After 7.5 months filled with travel, living out of suitcases, and mooching off friends and family, we’ve finally returned to South Africa. Come to think of it, since we’re missionaries, we’ve been mooching off friends and family for almost 3 years now. Which brings up a funny story. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but when we first returned to the US, Meredith asked someone for some money to buy something. I think maybe we were at one of Tim’s football games and she wanted something from the concession stand. Anyway, I thought that would be a good time to teach her some etiquette and remind her that asking for money isn’t a polite thing to do. I told her “Meredith, we don’t ask people for money.” Then I remembered “Oh, wait…that’s pretty much all we do.”
On a serious note, we want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their generosity. Looking back over the last several months makes us realize that God does mighty things for His name’s sake. The project that He has led us to is tremendous, but it is His work and therefore is His responsibility. I am reminded of a quote from Pat Hanna, a close friend of the O’Tool family. When we were in Carroll sharing the vision of Restoring Hope Village at the very beginning of our furlough, Pat said to me “this is God’s work and I have no doubt that God provides through His people.” We have seen this happen firsthand over recent months, and we are grateful to our Father and to you who have provided for us.
With Pat’s quote in mind, I want to share with you some quotes that we heard on our recent excursion from Des Moines to Johannesburg.
- When we arrived at the Des Moines International Airport, or DSM in airport code-speak, we immediately began to check in at the Delta desk. The agent assisting us was Lorretta B., a very helpful and kind woman. During the process of checking us in, she came across Meredith’s passport. She punched the name into the computer and then, with a puzzled expression, typed a few more keys. Obviously she didn’t obtain the desired response. So she typed a bit more, again with futility. Finally, she turned to the other Delta agent and said “Hey Tony, check this out. Have you ever seen this before?” This is never what one wants to hear when embarking on a cross-continental flight. Tony comes over and peeks at the computer screen. Then Tony types a few keys, pauses, frowns, types a few more, then finally finds some sort of success. Now Loretta B. can complete our check-in. With the problem finally resolved, Loretta B. explains what the issue was. It turns out that a Meredith O’Tool is a potential terrorist with the Irish Republican Army. Funny coincidence. And now Loretta B. knows what the computer screen looks like when checking-in a potential terrorist.
- You’ll remember Tony, the Delta agent in the previous narrative? Tony must have noticed that our final destination was Johannesburg, or JNB in airport code-speak. He asked why we were going to South Africa, and we told him that we live here and are building a new children’s village. His response was one we’d never received before. Tony said “Watch out for the brain worms.” Now we’ve lived in South Africa for about 2 years now and I’ve heard a lot of things, but have never heard about Brain Worms. I thought he was pulling my leg, so I kind of laughed like you laugh when you think someone is pulling your leg. But he wasn’t. He went on to share that his brother-in-law, or second cousin, or some relation like that had spent some time in South Africa and had contracted worms that went to his brain and eventually killed him. Delta agents are full of quotes that you don’t want to hear when embarking on a cross-continental flight.
- Anyone who knows us well probably knows that Amber is what I will call a Just-In-Case Packer – meaning we usually have any necessary item for any conceivable event. When the Stangl family held their concert and Ellie & Zach shared stories from South Africa, Zach had a great line. They showed a photo of our container arriving two years ago and said “While we were there Amber’s suitcase arrived…” That isn’t terribly far from the truth. Now remember that we arrived in the US on October 1st with five suitcases. Seven months later as we prepared to depart for South Africa, we learned that we had accumulated enough to fill at least 12 suitcases. Fortunately (for me anyway) we could only bring 6 suitcases back. Susan Niehoff can confirm that packing is like a huge jigsaw puzzle, trying to find the right items to fill both the size and weight you have available. For a couple days we sorted and packed, resorted and repacked, until finally we had everything just right. The rest of our stuff was boxed up and shipped to the O’Tool homestead for our use next time we return. Upon arrival at the airport we had many hands to help us carry everything to the appropriate destination, but not without mentioning the volume of our baggage. They should have seen what we left behind. Amber’s response was one that I’ll treasure always, and one that I will need assistance holding her to. I wrote it down immediately so as not to forget. She said, and I quote “Now we won’t need to buy anything next time we’re back.” In her defense, she is always prepared, and I would be lost without her. I have a fantastic wife – I call her my Swiss Army wife.
- Quote #4 is our favorite quote of the trip. Traveling with children can be a challenge, especially when one of those is a lap child on the airplane. I have always heard of the wonders of bulkhead seating, but had never experienced it personally. When I went to the Czech Republic I was scheduled for bulkhead seating, but since I was the third shortest member of that particular basketball team, I had to give it up to some of the more lanky members. Alas. This time we had hoped upon hope to get bulkhead seating, allowing Drake room to play and sleep, whilst allowing Uncle Lou some extra leg room. Our chances however, looked slim. One can only ensure bulkhead seating at the gate, and our flight from DSM arrived in ATL only 50 minutes before departure. We blitzed through the ATL airport, only to find the gate packed with previously arrived passengers. In fact, we cut it so close that they were already boarding the plane. Just as we screeched to a halt at the departure gate we heard our named called over the intercom. I fought my way through the crowd and waved at the Delta agent, Shindana, to let her know we had arrived. She called me right up to the front of the line and said “We’ve been waiting for you. Let me see your passports.” I gave her our documents and she told me to call the whole family up. I did so and as we were waiting for Amber and the kids I thought I might as well at least inquire about the doubtful availability of bulkhead. I started to say “I don’t suppose there is any chance…” and Shindana cut me right off. She looks at me and says “I already took care of it.” It took her about 2 minutes to enter our passports and print our boarding passes. Then she leaves her post at the desk, cuts over to the front of the boarding line and says “Let’s move it people, the O’Tools are coming through.” She cut a wide swath for us to come right on through and she took us right onto the airplane, where we found a whole section of bulkhead just for our family. What an answer to prayer!
- This next quote kind of goes along with the previous one. After being paged and as I was fighting my way up to the departure gate, some random guy who looks like my Uncle Joe sees me and announces to everyone around “Hey, the O’Tools are here. They’ve been waiting on you for like 3 days now.” So apparently that wasn’t the first time they paged us.
- While waiting for takeoff both Meredith and Drake wanted to look out the plane window. Unfortunately, we only had one window seat, meaning Drake was crawling all over Meredith. She looks at me in exasperation and says “He’s getting on my nerves, Dad.” I wanted to respond “yeah, try being a parent sometime.” But we received grace and that was the extent of Drake getting on Meredith’s nerves for the remainder of the trip.
- This final quote is kind of a post-script. Brian & Lois met us at the airport and took us back to their house in their van. We arrived in Welkom 23 hours and 15 minutes after leaving Des Moines. The kids got lots of sleep on the airplane, but I think Amber and I got a combined 30 minutes. Needless to say, we were ready for some sleep…but our children were not. Eventually, Amber went and slept with Meredith in Liam’s toddler bed. This left me to sleep alone in a nice queen-sized bed. The next night I learned a valuable lesson. Never say to your wife “Why don’t you sleep with the kids again. That was wonderful.”