The Ever Changing Airport Routine

I have talked about the airport here before, but it continues to amaze me. No matter how long one lives here, there is no earthly way to understand how the airport operates, or to get to a point where one could go to the airport alone, without help!

This week was transfer week (I would swear a little here, but, I AM on a mission…), and just about everything that could go wrong did. And almost all the problems and issues were external—totally out of our control.

The airlines cancelled flights, which meant that all of our schedules for matching companions, training new missionaries, and moving missionaries to new areas, had a domino effect—everything had to change! We had to re-purchase plane tickets 3-4 times as one flight or another was cancelled, or came late, or lost baggage (we had lost missionary baggage both coming and going from Lubumbashi).

One poor elder who was coming from Mbuji Mayi to go home (his mission was over), had to wait in Mbuji Mayi for a week. He was not able to attend the farewell dinner with his missionary companions, etc.; and when he finally did arrive, he ate dinner with the mission president and some other guests, then went home alone.

Others were stuck in their new areas without clothes for a week because their bags were lost, or simply left in Lubumbashi. And we ended up having to PAY to get the bags—just another form of extortion they have developed here: they lost the bags, but force us to pay extra to get them once they show up!

Today we went to the airport to send more missionaries to Mbuji Mayi and points north (Mwene Ditu and Luputa). There was a typo on the plane ticket, misspelling the elder’s name. Their reaction? They confiscated the elder’s luggage! Then they permitted the elder to fly to Mbuji Mayi, but NOT his luggage! They promised to send the baggage on the next flight—in three days. Hmmmm

I even offered to buy a new ticket, so the name would match, we spent at least an hour trying to work around the problem—no go. So the elder, with the wrong name, boarded the flight to Mbuji Mayi, but his baggage is locked up in a room here in Lubumbashi. And I’m sure that at some point we will have to pay to get the luggage back out…

We have a man at the airport named Tom that works for us when we travel. Prior to anyone going to the airport we text Tom with info about when and how many people are coming (or arriving), and he shepherds them through the airport maze. We try to pay him well for his service, as no one could get through without him! He, in turn has to pay-off people in the airport to get everything through on time and without a hassle—which is part of the reason why this week has been so odd. Usually, with help, we eventually work around the problems. But lately the airlines have just been a nightmare. Every time you go to the airport the rules are different, the physical set-up is different (you never know where to start first, as they move their desks, tables, and counters around!). All the more reason why we have to have help getting through!

In the States, all the missionaries travel to a local stake center, exchange companions, and then go back to their areas. Easy as pie, and takes one day. Here, the first missionaries in Lusuku began traveling more than a week ago, and we are still moving missionaries! The last missionaries should hit back in Lusuku perhaps Wednesday—about 12 days after we started. That doesn’t count the full week of planning before they even begin their movement! And we get to do it all again in just over three weeks!

Terri and I hope to get some rest this week. The President and Sister McMullin and the two senior sister missionaries will be traveling to South Africa this week, leaving Terri and I ‘home alone.’ Our first act is to close the office on Monday (with the President’s permission, of course). We have been going every day for two weeks. Even today, Sunday, we have three trips to the airport, starting at 5:30 am! Ahhh, the day of rest…

We still have a local couple staying here for medical treatment that we are taking care of, and, of course, our work does not end until we ensure all the elders (and their luggage) get to their new areas. In one week we have a new local couple starting a mission. They will stay in the Wright’s old apartment until they get their bearings, then they get shipped up north somewhere. Then in two weeks another couple, the Davis’s, arrive. They are the new humanitarian couple. They will be staying in a new home we have in the same compound as the Wright’s apartment. They will probably stay that home for their whole mission.

In addition, the McMullins must begin to prepare to turn over the mission to the new mission president in two months—most of the time they will be on the road traveling to Zone Conferences. They will have ONE DAY with the new mission president… They leave one day after the new president arrives.

Well, that’s it for now.

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