What it’s really like to go

It’s one thing to read a book about foreign missions, or even talk to missionaries about their experiences. Personally going to the field and seeing firsthand how God is working is an entirely different story. And it’s not just a story; it’s a life-changing event.

That’s how it was for me.

When my wife Glenda, and my youngest son Jeremiah, and I overnighted in Johannesburg en route to Nairobi in May 1997, we faced an immediate trial as we attempted to get our 12 suitcases loaded with tools and personal supplies back on the airplane for the final leg of our flight.

Harold Stevens, Harvesters board member and missionary to the Zulu people in South Africa for more than a quarter century, had assured me that South African Airways would accommodate the extra baggage, but the ticket agent was saying no, even though I presented a letter on Harvesters stationery and signed by Harold.

She was a young woman, probably late-30s, who spoke adequate but broken English. She was ‘all business’ and never cracked a smile. I felt intimidated, to say the least. I explained that we had dedicated three months of our lives to be in Kenya to build a mission station in East Pokot and without the tools in the suitcases, the project could not be done.

In the back of my mind, I argued with God. Surely He wouldn’t bring us halfway around the world and then allow the project to die before we even arrived at our destination.

I prayed silently and pleaded with the ticket agent to speak to a superior, which she eventually did. Soon after, we were allowed to check all 12 suitcases on the plane that would be taking us to Nairobi.

At the airport in Nairobi, we met other members of the Harvesters team, including Harold. It was heart-warming to see some friendly faces.

Three months later, the mission station was completed and we were back in Johannesburg, en route to the U.S. In 58 working days, we had miraculously managed to complete four structures — a church building, medical clinic, pastor’s house, and storage building. We were headed home with the same 12 suitcases. The tools had been left behind. In their places were gifts from Pokot men and women, even little children. These were priceless mementos of our time in Kenya.

I did not want a repeat of the earlier incident with our extra baggage. Jeremiah accompanied me to the airport about six hours before our flight was to depart. I wanted to make pre-arrangements so all 12 suitcases would leave with us.

As I walked into the nearly empty terminal, I observed only one ticket agent. As I approached the counter, I recognized the agent. It was the same woman who handled our case before without as much as a hint of a smile. I said to myself, “God, how can this be?” I dreaded talking to her again.

Suddenly, the agent looked up and beamed with a huge and disarming smile. “The man with the 12 suitcases,” she exclaimed.

I told her about the success of the mission trip and, if at all possible, I needed to get the 12 suitcases back home to America. She instructed me to arrive two hours early that afternoon. She would be there to personally expedite our boarding – two adults, one teenager, and 12 suitcases, two of which were definitely oversize and too heavy.

However, at the appointed hour, she was nowhere to be found. I prayed. Passengers began boarding the plane. Then there was the final boarding call. Suddenly, out of nowhere, she appeared and motioned me to the counter.

The 10 approved suitcases were checked. As I picked up the overweight suitcase #11 to set it on the scale, the electrical power in the airport went off. It quickly came back on at most ticket counters, but not the one where I was standing. A technician arrived momentarily and was unable to get power restored.

Again, I heard our flight’s final boarding call. The ticket agent summoned a worker who grabbed the two remaining suitcases, placed them on a four-wheel push cart, and motioned for us to follow him.

I was in awe at what had just happened.

It had taken two months to pack and repack our suitcases so that each one weighed a few ounces less than 70 pounds. When we left the U.S, I had packed two hardcover Gideon Bibles and 20 Gideon New Testaments. I had one New Testament left. It was in my jacket pocket. I told the woman that I wanted to give her a gift. I handed her the New Testament, and reminded her again that our trip was successful because she enabled us to get the necessary tools aboard the plane to Nairobi.

With tears streaming down her face, she related that her daughter had wanted a Bible for several years, but she did not have the money to buy one. “God bless you,” I said, and I rushed to catch up with my wife and son. As we stepped on the plane, the stewardess closed the door behind us.

I don’t know the woman’s name. My 16-year-old son was a witness to what happened. I am blessed every time I think about that incident. Others are blessed when I share the story, whether to an individual or to a church congregation. Our mission trip was filled with other miraculous, supernatural events.