacket was hanging so hard to the left because of the 10 lbs of weight, it was choking my neck and was very obvious that I was hiding something. A new approach was devised. A second pocket on the right was attached, just as large and still hidden within my jacket.
I stayed up most of the night packing and repacking. The 4 laptops would be distributed between my carry on bag and my back pack. My back pack was shoved inside another backpack in order to free up more space in the luggage. The video camera would have to be hand carried and the projectors were just going to fit into the carry on with the other two laptops but now the carry on was 40 lbs and my backpack carry on was another 25 lbs. At last I had balanced most things between my bags, managed to get all the laptops into my bags and with the heavy batteries tucked in my jacket I was on my way to the airport. It was soon evident that the weight of the batteries made the pockets drag below the bottom of my jacket flapping in the wind like two windsocks.
As the taxi approached the airport, I loosened my belt. Jumping from the taxi, I tucked the bottom of the dragging pockets inside my belt to steady them and keep them from showing my secret pockets. I approached the counter dragging my two extremely heavy bags and just as heavy carry on. The lady at the counter looked at me and asked me to weigh my bags. One was 63 lbs. I was definitely going to pay overweight charges, but she said the fee was $50 which is almost the regular price these days to check a bag.
Then came the trouble. When the hand bag was weighed she looked at me with disgust and let me know that I was more than 20 lbs over weight. I looked surprised saying “really, it must be all that electronic equipment I am carrying.” Negotiations began and I made a mental note that my overweight bag was already condemned. I quickly offered to move some things to my checked baggage. While moving books and cables I slipped out the 48 packet of batteries from my jacket and added it to the new overweight bag.
We continued to weigh the carry on bag until I negotiated and finally convinced the lady that 10 lbs over weight wasn’t so bad since we had started at over 20 lbs. The checked bag, now well over 70 lbs was never weighed again and moved to the TSA area. I paid my $50 penalty and waited to see my bags clear security and then be relocked. My backpack was digging into my shoulders since it had two additional laptops and books and all my office supplies, but for some reason the back pack was never discussed and I kept it that way.
As luck would have it their was a training exercise and of course my bag was flagged. After everything was taken out of my bag and spread out on the counters, I distinctly noticed several smirks and after about 15 minutes the supervisor wandered over to me and asked if that was my bag. I admitted my guilt. He said the batteries drew our attention. I thought he was talking about my 48 battery pack but I had forgotten the two large batteries for the Jesus Film amplifiers. At last my bags were cleared, checked and now only needed to face security.
I passed to the restrooms, now able to repack my computer batteries still pulling on my neck back into the carry on. The guy in the next stall probably thought I was repacking drugs or something as I rustled the plastic battery packs back into the roller. Operation battery advance was now complete. Mission cheeseburgers would soon be my quest.
At security I just grinned and began picking up plastic containers. I started with 6. Each laptop got one, the projector got one, the video camera got one, the jacket got one. I did my best not to look at the long line of people now backed up at my machine and tried to focus on the task. Clear security before I had to answer any incriminating questions like, “are you setting up a electronics shop?”
With plenty of time until check in I set off to find MacDonalds. To my great dismay the Dulles International airport does not have one. How un-American I thought but settled for Wendy’s putting in my order for 6 cheeseburgers to go, ketchup and cheese only. I slid into a corner of seats where not too many people were waiting for flights and filled each sleeve in my jacket with 3 cheeseburgers on each side. I looked down and immediately made two important decisions in my life. I could now no longer see my toes. First, I promised myself I would never eat so many cheeseburgers that my actual stomach would get to the point where I could no longer see my feet.
Secondly, I tried to convince myself that I was not certifiably crazy and that any good dad would go to great lengths to deliver almost fresh American fast food to my African trapped children and that their pleasure at eating these in front of their friends at school in the morning was worth the rather warm and cheesy burning sensation I was now experiencing. Walking towards my gate looking like I weighed about 250 lbs and smelling like a fast food counter, I had only one last hurdle to complete.
Then I saw him. The tall young South African agent who immediately identified me as the carry on abuser. Very kindly he quickly informed me that my backpack, video camera on one shoulder, and dragging a carry on that looked like a pregnant goat, had exceeded my allowable carryon. He may have even caught on to the rather full looking coat that I had zipped up despite the sweat pouring off my brow.
I tried the smiles and the whole “I have $5,000 worth of equipment that can’t be checked” lines but he was unmovable. He said one bag must go under and be checked. I quickly decided I could comply with that. I opened my back pack pulled out my extra computers and valuables, stuffed part of them in my now twin double pregnant goat carry on, handed the nearly empty backpack to another attendant and quickly entered the airplane while my good friend was instructing other arguing passengers that their carry on should not exceed 15 lbs. He never even had time to see my bag leaving ruts in the carpet from the weight.
I finally settled into my seat with cheese burgers safely stored between bulkhead and chair and all 4 computers, projectors, and cameras stored safely overhead. Once again I had made it. Only 4 hours since I had checked in for my mission. I thought of the smiles on my kids faces. I thought of the new leaders that would receive their laptops and begin translating the necessary discipleship materials into their local languages. I thought of the Jesus Film teams who would soon enter back into the field with working equipment. I thought of my wife who would enjoy a taste of American frito chips and make me my favorite birthday angel food cake riding below in baggage. And I began to smile.
Only 8 hours until I face the Senegal customs agents. Face the sand, the heat, the French, the challenges of life on the field. 17 days on the road and I will soon be home into the arms of my bride and safely back in ministry where I belong.
Mission battery and cheeseburgers Advance accomplished! Thank you Lord for saving me from my own crazy ideas and for giving me a life that is an adventure in so many funny ways.
Timothy R. Eby