And the Journey Begins: Trip 6

And the Journey Begins (this first post is a long one)!

It’s an hour and a half before take-off from MSP and already I have had quite an experience. It started when I was home packing and tried to access my work files on my iPad, so I could leave my laptop at home. It wasn’t working-that is, they weren’t syncing with each other. So, I called our computer assistance people for trouble shooting but the clock was running as it was two hours before leaving from home to MSP. They said they would have someone call me to fix the problem. They did call-the church office (I was home) and by the time I received the voice mail forwarded via email and I returned it, the “expert” was not available. They said they’d get back to me. When I got twenty minutes from leaving home, I called again, and someone said they could help. We started the process of trouble shooting. Fifteen minutes later, our ride to the airport backed into my driveway, as one of our other trainers (Peter Bergeson-a retired pastor living in New Richmond) and his wife pulled in front of the house. I gave the computer dude a five-minute warning as a dump truck pulled in front of my house. The driver got out and started tossing the 30% or so remaining stumps that were pulled from our lot from the original twelve (plus neighbors), the fallout of the recent Hudson storm. I told the computer guy I would endure my first world challenge of having to take the computer rather than my iPad and thanked him for his efforts.

I hurried outside and greeted the kind neighbor with a dump truck and told him what was going on with the others hanging out in the driveway. He said that was no problem, told me he would be praying for my trip and I turned my attention to Jim Dopkins (driver to MSP), Peter and his wife Gail, who were finishing up loading Jim’s truck not only with our luggage, but four large totes consisting of materials for our trainings, Christmas presents on behalf of the missionaries there, and items related to making jewelry that happens at the site we stay and teach at. 

Jim being a full-service transporter, had water bottles for us and started the checklist. Passport, check. Masks—I ran back in the house to grab one (I had some in my bag-not much help there). He continued the check list as we made our way to 94. We picked up Mike Evans on the way (he lives about three miles south of 3M) and made our way to the airport for me to take a one-hour PCR test for COVID.

A little background regarding COVID tests. In our last two trips, we would go to the local clinic, get tested the day before the trip and have the results in forty minutes or so. They no longer offer that test, so we had to go elsewhere to get the required test. Mike did a saliva test in MN, Peter and I got the nasal swab in (he in Stillwater and I was in River Falls). This all happened Sunday between noon and 1 pm. The challenge—the test had to be less than three days from take-off (MSP and Amsterdam), yet we were told that the tests get sent at the end of the day (remember Sunday) and the results come in 2-3 days (take off from MSP 5:30 pm). It would likely come earlier, but we could be very confident in 2-3 days. I didn’t like the math-could we get the tests and results back in the time allotted? These tests are free. 

There are also one hour PCR tests available at MSP for $200 (not feelin that!). We all scheduled at 2:15 test at MSP Tuesday, which we could cancel for a 10% fee. We felt a $20 insurance policy was worth it. Turns out Mike and Peter’S results came back Monday, but yours truly was checking his email on the way to MSP.

We got to the airport and the excitement continued. My test prep email told us to go to the gold ramp for the test. When we pulled in the parking area, there was a lane for COVID testing that we went in…turns out it was for employees and led us to the wrong ramp. We exited the ramp, and after my three credit cards were rejected, we found out there was no charge in our lane. We did a lap around the ramp, found the gold ramp, the third level and I got out of the truck to get after the test (it was now 2:20). I hurried to the line with my confirmation email open on my phone. When I got to the front of the line, I reached for my wallet for the picture ID, only to have an empty pocket. I remember having taken it out for the credit cards to get out of the first ramp and I sprinted (at Larry speed) to the ramp and thankfully Jim was still there unloading the truck and placing our small mountain of goods on a cart. I breathed a sigh of relief only to open the truck and not see my wallet. Jim went into detective mode, putting the light on his phone on and searching under the seat and floor-no wallet. I asked Peter and Mike to join me in looking between the truck and the test line and they were off. I looked under the truck by the door and about two minutes into our search I found it in the door handle area of my door. I sprinted back (again, at Larry speed) to the line and when I got back to the front (not long), I proudly took out my wallet and my license was not there! I had cashed a check earlier in the day and had to use it for ID and left it in my car (which is currently parked in Eugene, OR if there are any crooks reading this!). Fortunately, I had my passport with me. I checked the email one last time and took out my credit card and shelled out the $200 for the test. It was quick and non-invasive. 

I found Peter and Mike and we made our way to check in with Delta. When we got there, I could not check in as I did not have a negative test. I went to the counter anyway, and Mike and Peter ran into a little problem, which was one I would run into as well. We were required to have an e-visa. The e-visa setup was not working with Uganda, and all three of us could not complete the process. This was not a problem for us, as Mike was able to get a visa at the Entebbe airport as recently as August, during the COVID pandemic. We had gotten visas at the airport in Uganda before-no problem. This WAS a problem for Delta. They said they could not let us on the planes without them. We assured them we would be fine, and the agent got on the phone and talked and waited and talked and waited. 

He said we were given provisional permission to continue to Amsterdam, but we may run into the same issue there. Peter and Mike got tickets, put their luggage (including totes) through and the three of us moved away from the counter waiting for my results which blessedly came through about twenty minutes later. I went to the counter where the agent reminded me, I only had provisional approval. We made it to the gate, the plane and were off to Amsterdam.

The days before the trip had been hectic for me. I spent a good portion of Friday doing follow up work from the storm that hit our house. Saturday, we had our first ever Fall FaithWorks (which was a blast and we had perfect weather!), the usual Sunday madness and Monday evening I led our Annual Hospitality Training. The start of the trip was crazy as well and I was really glad to get settle into my seat (empty seat next to me-nice for a 8+ hour flight), and start focusing on the work to come, going to work with friends from WI to meet with friends  we have been developing over our trips to the Gulu area over the past 2+ years. So much for day one!

Larry Szyman

Pastor for Missional Life