My colleagues and I were chatting as we waited for the train at the Morrisett Station in Australia. The train was due in a few minutes, and we were the only ones waiting. This did seem odd, so I asked for a track timetable. The station master said, “Trains are half an hour earlier because of the track work being done toward the Sydney station.”
I shared this information with the group, as well as additional insights from the amended timetable. The train would take us to Wyong, from there to Gosford we would be on a bus, then take a train all the way to Sydney, and a plane home to Perth. We had left plenty of time for all the connections and another part of our group had caught the “half an hour earlier” train and were on their way. I informed my colleagues that we had to make changes to and from buses to get the connecting train that would get us to the Sydney airport in time. All acknowledged the need to move quickly.
The group I was traveling with were all Seventh-day Adventist pastors who had just had a week of professional development at Avondale College with hundreds of other pastors from all over Australia.
The train ride to Wyong and the bus transfer went without incident. However, as the bus pulled into the Gosford station, I noticed the train to Sydney already on the platform. We were running on the overpass when it left.
One by one, the men trudged down to the platform with their luggage. We regrouped and I looked at the timetable again. The next train would get us to Central Station at 6:25 P.M., which would leave us 25 minutes to get to the Qantas check-in counter by the 30-minute deadline before takeoff. Doable, but improbable. The group took the news philosophically. We were visitors to the state and traveling on public transport. What could we do?
The train arrived on time at Gosford. We all piled into the third carriage from the front at both doors. The pastors sat in various groups with lots of baggage piled around. Sitting in a train, waiting to go home after a week with no control over the progress has interesting affects on different personalities. One said, “Nothing we can do, so let’s just relax and enjoy ourselves,” and promptly went to sleep. Another, “We will never make it. I guess we’ll have to stay in a hotel and get the morning flight.” Another, “Why didn’t anyone tell us that there was track work and the trains were earlier—we had plenty of time to get there if we had known.” Others said, “Let’s try and make it. You know, we can pray.” And many of us did.
I was with the few who said, “Let’s give it a try.” I phoned Qantas Airlines to explain the predicament of 13 of its passengers booked on the flight to Perth that evening. It took several calls, as the train passes through many tunnels that are not mobile phone friendly. The Qantas staff were understanding and thanked me for the forewarning, but they were just as adamant that Qantas was unlikely to hold the plane, since it costs them thousands of dollars each minute to delay an aircraft. Their only suggestion was to try our best to get there.
I also phoned one of my colleagues who had made the earlier train and told him our predicament. I asked him to speak to the Qantas check-in staff and tell them of our plight. He called back after their early check-in and told me much the same story as the Qantas staff. The consolation was that the rest of the pastoral group knew our predicament, and they were praying for us.
As we got closer to Central Station, we could see the train was going to be on time. I had traveled this route more than the others, and one of them suggested that I outline for the group the layout of Central Station and how to get to the airport platform. This seemed to help. One of the pastors had phoned a friend who lived in Sydney and traveled by train each day. He learned that we had four minutes to get from the arriving platform to the airport line. This was only possible if we ran and climbed the stairs rather than taking the elevator. As the train came into Central Station, pastors, suitcases, and boxes crowded the train doorways. As soon as the doors fl ung open, we were off.
There were people and bags going everywhere. The wheels of the suitcases sounded like a jet plane taking off. The pounding of shoes on the concrete platform sounded like a herd of stampeding elephants, and people noticed the 13 men running through Central Station. Other passengers heard the commotion, and as we passed, their faces turned from shock to smiles. Some even cheered us on saying, “Go for it!” “Hope you make it.” I was among the leading group, but my extra bag kept falling off the top of the wheeled suitcase. As I stopped to fix it, I saw people scattering, but one lady stopped and offered to carry an extra bag. People can be so kind.
When I reached the top of the stairs, the train had pulled up. The doors opened, and the fi rst pastors jumped on the last train. I approached the train with my heart pounding and lungs puffing. I noticed the platform guard checking those arriving. He looked in my direction, but I dared not make eye contact. There were eight men yet to board this train. I stood on the platform with my bags in the open doors, so the automatic doors could not close. One by one, pastors, like straggling cows, staggered up the stairs with suitcases, boxes, and bags and jumped through the open door. Each time another approached and boarded the train, we would grab their luggage and cheer. One pastor, who needed a hip replacement, hobbled on. Another, carrying his bags like an ox, was the last on board. The doors closed without the platform guard saying anything. Although I did not look at him, one of the guys said, “He had a huge grin on his face.”
We praised each other for working together and making it this far. I reminded the guys of what was ahead of us—a flight of escalators to get out of the train station, two other escalators, as well as a fair distance to get to the Qantas check-in.
As soon as the train arrived at the Sydney Domestic terminal, the stampeding elephant circus began again—lots of noise, startled looks, and cheers of support, with the more able-bodied pastors carrying luggage for those less able. We had three minutes to get to check-in. Could we do it? By the time I arrived at the Qantas counter, one pastor had beaten the 6:50 deadline and was booked in. I thought, Maybe we can all do it.
I went straight to the Qantas Club check-in line, and no one was in line. “How good is that?” I blurted out to the lady at the counter between deep breaths. I told her we were part of a group, the others were already booked in, and we had run ahead to inform Qantas of our predicament.
“Just let me check,” said the not-so-amused but efficient check-in lady, as she dialed a number.
I prayed silently, “Please God. We’re so close!”
As she talked, I saw her nodding. I was more positive, but at the same time, she was seeing more and more people with heavy baggage staggering up, out of breath.
She held the phone and spoke to me, “How many of you?”
“Twelve,” I replied.
“How much luggage?”
“I think about sixteen pieces.”
“Are you all here?”
“Almost,” I said, not even bothering to count.
“OK,” were the sweetest words I had heard in a long time. ”Line up at these three counters.”
We were homeward bound. Our waiting colleagues rejoiced to see us in line to board the flight. I didn’t sleep on the plane—no one in that group did—for the adrenaline lasted for hours.
I have pondered the many lessons from this train, bus, and plane trip. I’m glad with Jesus in my life that I don’t have to think that I will just “barely make it” into the heavenly home, as we barely “made it” while attempting to catch the train and the plane. I learned, too, that there are some very kind people around us whom we don’t even know. And, all of the pastors involved believed we did the impossible—and that God was with us all the way. However, here’s the best thought: while I’m on earth ministering to others through the power of God, I also have the privilege of working with a group of pastors who know, maybe even better after our experience together, what the word team really means.