Anyone who equates work-related travel with fun has yet to endure their third trip. Mind you, I love my work—especially when I arrive and can interact with pastors and their spouses, local elders, and ministerial secretaries. But the process of "getting to work" is often a frenetic, fatiguing, frustrating foray.
A few recent incidents demonstrate the old song's veracity—"all day, all night, angels watching over me." We don't just believe in miracles, we rely on them!
Russell Burrill, of Andrews University Seminary, and I boarded a flight out of Egypt in the deep-night hours of September 10. In bemused observation, we commented about the lax security which allowed us to depart Cairo without a serious check of either our baggage or passports. By the next flight, we welcomed three-hour waits and multiple security checks in the aftermath of September 11.
Enduring longer waiting lines in exchange for enhanced security seems fair. Having an agent explain that either Sharon or I must endure a 14-hour flight cramped into a middle seat because the airline's policy does not permit two passengers of the same family to occupy an aisle and window seat—or even two aisle seats—is unreasonable punishment, especially when standby fliers are boarded at the last moment and seated in exit-row aisles and windows.
Well-meaning friends also contribute to travel stresses. I vividly remember my keen frustration (hopefully it was con cealed but Sharon doubts my ability to disguise my feelings) after an exhausting 30-hour, much-delayed flight itinerary when, rather than being taken directly to the hotel for a shower and rest, I was "shown the sights" of tourist interest and new church projects. At least I have learned to always use the restroom and secure a bottle of water before exiting the airport customs area. Then there was the Sabbath which began at 6:00 a.m. and concluded 15 hours later with my hosts' bewilder ment that I was unwilling to experience the treat of dinner at a restaurant featuring local delicacies. Sometimes the phrase, "killing with kindness" becomes reality.
Other times we bring our troubles upon ourselves. Chek Yat Phoon, Southeast Asia Union Ministerial Secretary, will not forget how we arrived at the Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) airport three hours early, the first passengers to check in for our flight. After proceeding through immigration to the transit area, we looked around a bit and then I settled in for a two-hour working session of paperwork while we waited.
As I completed each item, I tore the paper in half to separate "keepers" from trash and rejoiced in the amount of work I was accomplishing as evidenced by the growing stack of discarded paper that piled up beside me.
When the time arrived to head for the gate, I tossed all the scrap which had accumulated into a nearby trash bin and casually approached the boarding agent who asked to inspect my passport and ticket.
Checking my pockets and finding neither, I began to search my carry-on baggage. At first, Chek Yat thought this not all that unusual since he had observed me groping for documents at other stops, but after about ten minutes of fruitless searching, his tolerance level was reduced to the point that he grabbed my roll-aboard and began his own personal search through all my belongings.
No boarding pass. No passport. Stuck in Viet Nam. Who to call? And if you thought the denominational bureaucracy was complicated, try explaining your predicament to some one whose only word of English is "No!"
By this time the chief representative of Singapore Airlines had been summoned. She graciously but firmly instructed me to search again for the missing documents which she knew I had possessed when she checked me in and which I would have had to produce to pass through security and customs to this transit area.
After holding the flight for 20 minutes—and this from an airline known to be the world's most efficient—the agent sent me onto the plane with stern admonition to keep searching because I surely would not be allowed ongoing transit or entry into Singapore. As we boarded, I was praying and grumbling aloud that heaven would have to find my passport since it was more logical that I had thrown it away as it was likely to be found in my carefully-searched briefcase. Both God and Chek Yat must have heard my prayer because he turned back and requested security to check the trash bin where, sure enough, they found my castoff passport and ticket in with my discarded paperwork.
The angels worked overtime, and I am certain they deserve—and I need— a vacation! So, watch your passport and say a prayer of thanks with me for providential blessings,