Things go wrong here in Middle Earth once in a while. But not all the time. If everyone was always late, if the electricity was always off, if the water was always brown then that would be predictable. Life here is not predictable and in order to maintain a proper state of unpredictability sometimes things go right. One day things went really really right. I thought I would tell you about it.
The year was 1999 and we were tired. We had started the office here in Minas Tirith, we had begun the work in northern Mordor, we had started a house church, and we had our third child. I thought that was a pretty good first term all round. But we were worn out and in need of some good time with friends and family back in the West. The trouble is that the very hardest thing we do here is travel. People often ask us how long it takes us to get here and the answer used to be about a week. We have a direct flight to a major airport out in Grey Havens now but back then we could not get very far and the layovers were always measured in days instead of hours. We had a guest come two weeks before we were to leave and they hassled him pretty good on his way out. I stuck up for him and got him through without paying any kind of bribe but I made a few customs guys pretty irritated in the process. I kept thinking that I was going to be here with my whole family and a lot of luggage in just two weeks and they were not going to make this easy.
We packed up and headed to the airport. Several friends went with us. When we got to the airport everyone was there. I had seen other people leave with a large procession of grateful nationals and honestly I never thought our leaving would be like that. But the King was good as always and many were there to see us off- except our secretary. She was supposed to be there and was not. We went to check in and there was a guy with a big broom handled mustache standing at the door. I had seen him there before but I don't ever remember speaking to him. He greeted me and then turned to the large room with all the customs officials and the passport control people and announced in a loud voice, "This is a very good man! He speaks our language, only use our language with him. He is a great diplomat!" I was in shock. I humbly said thank you to him and walked in. I went to customs and I asked to fill out the forms and begin the arduous procedure of checking in. The man looked at me puzzled and said you are a diplomat- go on. Ok. Everyone in our entourage followed us passed customs and then passed passport control which they should not be allowed to do. It was like a big party. Then we went out on the runway and said goodbye to everyone. We boarded the plane and waited. And waited. We wondered why we were waiting so long then it was announced that something needed to happen. I didn't understand. Suddenly the front doors of the plane were reopened and I was asked to go forward. I looked down and there was our secretary on the runway saying goodbye. The airport officials had held up the plane and let her out on the runway to say goodbye to us. Unbelievable. But this was stage one of a long trip. Things were sure to go wrong when we went north to one of the most difficult and corrupt airports in Middle Earth. Nothing happened. We arrived. People were not only nice, they were downright helpful. It was eerie. I kept looking over my shoulder waiting for someone to come along asking for money, or trying to be nasty. It didn't happen. We got our onward tickets and we went on the US of A. I don't usually get too place specific in this blog but I will go ahead and say that we landed in Atlanta, GA- we went on from there but that is where we went through immigration. As we walked up to the line a large black man in a uniform and a big smile was waiting for us. He took our passports and looked them over. He said, "So, you're a missionary!" I had not used that word for three years. We never use that word. Sometimes we call it the M word but that is as far as we go. I looked around to see who was listening and I said, "Is that tattooed on my forehead?" He looked at the various visas in my passport- places many of you have never heard of- and said, "It's tattooed in your passport. How long have you been away?" I told him that we had been out of the US for three and a half years. He handed our passports back and said, "Welcome home!" I almost cried.
There are days when everything goes wrong. Plans fail. I almost never go to bed having accomplished what I set out to do that morning. In our work we say flexible is not enough, you have to be fluid. But our King is a most gracious King. He gives us just what we need when we need it most. The psalmist said that though weeping endures for a night, joy comes in the morning. Here in Middle Earth it often waits until lunchtime but it does come. 2 Cor 2 says it this way: "But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him." That verse is jam packed with meaning. In June of 1999 it took on a newer and grander meaning than I had seen before. It is true everyday even though I don't feel it every day. Life does not always feel like a triumphal procession, but it is. How I feel or what the next set of Government officials do to me can not alter the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ in me. So, I will march in this triumphal procession even when it is lonely, and dark, and full of troubles. Come with me.