Monday, January 3, 2011

First Class: Part 2

Back in 2007, I went on a trip to Kenya, We flew with Virgin Atlantic. Our first flight from DC was canceled due to a hole in the plane (encouraging, right?) and they gave us a LOT of miles due to that plus the miles we got from our journey. Those miles were expiring this December and were enough to get me a flight to Nairobi. Sweet.

Ever since I had planned this trip to the States, I had no idea what I was going to do about my 16 hour layover in London. I knew that I didn’t want to spend 16 hours in the main insane area of Heathrow. Due to it being December, I also knew that I didn’t want to spend 16 hours out in the frigid cold. Virgin Atlantic has a lounge in Heathrow for their first class passengers. I had looked at the possibility of buying miles to upgrade to first class purely for the lounge. Clearly, that wasn’t going to happen. When I got to the airport in DC, I asked what the cost would be to upgrade to first class. When she quoted $1300, I knew that I was in for a long layover in the crazy main area of Heathrow. She told me to check with the lounge in London to see if I could get a day pass. A day pass!? I didn’t even know those existed. When I landed in London, I went to their counter to ask about a day pass. They directed me to the lounge who told me that I could come four hours before my flight. Um, and what about the next 12 hours? They then directed me to the American Airlines lounge directly below for the meantime. The American Airlines lounge was surprisingly pretty cheap, had great showers, free food, drinks and WiFi. Since I had a bazillion tests to finish for WorldVenture, I settled in and got everything done.

When it was four hours before my flight, I debated on whether to go up to the Virgin Atlantic lounge since I was already so comfortable in the American Airlines lounge. Knowing that I’d never get this chance again, I headed up to the VA lounge.

My first thought upon entering the VA lounge: Oh, so this is what first class people experience.
My second thought: I stick out like a sore thumb. It's like they know my shoes are from Payless and I got my Gap jeans on sale. I shrugged my shoulders and sat down to enjoy an amazing meal. In the lounge, they offered free services to their spa so I got a good manicure. It was incredible. Once my layover ended, I was feeling so blessed. Beginning that day, I had no idea if I’d have a quiet place to get things done and God provided above and beyond. I headed toward my gate feeling productive and relaxed.

When I arrived at my gate, the agent took my ticket and put it under the scanner. It beeped kinda weird and he looked at it again. He then looked up at me and said, “Congratulations, you’re now in upper class”. Um, say what? No. Way. Again? I thanked him and walked into the gate. It was extremely hot, crowded and stuffy but all I could do was marvel. For months, I had been wondering how everything would work out. I’m such a planner and I was worried what would happen in those 16 hours. I had looked at all sorts of options but none worked out. Instead, it all worked out far better than what I had imagined and BONUS, I got first class. Again. How the heck?

I knew from my time searching VA’s website before that their first class was unlike any other. I was right. The “seats” are more like your own little cubicle.

When you want to sleep, the flight attendant comes, flips the seat around and down and boom, you have an entire bed. I slept for most of the flight (thank you Ambien, for all you’ve done in my life) and was for some reason crazy nauseous throughout. I barely touched the meals they gave me and sipped gingerale throughout. Despite that, it was definitely amazing.

I still can’t believe it, really. I mean, this stuff never happens to me…and twice? However, really, God’s hands were all over this. I was checking BBC after I returned and saw that the same day that I was in London, there were crazy protests and riots. They were in all of the areas that I would have headed. I had some tests sent to me from WorldVenture right before I left the States and had been wondering when on earth I’d have the time to complete them. He gave me the perfect time and place to do so. It was also fascinating to people watch. Many people find their identity in that crazy lifestyle.

God is a God of details, as I’ve said many times and again and again, He shows it to me. I don’t deserve His love, His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness…or random blessings like a quiet relaxing place to get things done or even first class.

First Class: Part 1

I’ve been promising this blog for a year now so, at last, here you go. There was just going to be one first class blog since well, it had only happened to me once. Alas, this past trip back to Uganda, it happened again. I'm usually the person that randomly gets pooped on by a bird or randomly selected for an intrusive pat down in security instead of something good like first class. I’m going to divide them up into two blogs since each deserves it’s own blog.

I had just had a great three weeks back in the States. On the way back to Uganda, I had a long layover in Atlanta. Originally, I was going to try to hang out with my friend Jill on my long layover but she ended up not being able to come to the airport so I had lots of time to kill. I got to Atlanta and did my traditional Atlanta airport stops: get a gyro from Great Wraps and a coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. I got to my gate for my flight to Amsterdam and within a few minutes, they were announcing that they needed volunteers to take a later flight. My first thought was, “I can’t do it. I need to get back to Uganda and have no way of contacting Kate and Kacie if I don’t come on time”. But then, I wondered if it was even possible. I packed my things and headed up toward the counter to see if it was even a possibility. When I finally reached the counter, they told me that I could do it but that I’d be on the same flight the next day.

I was stuck. I had about 30 seconds to decide. I knew that I really wanted to see my friend Jill but, since I didn’t have my American cell phone, I had no way of contacting her. It was like I heard myself saying, “I’ll do it!”. I began to question that decision for the next two hours of my life. In the meantime, I discovered that the guy in front of me was also heading to Uganda. He asked the Delta worker if he could also have first class. The Delta worker told him that he could either have first class or the kick awesome voucher. He chose first class. I chose the kick awesome voucher. They gave me all of my vouchers and I was free to go.

Panic set in. WHAT had I just done!? I am a planner…and I just did something incredibly spontaneous. I walked away from the gate and went to find a place to sit down. I wanted to find free Wi-Fi so that I could get on skype and call Jill. Luckily, Jill’s cell phone number was one of the 3 or so numbers I had memorized. There was no Wi-Fi…and my panic increased. There was a guy and girl sitting across from me and I wondered if they’d even consider letting some random girl borrow their phone. I couldn’t do it….but I was desperate so I had to do it. I asked them, they agreed and I hurriedly called Jill. I’m pretty sure the conversation went a little something like this:

Jill: Hello?
Me: JILL! It’s Sarah and I’vedonethecraziesthingintheworldIjustchosealaterflightsoIaminAtlantauntiltomorrowcanyouhangout!?
Jill: Um…what? Calm down. Say that again.

I calmed myself enough to talk slower and Jill understood what I was saying. She had to figure out what was going to be best and told me to call back in 10 minutes. I said sure…not knowing what I’d do in 10 minutes. I thanked the kind boy and girl and headed out. I couldn’t ask to use their phone AGAIN so I thought I’d wander and see if there was another place that I could get free WiFi. No dice. I found some pay phones but had zero American change on me. There were these Delta workers that were trying to sell something (a Delta credit card? Don’t remember). They kept trying to get people to talk to them so when I approached them, they were clearly excited. I asked one of them if there was a phone I could use or even if I could borrow one of their cell phones. To my surprise, they said “yes!”. I was so surprised that two people at that point had agreed to let me use their cell phone. I called Jill really quick and we confirmed which stop I was to get off on the MARTA, Atlanta’s rail system. I hung up, thanked them, and headed towards the exit. I got on the MARTA (which, by the way, at night, is kind of sketchy) and got off at my stop. I wanted to call Jill again to let her know that I was there…but how? There was this girl that was dressed like an angry rocker. She was my only option. I figured if I’d already asked two others, what was the harm in one more? I timidly asked to use her phone and she responded in the most bubbly Southern voice that I’ve heard in awhile. A voice that did not match her outfit. At. All. I called Jill quick and then waited…in the freezing cold…for a long time. Jill came and we had a great time hanging out. It so happened that Jill and some of her friends were flying to New York City the next day so I would just go to the airport with them in the morning and hang out there until my flight.

The next morning while everyone else checked into their flight, I headed over to check into mine. I got my new tickets and saw that I was in row 3. Um, row THREE? This is an international flight. There is no way that can be anything but first class…right? I didn’t want to assume anything until I was in my seat taking off and in first class so I didn’t get my hopes up. I had meal vouchers from Delta as well so I grabbed breakfast at Starbucks and sat with Jill and her friends until their flight took off. Hugs all around and they were gone. I knew that I needed to occupy my entire day at the airport since my flight wasn’t until that night. I found free WiFi in a food court and settled in. I watched a lot of American TV shows that I’d missed in Uganda. I had dinner there right before my flight, wanting to get the most out of those vouchers.

I went to my gate once again and they called my section up. I didn’t know what to expect. I got on the plane and…there it was. Row 3. First class. Unreal. I put my carry ons away (I actually had to ask the guy sitting next to me to put up my one carry on since I was carrying the entire Wal-mart store in my carry on to take back). When I sat down, I was just waiting for it. I was waiting for them to come up and say, “Ma’am, there’s been a terrible mistake. You actually belong in the back of the plane.” Instead, a stewardess came up and said, “Miss Pisney, how are you tonight? Would you like anything to drink?” She then showed me the menu (oh yes, I said menu) and encouraged me to pick out whatever I’d like for dinner that night. When the plane took off, I was finally convinced that they weren’t going to move me. The food was fabulous. They gave me a down comforter blanket and pillow even though I couldn’t sleep. The guy next to me works on oil rigs throughout the world. It was fun to see his face when I was all, “Yeah, I’m a missionary in Africa…and I have no idea how I got this seat”. He also

The problem? My next flight was from Amsterdam to Uganda. I was back in Economy where I belong. But, I knew. I KNEW what was happening those rows ahead of me.

And it has spoiled me for life.

Beatrice's Story

I first met Beatrice on my first trip to Masaka. We were enrolling 10 new children into Hope Alive! that day. The new kids had come early for us to get their information, take their picture and such. There was something about Beatrice that drew me to her. Perhaps it was her ability to make the perfect fish face. I was drawn to her and we had lots of giggles throughout the day. Since she knew little English, our communication was done through either a translator or silly faces.

Right before my trip to Masaka, my former boss signed up to sponsor a child. Upon meeting Beatrice, I knew that I wanted him to sponsor her. She needed someone who would love her and I knew he and his wife would. At that point, I didn’t know how much she needed that love.

A few months ago, we were contacted by Rose, our site director in Masaka about Beatrice. When we first enrolled her, we knew that her parents were separated. She was living with her father’s mother. Her grandmother died and her father took her to live with him.

The father’s neighbors had come to Rose concerned for Beatrice. Beating children is common here, including in schools. A father beating his child would be nothing out of the ordinary. However, what was happening to little Beatrice was not ordinary. Her father would leave the house for a day or more and not leave food for her. He would beat her so severely that the neighbors began to notice. They saw that she was being starved and abused and went to talk to leader of their district about it. The leader of the district happened to be Beatrice’s grandfather, the father of her father. The grandfather said that because it was dealing with his son, he could do nothing…and nothing is what he did. The neighbors knew that they could not let this continue. Knowing that Beatrice was sponsored through Hope Alive!, they went to talk to Rose. When Rose became aware of what was happening, they took Beatrice to a doctor in order for her wounds to be documented. They contacted her mother and asked if Beatrice could stay with her instead of the father. Details then came out that her father had refused Beatrice to stay with her mother in the first place which was why she was first with his mother and then her. It was pertinent that we get her out of her current living situation and so Beatrice was moved to her mother’s house.

When I heard of what had happened to Beatrice, my heart broke. I thought of how tiny Beatrice is and how the beatings would have hurt her little body. I wondered how all of this effected how she viewed God. Since God is our Father, would she see Him like she sees her earthly father? Would she be afraid that God would hurt her like her dad did? I just wanted to hold her. To tell her that she is loved not only by me, but by God. Until then, I prayed for her. I prayed that God would do a miracle in her heart.

My friends Maria and Gloria came to do mentor training in Kampala but also in Masaka. At last, I was going to be able to go back to Masaka again and see Beatrice! I made plans with Rose for us to go out to her mother’s home to see her. Her mom lives very far away from our site in Masaka, out in the middle of the bush. I could now teach a class on Bush Driving: 101, specializing in topics such as: “What To Do When The Road Disappears”, “Avoiding Potholes: When The Road Is Just One Big Pothole” and “How To Avoid Livestock That Run In Front Of Your Vehicle”.

Beatrice’s father has been making some efforts with her and would often take her home from Saturday Club. That day, he told Rose that he wanted to come with us to her mother’s home. In ways, I was excited about his interest. In other ways, I was concerned how this would affect Beatrice. Her father guided us to their little house and without him, we would have been wandering off somewhere with pigs and goats. When I parked the car, I saw her immediately. I’m smiling just remembering. The timid smile on her small frame. Her recognition of me. The glimpses of fear in her eyes showed how she felt towards her father. When I got out of the car, we hugged for a long time. I didn’t want to let go of her and it was clear that she didn’t want to let go either. We had brought food for the family and got it out for her mom to see. It gave us time away from the rest of the family to talk about all that had gone on.

Beatrice’s mother struggles to find work. She helps different farmers around their house to make a small bit of money but it is not enough to help Beatrice and her three siblings. While Beatrice is sponsored and able to go to school, her mom doesn’t have the money to send her younger brother. The struggle of their lives is evident. The joy that comes from within her bursts from her smile. I wasn’t surprised to hear that she is a born again Christian and it encouraged me that Beatrice had a mother who followed Christ. She explained to us that she still had a rough relationship with the father. Her fear of him was also evident. My heart broke for this little family. Beatrice and I played with each other for a little longer. She can still do one of the best fish faces I’ve ever seen.

In the language of Luganda, “I love you” is “Nkwagala”. To say, “I love you very much”, you would say, “Nkwagala nyo”. I would look down and tell Beatrice:

“Nkwagala nyo nyo nyo!”

She would look up at me and say, “nyo”.

I would repeat back, “nyo”.

And we would continue for awhile adding “very” onto “I love you”.

It was hard to leave. I didn’t want to let go of her but I knew that I’d be seeing her on Saturday for the Christmas Party.

Saturday came and I knew Beatrice was there when she came and sat on my lap. It was such a great day seeing all of the kids perform in song, dance, skit, poems and more. When the day ended and I had to say goodbye to Beatrice…oh, it was hard. I wanted to cry. I wanted to just hold her and not let anything bad happen to her again. I had someone translate for me so that I could tell her that not only was she loved by me, but that she was loved by God. I waved goodbye and left her in God’s hands.

Please pray for Beatrice’s father. Pray that God does a miracle in his life and that he sees how he has hurt his family. Pray that he sees the need to change. Pray that, above all, he comes to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Pray for Beatrice’s mom. Life is so difficult for her. Pray that she is able to find more consistent work so that she can provide for her children. Pray that she chooses to forgive her husband for what he has done to her and their children. Pray for little Beatrice. Pray that she works through the hurt and pain that she has experienced in her little life. Pray that she chooses to forgive her father. Pray that she comes to understand the great love that her Heavenly Father has for her. Pray that she chooses to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.