Moving to Africa was definitely a huge decision in our lives. Neither set of grandparents were too excited about having us move half way across the world. And although Bob’s parents were going to miss seeing us all it was devastating for my parents since Heather and Danny were their only grandchildren.
The summer before we left, Bob finished up his masters and I attended the World Mission’s Institute at the same university. It could be said I went overseas kicking and screaming and it certainly was true I had a plan as we both attended our various classes preparing us for the next phase of our lives. It goes without saying, then, that I was somewhat of a reluctant Jonah and to this day think I did a remarkably valiant effort to demonstrate how inept and inappropriate I was for mission service in hopes the review committee would determine we (me) were not fit for mission service. Unfortunately, not to be thwarted God was determined to have His way with me and my best laid plans to convince others I was inept didn’t go exactly the way I had hoped. Indeed, when the committee came to my name they reflected and discussed and came to a quick conclusion since my expectations were so low what I experienced by comparison would be fantastic!!
While we studied (and I unsuccessfully maneuvered) my parents watched the kids over the summer. Although there was considerable nostalgia with our departure growing ever closer their moments together were clearly one of delight and full of special outings. Not quite a stern taskmaster but certainly a savvy one my mother utilized a menu of parenting options that are fondly remembered by the kids to this day. And certainly, one of the delights of staying with grandma and grandpa VanBelle was the easy access to water and swimming whether it was at their cottage in the Irish Hills or their place (at that time) on the shore of Lake Erie. But, the mounting evidence of our stint overseas in the ever growing mountain of “stuff” we were buying to take with us was a constant reminder to us all of the impending move and grueling good-byes that awaited us at the end of the summer.
At that time missionaries made a three year commitment to their posting. There were no annual leaves—and because we were being sent to a very remote and isolated mission post you planned ahead and took even some of the most common things (like toilet paper) in a three year supply. Trying to figure out how fast the kids would grow during that period and anticipate the clothes and shoes they’d need was challenging. Trying to spread the meager allowance we were given to get all these supplies was even more of a challenge. But, adept as I was at finding bargains and hitting garage sales, thrift stores and flea markets helped considerably to spread the limited funds we had.
But money wasn’t our only restriction. The shipping weight was another so every purchase decision was weighed very carefully—figuratively and literally. Two items that made it onto our bill of lading might have been reconsidered. One was a hefty player piano. It seemed like such a smart purchase when we saw it in the seller’s house. We imagined all the hours of fun we would have pumping away playing the music—singing along to tunes we’d know. Certainly the piano rolls could tickle those ivories much better than I could so we paid for the piano and made the necessary arrangements to get it to my parent’s home in Michigan for storage in their garage that was becoming the holding tank for all the items that would soon be steaming their way to the dark continent. The second was a 5 gallon plastic bucket of good Canadian honey.
What seemed like such a great idea then would take on a totally different perspective nearly a year later when our shipment FINALLY arrived in our home nestled in the mountains just a short drive away from the equator. Little did we know when we packed those two items what excitement they would create for all the villagers huddled together watching the muzungu family get their long-awaited-for belongings. It soon became very apparently to all gathered round as more and more bees began wildly buzzing around a certain crate that the precious bucket of honey had come undone during the rough trip over the bumpy Africa roads and coated many of our things with a layer of honey. Not folks to waste anything–particularly something as valuable and sweet as honey–the villagers aggressively swatted off the bees in their frenzied efforts to scrap honey from boxes, crates and our wonderful piano. Those dreams of all the fun we’d have huddled around it never came to pass; but images of villagers dancing around the piano fighting the bees for honey were a wonderful trade off and equally entertaining!
Heather and Danny took all the preparations in stride. We’d talk them almost daily about our upcoming move invariably referring to all the wild animals they would see once we’d moved to Africa. After all, what would spark a child’s imagination better than seeing a giraffe or maybe a lion or elephant in the distance just outside your car window? To be honest we really didn’t know whether those animals WERE anywhere near where we’d be living but after years of Tarzan and other Africa movies we were just certain there would be some not too far away.
Days before our departure date some strange tiny pink spots appeared all over Heather and Danny’s body. A quick trip to the doctor confirmed they were suffering from a mild case of chicken pox. Not a terribly great way to start such a momentous trip but undaunted we headed for the airport. Final good-byes all said we began the journey to the Mirabel airport in Montreal where we’d take a Sabena flight to Brussels where we planned to meet Bob’s younger sister, Joan, and her boyfriend, Marcel, for an overnight stay there. However, the chicken pox paled in comparison to the dilemma we met when we arrived at the airport later that day.
When we first arrived at Mirabel it was empty except for a few janitors slowly and methodically cleaning the terminal floors. We piled p our luggage and sat down waiting for something to happen; for someone to arrive. After what seemed like an eternity things started happening;’ people began arriving. It was with mounting excitement we finally found the Sabena ticket counter open and ready for business.
Not ours, however, for shortly after checking in we were told that the tickets that were supposed to be waiting for us there had never left Washington, DC. Seems an over-worked and less than competent secretary had forgotten to fedex the tickets. Thanks to the tenacity, generosity, kindness and trusting Sabena ticket agent, however, the airlines issued new tickets with promises from the overworked secretary she’d send the tickets to him that very day for cancellation.
So, it was with a bit of foreboding and a general sense of high anticipation that our motley crew boarded the plane for Brussels that night. I’m sure if anyone scrutinized the 2 year old toddler with the stuffed chimpanzee strapped to his back that beloved Aunt Barb gave him, a rambunctious frolicking 3 year old girl hugging her doll and toting her precious books and other special travel gifts in her backpack and an over-tired and stressed out mom and dad lugging way too much carry-on luggage very carefully they would never have guessed all the adventures and mishaps awaiting them just around the bend.