Having completed all the training the International (then called Foreign) Mission Board deemed necessary, my trip was all but upon me. The excitement was a bit shadowed by the realization that I would be away from home for two whole months. I had never been away from my Mom for that long, even during college. I wondered how I would manage the homesickness, not just from my family, but my friends, as well. I was extremely close to my friends, and was very nervous about going through this without any of them to share it with me.
June 9th arrived and I was sent off from Memphis International Airport amidst many tears and hugs. My mother kept telling me not to get eaten by a Tasmanian Devil, and my friends sent me off with sweet notes of encouragement to get me through the long flight.
Long Flight. Flights. My travel itinerary was two pages long there and back. Memphis to Chicago, Chicago to L.A, L.A. to Melbourne, Melbourne to Launceston. It makes me tired just typing it.
I reached L.A. for the "big" flight and waited as the rest of our team trailed in, one by one. We left L.A. at 10:00 p.m on the biggest honkin' airplane I had ever seen. A Boeing 747-400. I don't think they can even fit one of those in the airport at Memphis. Okay, well, maybe it wasn't that big, but I was definitely intimidated by its hugeness.
I am a good flier. My favorite part is takeoff. It's like a big roller coaster ride. And once we're in the air my brain doesn't really register that there is nothing between me and the ground but 30,000 feet of nothing. So it was on this 13-hour flight across the Pacific Ocean. Well, it was, until we reached the Equator. The passengers were pretty much all asleep, including myself. That is until we hit some major turbulence and I was jarred almost awake. I say almost because I was awake enough to hear the captain say over the intercom: "Flight attendants, please take your seats and fasten your seat belts; we are experiencing very rough turbulence..." I decided right then and there that waking up was not in the best interest of my mental health, and made myself go back to sleep. I figured someone would wake me up before I had to use my seat as a flotation device. I might as well save up my energy.
All was well and we did end up in the beautiful land of Australia. Of course, all we saw at first was the inside of the Melbourne Airport on our way through customs, which ended up being so much easier than I expected. I fully believed there would be tall, broad shouldered women named Helga and Brunhilde waiting to inspect my bags. Such was not the case. All of our luggage was put together and somehow we were able to breeze through.
Our last stop as a group was the beautiful town of Launceston, Tasmania. I tried not to think too hard about the puddle jumper's ability to get us across Bass Strait. Of course, having been on airplanes for a total of 24 hours, I didn't care if I had to go by hot-air balloon to get to my destination.
Launceston is one of the prettiest places I've ever been. Pictures just don't do it justice. By the way, if you go in the Southaven, MS Outback, they have a picture of Launceston in the ladies' bathroom (uh, sorry guys!). The picture below was taken at the hotel we stayed in for our first night in Australia.
The next day we all met at a church to meet each team's hosts. Before we split up team by team we had a group picture made for the Tasmanian Baptist newsletter. Don't you just love my stripes? And Marty and I had both cut our hair. I guess one major life experience wasn't enough for us.
We were divvied up with our hosts and as I sat there listening to Ken, Gae, Dianne, and Rhonda I realized that this was it: I would spend the next two months with these people...I wondered if they would like me, and if I would like them. I didn't have to wait long to find out as we travelled by car (thankfully!) to the tiny town of Sheffield. They fell in love with me, and I fell in love back at them. I had no idea the depth of love I would come to have for these people...
to be continued...