After a week in the Congo with only about 20 hours of sleep, after all the fighting with police, after arguing over boarding passes and passports, we finally sat down at the airport gate to wait for the bus to come and get us with some sense of relief. I passed out dinner — it had been hours since we had eaten– peanut butter sandwiches, Pringles, applesauce, and drinks and the kids ate. We discovered that there’s no running water in the airport, and I was thankful for an ample supply wet wipes. And for airplane restrooms. Who would have ever thought anyone would be thankful for airplane restrooms?
As I chatted with our African angel, Ken took our now fully rambunctious kids to the back of the seating area, put his arms around them, totally spent from a day of struggles.
Then, on their own, the kids began to sing.
“Here I am to worship,
Here I am to bow down,
Here I am to say that you’re my God.
You’re altogether lovely,
Altogether wonderful to me.”
Even the children sensed that our ability to depart from the country was nothing short of a miracle. In the midst of the filth and chaos of the airport was pure loveliness coming from the mouths of children who have known much more hardship than a police stop or a passport refusal. Beauty from ashes.
Soon our bus came, and we gathered our kids and our things to go through final luggage searches and board the plane.
I was never so glad to leave a place.
The trip back to America was exhausting upon exhaustion. I caught a few hours of sleep, but we quickly learned that we couldn’t both be asleep at one time, as we found Addie Rose wandering around the plane. We were very fortunate that we had a wide range of movies on the flights. I may have jumped out of the plane otherwise.
We had a 7 hour layover in Brussels, which was as long as it sounds after flying all night. We had to check in and go through security again, and then we had to get a special sticker on our passports. In the process of doing that, they were issuing boarding passes. I was very anxious to see if our travel agent had been able to bump us up for the extra $110/seat so we could sit together.
By the time we got to the counter, we found out that Ken and I were each seated with a child, across the aisle and one row diagonal. Not bad. So thankful we got the upgrade and our kids weren’t sitting next to strangers! (When we got back to the United States, our travel agent told us that he wasn’t able to get us the upgrade to premium economy. Turns out, United had bumped us up because regular economy class was full! For FREE!)
The daytime flight was more difficult on all of us. We were all stinky, tired, and emotionally drained by the time we landed in Dulles and had to clear immigration with an American, Canadian, and two Congolese children being adopted. We were sent to several different stations, had to go sit in an office for a while, had to pull off and recheck our luggage, and clear security again.
It went off with out a hitch.
We couldn’t believe it.
We found the gate to Nashville, freshened up in a bathroom WITH running water, and boarded the puddle jumper to Nashville. It was now nighttime in Kinshasa, and the kids immediately fell asleep in spite of the turbulence and the bright midafternoon skies.
As we finally landed on the blessed and familiar soil of the Nashville airport, only 5 minutes from our house, it was like a weight had been lifted from our shoulders. We tried our best to wake our two sleepy Congolese kids and we reminded them that there was going to be a party waiting for them, but it was hard to convince them.
Until we saw the signs.
And the choir sang.
Balloons bobbed in the air.
Hands were reaching.
Bags of toys and candy were handed out.
Arms were outstretched.
We were dazed, but relieved. We were too tired to cry, or even really talk much, but I knew that we were walking into the songs, balloons, posters, gifts, cheers, and arms of many of the saints who prayed us home. They had no idea how hard we had to fight for that very moment of our airport arrival. Maybe someday they would read it in my blog, or sit down to talk over a
cup few pots of coffee.
I’ve gone back just in the last few days to the Facebook posts that were posted on our wall during those difficult days of travel and the early days we were home. I didn’t have the time to read them all then, but now I can’t help but weep at the love that was captured in pictures, and the beauty of the words and prayers that were lifted up on our behalf. We don’t deserve such love or intercession from our family and friends, but we are thankful for each one who uttered a prayer on our behalf. We are especially thankful for those of you who took time out of your day to welcome us all home at the end of our nightmarish and wonderful journey. We needed you more than you knew.
As I sit here on my couch in our family room with Ken, our two Congolese kids, and our two dogs, I can’t help but marvel at the miracle that we are all here together, watching Lion King. We’ve begun a new journey of four strangers becoming a family. We are healing old wounds with the salve of stability, provision, and love. The enemy has fought hard to keep us from this moment, and the fight has not stopped merely because we’re back on American soil. I can only imagine what wonderful plans the Lord has for their life, given the ferocity of the fight to get them, and I’m so blessed to be a part of what God has in store for each of their lives.