The ladies’ room of the Newark International Airport smelled like Fruity Pebbles, which was a pleasanter welcome than you’d expect. Conversely, the weather outside was stifling, pretty much like the clime we’d just come from, one situated much closer to the equator. Who would guess that nearly 3,000 miles north it would be equally as oppressive? Despite the heat, the buzz and hum of traffic outside Terminal C was electric. Each on a mission, cars wove in and out, efficiently loading people and their cargo before darting away.
“When’s our bus due?” I asked him, fanning myself with the brim of my baseball hat.
“They said it’s here, but not at the terminal yet,” he offered.
Clearly the heat was bothering him, and I felt partly to blame because I loved him with a beard and insisted that he keep it, even in the heat of summer. His handsomeness was amplified when he wore one and the shades of rust, grey and brown that comprised his made him look both rugged and distinguished.
“Do you think there’s time?” I asked, afraid the bus would come as soon as he went on what could turn out to be a fool’s errand.
“Not sure, but I’ll try.”
After giving me a sweaty peck on the lips, he disappeared back into the terminal, which was even more frenetic than the traffic outside.
I thought about what had transpired in the week prior to this moment outside Terminal C, prior to the Fruity Pebbles bathroom break and the four and a half hour flight home. We’d been changed by our week away. Our middle child had been especially so. She’s the whole reason we’d gone.
In front of our very eyes, we observed her week-long transformation as she realized a dream. The short 11-year span of her life had somehow allowed her to garner compassion, wisdom, and discernment that few gain by the end of a long life. Her four years of begging had finally resulted in the desire of her heart. Her mission was finally at hand.
How tirelessly she’d worked, her red hair glinting in the tropical sun. A child like her shouldn’t be out in sun like that. Ginger-haired and freckled, this was no place for someone like her to be working outside in 93 degree heat with a UV index of 11. I didn’t even know the UV index went to 11.
It was punishing heat, but her heart compelled her mission. Watching her work was a joy, as she smiled relentlessly all week. My once-timid baby girl hopped in and out of the back of a pickup truck in a dilapidated rural neighborhood, handing out flyers for the VBS program we were offering. It seemed so natural for her, though she’d never done such a thing before.
She pressed to the front of our outreach group, eager to hand out food to homeless Antiguans in a dicey area of the island known for drug activity and prostitution. In a roomful of strangers at the church we were helping, she walked up to a group of girls about her age and effortlessly introduced herself. My years of quiet prayer for her to become bold had come to remarkable fruition.
An icy sensation on my neck startled me. Jolted out of my thoughts, I turned to see my Mr. Rugged and Distinguished laughing, thrusting a bottle of Starbucks Frappucino towards me. I smiled and accepted, knowing he’d purchased it because he didn’t want to wait for “real coffees” to be made at the counter. We’re purists, but not fools, and he didn’t want to miss the arrival of the bus.
As I took the first sip, the cloying sweetness of the brew was both intoxicating and overwhelming. I don’t take sugar in my coffee. With that, the bus arrived. The contrast between the chartered bus that would return us home and the one we’d been shuttled around in on the island was startling. This bus was comfortable and cool. Last week’s transportation had been a rattling, clanking box of a thing. Another overlooked blessing, I thought as I sank into the seat of the air-conditioned coach.
Coming from a place with sporadic water service, raging cases of pink-eye, rampant addiction, and heavy spiritual bondage, I was astonished at how my daughter had not only adapted, but seemed completely at ease in such a setting. It was a life diametrically opposed to the life of comfort and safety to which she was accustomed. How lovingly she’d worked with the children, perching one little Antiguan boy named Malachi patiently on her hip for hours each day to prevent him from running away. He was only two years old.
The ages for the vacation bible school were 4-17, but many families sent toddlers with their hardly-older siblings. When we gave things away, the more children a family sent, the more spoils could be returned home. Candy and school supplies were hot commodities in a hot and hopeless place.
For the final leg home, I sat with my sleeping daughter’s head snuggled on my shoulder. I sighed, watching the sky change from a pink and orange fantasy to the low and quiet purple-grey of the last sliver of dusk. The mile markers whizzed by, reflecting the light of our headlights. Truly, I was a world away from where I’d just been.
I knew as the bus surged southward, that this week’s trip would be made again, maybe to a different place, but with the same intent. My little missionary was hooked now, and only God knows to what degree she’ll pursue His call to go to dark places, even the ones scorched by the blazing tropical sun.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”