Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Thursday, August 10 (Day 2)
This is the first time since London that I’ve actually been able to sit down and write down my thoughts.
London was an experience which you can never quite forget…and yet I wouldn’t trade anything which has happened up to this point. When we flew into London, we were told that we would not be allowed to depart our plane due to a security breach. The pilot went on to tell us that no planes were leaving Heathrow airport and no more planes were being allowed in. Our plane, in fact, had been the last plane to leave Toronto Pearson airport to London.
As things progressed, we eventually found out that a potential terrorist act against the United States, based in London, had been found out and stopped before anything happened. London officials had arrested approximately 21 people in connection with this. As a result of this, security at Heathrow airport was heightened to its highest level. This meant that every person entering the airport had to go through customs which required more time and therefore, this meant that a lot of planes, including ours, were parked on the tarmac until other planes were finally deboarded and spots opened up for new planes to come in.
In the end, we spent 2 ½ hours on our plane waiting – our crew was fantastic and did a superb job of keeping everyone at ease, despite everything going on. We finally deboarded our plane about 15 minutes before our connecting flight to Colombo was scheduled to board. We figured that we would have plenty of time, assuming that if all the incoming planes had been delayed due to security measures, that all the outgoing planes would be as well. We proceeded through customs, picked up our luggage and at that point, found out that some of our team’s luggage had been “lost”, so we had to go and inquire about this. It was said that their luggage had actually been transferred directly to the plane, which is the normal measures when flying transcontinental flights. Apparently, halfway through the unloading of our plane, the order to have all luggage transferred to the airport was lifted and things went back to the normal procedures. Dan and Ben said it was the most confusing time they’d ever had in Heathrow, as we ended up going through a completely different process and schedule of events then what would normal have occurred.
We literally ran to catch a train, which would take us to our Terminal – we got to the platform with 3 minutes to spare before the train’s departure. The train we took was very similar to a subway and brought us to our Terminal within 5 minutes. There were so many people in the Terminal and airport in general. The whole time I found myself whispering “breath” prayers that the team would be able to stay together and not be separated. Praise God, as He allowed us all to keep very level heads, were able to keep the team members in eye distance and therefore we didn’t get separated once.
We arrived at the Terminal only to hear that our plane was announcing it’s final boarding call before take-off. We found someone at information, who was able to direct us to the Sri Lankan Airlines desk, which was located at the other end of the Terminal. When we
Arrived at Sri Lankan Airlines, we were told that their office in London had been closed for about 3 months and that another airline, which was right back beside the information desk, was now taking charge of Sri Lankan Airline’s flights. So we then ran back to the other airline and once there, another lady proceeded to try and send us back to Sri Lankan Airlines. Sheryl Murray talked to another information person and then asked Dan Sheffield to come and explain the situation.
The only explanation for what happened next is because God’s hand was so firmly upon us…this truly drove home the point to why you so desperately need a team of prayer warriors behind you! The lady believed Dan’s story of events, which he said, had taken place and went to the airline to talk to them. It took a lot of convincing, but they radioed the pilot and found out that they were indeed missing 42 passengers who were scheduled to be on the plane. They halted the plane’s departure and proceed to rush as many of us through as possible. Because of heightened security, we were required to check our entire carry-on luggage and the only thing we could have on our possession was our wallet and our passport. You were permitted to take necessary medication on board, but because of all the chaos, we completely forgot about our malaria meds and they went under the plane. This also meant we had to check a variety of electronic devices which were being carried by the team – a laptop, cell phone, tripod, digital cameras, MP3 players.
Once our entire luggage was checked, we then had to go through a very rigorous security check – you had to remove the usual stuff (all jewellery, money, watches, belts, etc.), but we were also required to remove our shoes (that’s a lovely smell after they’ve been on your feet for almost 24 hours!) and have them X-rayed. Then we were very thoroughly patted down and frisked, from head-to-toe – this was a first in terms of the thoroughness and was a little bit uncomfortable in terms of personal space! Once cleared, we had to gather our things and run clear across the Terminal to get to our gate. We did make it on the plane, but very narrowly – only 18 of the missing 42 passengers actually left for Colombo at the designated time. The rest were left to wait in Heathrow airport for the next plane, which left approximately 6 hours later.
You could definitely tell you were on Sri Lankan Airlines and a trans-continental flight. Our stewardesses were dressed in saris and you actually received a menu to choose a meal vs. receiving a meal in a box. Our meals came on these beautiful lilac trays, complete with appetizer, rolls, main course, dessert, water and tea in an actual teacup. They had an amazing selection of movies, music and games to choose from, so as to occupy your time when you weren’t sleeping – it was especially handy, being that we weren’t allowed to bring books, paper or pens on board the plane. So began our 10 hour flight from London to Colombo. I fell asleep with it sunny outside and woke up to complete and total darkness – we had went through some time zones as I slept. It was a long and tiring ride in many senses. As the time changes, your body is tired and you want to sleep, but in the same sense, your body is trying to wake up, as it’s daytime where you came from, even though it’s nighttime where you are flying – very confusing to type and to experience!
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
So began the God journey at 5:15am when a taxi pulled up to take us to the airport. Off we went, not knowing what to expect...I experienced something very different for the first time since I prayed through the decision to go to Sri Lanka...I was a bundle of nerves. I think a lot of things probably brought it on...we had left our kids a few days ago and it was already the longest we had been apart from them (so I was missing them), my mom had only been out of the hospital for a little over a week and it's hard to leave someone after they've went through all they did and then there was the whole aspect of meeting up with a portion of our team in a few hours. For me being introverted, that would be hard, putting myself out there, despite the fact I knew they would be awesome people to have this experience with!
When we arrived at the airport, we got into line and gave ourselves plenty of time to get our tickets and also to get up to where we would go through the "security check". We were met at the airport by Pastor Amigo, Mrs. Jolly, Mrs. Padwan and Tallman. Being the time of the day and how I was feeling inside, it was great to be met by some of our church family, but also nice to have it be a small group. The time for our departure came fast...Mrs. Jolly asked if she could pray with us...so our little group knelt down on the airport floor and prayed us off (we couldn't have fathomed at that point, how much those prayers and the ones lifted up after we were gone, would sustain us through the next few days). We then gave out hugs, said goodbye and made our way to the boarding gate and sat down on the first of many "steel birds" we would see on the trip.
The first couple legs of the trip were pretty uneventful...as we got closer to Toronto, the planes got bigger, but other than that, these legs of the trip were simply used as a time to catch some sleep. When we arrived in Toronto, we had quite a few hours to kill...Mr. Cinder talked about renting a car and going out and about, but because I wasn't really feeling well at all by this point, and we knew we would be sitting for a very long time once we got back on the "steel bird", we elected to stay at the airport and walk a lot of miles. We ended up eventually going and getting some supper at a little restaurant where they make pizzas and cooked 6-8 or them at a time in this huge pizza oven, right in front of you as you waited. After eating and talking a little more about life in general, we thought we should go and at least think about finding where we needed to be to check our luggage.
When we arrived at the counter to check our luggage, we ran into some unexpected problems. The lady looked at us and asked if we had our visas to enter Sri Lanka (news to us that we would need a visa). That was an interesting conversation and a great lesson in humility at many levels. After having three friends go before you and a bunch from the team who have went repeatedly, you have this knowledge in your head that they would have told you if you needed a visa to get into the "little teardrop of the East". But in the same sense, you know she's only doing her job and you need to not look at her in a bad light or feel personally thumped yet again! As things progressed, she began to hesitate about whether or not she should even issue us boarding passes to go on the next leg of the trip. I have to admit that even though I put on a straight face, my blood was beginning to flow, my heart was beginning to pound and I found myself whispering "breath" prayers to God, in terms of me keeping my cool and also that this issue would be resolved. At this point, we truly felt He hadn't brought us this far to have things halted in their tracks! After reading more information about the visas, she did decide to allow us to have our boarding passes. It looked like if we did need visas, we could get them issued at the airport when we arrived...we did then sit there in a very crowded airport and receive a stern lecture about being completely prepared for all aspects of the trip, as depending on where we were traveling, we wouldn't have been able to leave without our visas in hand. After all this though, she all of a sudden became very cordial and said she was going to switch our seats on the plane, so that Mr. Cinder would have extra and ample leg room for the 6 hour plus flight. We thanked her very graciously, checked our bags through and made our way to the customs/security area.
This security check began the first of many "patdowns" - due to the thoroughness, I was glad they had a woman for any ladies who walked through the gate. I'm not usually bothered by such things, but let's face it...Mr. Cinder's the only one who gets to be that up close and personal (until you fly during a foiled terrorist plot that is)!
Once through security/customs, we made our way down towards the gates and shopping area. We had some time to kill, so we alternated between walking, shopping, resting and reading/listening to music. I found a huge Tim's and felt the incessant need to stand in line and get one last Ice Cap before making the overseas journey...continuing to fuel that bad cold coffee habit. It was really, really good and so was the blueberry fritter that went along with it (Pastor Jolly's story about the Sri Lankan donuts flashed in my mind as I was in line...I then felt a need to savor the taste of a sweet Canadian donut before I left).
(This was on the third floor and went from the floor to the ceiling. There was a pump which forced enough water to make all these glass squares fly around and when the water was pumped in, you saw nothing due to the force it came in.)
Pretty soon we saw a group of people come into the gate area, and from pictures of some of them see on Pastor Jolly's blog, we knew these were our teammates for the next 14 days. We came over, introduced ourselves and began to get acquainted. We continued to go for short walks and look around. Our plane ended up being a little delayed, but eventually the boarding call came and we lined up to show our tickets and passports. Up to this point, things had weren't pretty uneventful and considering the past couple of weeks, I was really glad for it and therefore was drinking it all in. We made our way down a small maze of ramps to the gate door and came to the quick realization that it was locked. (Little did we know, this would be the first of many glitches and roadblocks throughout the remainder of the trip). People tried to get the flight attendants' attention, but it was to no avail and then came the final boarding call over the hallway loudspeaker, which made everyone burst out into laughter. Finally a security person came, apologizing profusely and unlocked the door for us to continue on towards the plane.
Once on board, we settled ourselves in for the overnight trip over the Atlantic Ocean. Then the plane started up with a roar and there immediately was a really bad smell in the plane. Then the pilot came on and said the words you really don't want to hear when you are beginning a journey over a huge body of water..."We are sorry to inform you that there will be a short delay, as one of the engines is not functioning properly, so maintenance crews are on their way to look at the problem and fix it." Mr. Cinder and I looked at each other and began to laugh uncontrollably...having felt "spiritually attacked" on more than one occasion throughout the last little while, our in-house joke became, "If only they didn't have us traveling on the plane, maybe the trip would go smoother!" After about 10 minutes, the pilot came on and informed us that the engine had been fixed and we were cleared for take-off. Before we knew it, we were up in the air and on our way overseas, bringing us one step closer to the "little teardrop of the East".
Saturday, August 05, 2006
As we stood during the communion service, we read in unison about serving together in the world. Pastor Jolly stopped the service at this point and called our team up to the front. He then talked about our trip and let everyone know when we would all be leaving. Then people were invited to come up to the front to lay hands on us and pray for us as we were sent out on our mission.
I don't know what I thought this experience would be like, but it was beyond anything I could have ever experienced! The four of us knelt at the front of the church, in front of the communion table and the cross, while people surrounded us, laid hands on us and prayed over our team for the next 20 minutes. It was an experience which rocked me from the deepest part of my soul. It made this experience become a little more of a reality...it meant the beginning of this mission...it showed to me the undying and faithful support that my family has and will always have at this fellowship which is now affectionately known as "home".
As I sit and type this, Pastor Jolly and Padawan are currently en route to Sri Lanka...they left very early yesterday morning. The Cinders are now only 4 sleeps away from boarding that same early morning flight to begin the journey. There are all the typical last minute preparations going on...in terms of everything we need to be taking, making sure everything is together teaching-wise, making sure all things are taken care on the home front and with our kids. The excitement is growing in a way I can't even express and really, before we know it, this dream will be a reality and a very precious memory for us all!
"Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God's Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. "