Friday, July 15, 2011

16 Of Us

By the end of June we had 16 people confirmed to go on our upcoming August trip to Asikuma, Ghana! Out of that 16 are 11 who have never been to Africa. That’s 11 new sets of eyes that will be opened. 11 new hearts to be stirred. 11 new minds engrained with a responsibility to act on what they will see, experience, and come away with. 11 new sets of hands and feet for God to use to display His glory among the nations.

Well, things got interesting over the past few weeks when we went to book the flight for the group.

It all started a few weeks ago, end of June. We finally had all the exact confirmations of travelers and had collected the info we needed from each person to book the flight tickets. Earlier this summer we had checked ticket prices for our August dates. They were running close to $1700 per person which is a little high (normally they are around $1500), but fine. By the second to the last week in June we had contacted the travel agency that we have always used for Ghana travels to start working on booking our tickets. We were told by our travel agency that they were waiting on a new contract to come through with an airline that would give us even lower ticket prices. We just needed to hold out a few days until the contract deal was all finished up. Then they could work on our itineraries. Well, a few days turned into a week. I started to get antsy. All of the new travelers needed to send in their visa applications in order to get their visas for travel. The problem is that to send in the application, you have to also send a copy of your flight itinerary. We didn’t have one yet. So, not only was this becoming a delay in booking our flight tickets, but more importantly a delay in getting visas for our travelers! Even stranger, after waiting a full week to hear about this new contract, all communications then stopped from our travel agency for another string of days. We literally were getting no responses to our calls and emails. This was so unlike them. Because of our time crunch in needing to get visa applications sent in, we decided that we could not wait on this travel agency any more. We had to start searching out other options for booking the tickets.

By the end of last week we had contacted a different travel agency that one of our 16 travelers was employed by. Jake and I were on the road for tournaments, so things were chaotic and communications sporadic just because of that alone. Initial quotes came in at $2700 per person for tickets from the new agency. OUTRAGEOUS! We looked into booking through the airline directly and quotes were around $2400 with a crazy flight schedule. Either way, this just didn’t seem sensible. That’s a $1000 difference per person in what flights normally run at. We had the travel agency look into flights for the months of September, October and November, and fares were down to between $1300 and $1500. We started checking availability for our travelers to see if we could push back our trip to September.

Meanwhile, Chris Gardner, our head builder for the projects was NOT on board with switching the trip to September. He had worked hard at getting a good construction crew rounded up, had them put in vacation days for work, got the wheels in motion for the workers in Ghana making the concrete blocks, and had gained so much momentum for the project kick-offs being in August. To him, if we were to switch the dates, he felt that we would not be following through on what we said we would do. On the same day that we started talking through everyone’s availability for September Chris had a meeting with a homeowner that he had previously built a house for. He started telling her the whole story about the flight price fiasco, and us thinking the trip would have to be pushed back a month. As soon as he was done telling the story she said this: “Either God is testing you to see how faithful you are to His calling, or the devil is trying to keep you from going. He is trying to mess it all up. And I don’t want that to happen. In life, you can either be the hammer or the nail, and right now, I am going to be the hammer!” From there she grabbed her check book and wrote a check right there on the spot for $5400 to specifically help offset the increased costs of the plane tickets for Chris and his construction crew! WOW! Talk about putting your money where your mouth is! Immediately Chris called me and told me the story. We talked through whether using this money towards the flights was the best decision, or if it would be better put towards actual materials for the project if somehow everyone could work it out to go in September. But Chris was adamant that the lady specifically wrote the check for the August plane tickets. She was certain that the trip needed to be then. From Chris’ description, it seemed to be a moment clearly led by the Holy Spirit. There was no more questioning it.

At this point, more communication went on. Chris and his construction crew had flights covered by this extra donation. There were 5 of them total. What about the rest of our group? Well, we decided we could split up into two teams. The construction guys could go in August and get the bricks and mortar all laid down. Then the rest of us could come later in September and put on the finishing touches.

But the responses came in from the other travelers for their September availability. No one could make the September dates work except for my sweet friend Kellee. Listen to her faith-filled response:

Hi Jans! I read your email and immediately my heart sank. I stared at the dates September 13th - 21st......2 weeks before my wedding. And then the tears started to fall. Not because of sadness that I would have to say no, but because I'm scared of saying yes. And as I sit here and think "How can I?" "That is crazy" I hear His voice, and it says Follow Me. And the more I try to justify that the timing is NOT good and I couldn't possibly do this, I still hear Him say Follow Me. And all I can think of is that everyone is going to think I am CRAZY. That word immediately made me go grab my book Crazy Love and I flip it open and come to a page that quotes John 14:15 "If you love me, you will obey what I command". If we love, then we obey. Period. And so, you have your answer. YES, I will go. I will go because Jesus loves me and I will show love to others so that they may see Him.

Wow. Kellee’s response kicked me into high gear. We had so many first-timers so excited to go on this trip and to see God revealed in new ways. How could we let them down? Please, Lord, somehow, work this out so we can all go in August.

Meanwhile, a few more guys stepped in and said they would foot their extra flight expenses personally so that they could go with the construction crew in August. We still weren't sure what to do about the other 7 of us since over half couldn't make September work. We were still talking through things by the end of the business day Friday, so everything was going to have to wait until Monday.

Sunday night a massive, high-wind storm ripped through the Midwest. We woke up Monday to power outages in Chicago, and trees down everywhere. I checked my phone and saw a bunch of text messages from back home. It turned out that the storm was even worse in Iowa. Lots of damage.

Later Monday morning I worked with the travel agency on getting tickets for those that could for sure foot their extra costs and go in August. We had decided that we should at least get their tickets booked, so they could get their applications sent in for their visas. Since the group size was smaller, the travel agent found more flight options than what she had the previous week. I got 8 tickets booked (for our construction crew and 3 others) at an even lower price than the initial quote. Our pastor who was also scheduled to go on the trip got a great ticket price by booking on his own, and he got the same flight route as the construction crew. Just like that we had 9 guys ready to go for August that could now send in applications for visas. But there were still 7 of us left without tickets.

Monday I started in on my 6 hour drive home from Chicago. Since my hands were on the steering wheel I could not work on trying to figure something out for the 7 of us left. The idea to split up into two teams was now off since the September dates were not panning out with availability. Jake took over in between his games from a different tournament he was at in Milwaukee. Communications started with a 3rd travel agency to see what they had for August flights.

I got home Monday night to see an email from one of our unticketed travelers.

We were gone this weekend and now we are recovering from last night’s storm. Our crops are ruined and we have so much damage of trees. We lost buildings, silos and there is so much stress with the livestock. We have no electricity. I am running on a generator for a short time. I am so sorry about the ticket issue. I will not be able to go in September. If I need to be one who stays back this time due to the high expense it will be ok. With this recent disaster in our life I need to be mindful of my expenses. I am not sure how this crop damage will impact us until harvest. The crops are flat and ‘A’ (her husband) is very concerned. He doesn’t get discouraged very easy but this has him very concerned. Satan is attacking us literally. There is one trial after another for us!

Immediately when I read this I felt the weight of Satan trying to infuse us all with doubt about this trip. This person had just experienced a disaster to their life and income, with no immediate relief in sight. BUT, even so, I felt strongly that this person still needed to go on the trip.

Dear God, please come through for us!

By late Monday evening I saw some hope. We received quotes from the 3rd travel agency Jake had started working with and they could get us 7 tickets for August right under $2100 per person. There was still some tweaking that needed to be done to the itineraries, and we wouldn’t have it straightened out until Tuesday. I contacted our 7, and everyone said they could make the $2100 work, plus foot the hotel, bus, and food costs on top of that.

Tuesday morning, literally at the last hour, right before I was about to sign the deal with this 3rd travel agency, our original travel agency (the one we tried to work with in the very beginning) started flooding my inbox with itineraries for the 16 of us!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What in the world? I took a look at the prices and they were by far the cheapest quotes we had gotten for the past few weeks. We literally hadn’t heard from this travel agency for days, yet they had been working on our itineraries the whole time. By this point, I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. I decided to laugh. Then I quickly got to work on trying to see if we could void out the tickets for the construction guys that we had already booked since these were better prices for them. In the end, that didn’t work out, but the best part is that the rest of us now get to go on the trip in August, as originally planned. We are back up to 16 total travelers. And our flights are all booked.

Now we just pray that our visas all come in on time. :)

I am involved in each moment of your life. I have carefully mapped out every inch of your journey through this day, even though much of it may feel hap-hazard. Because the world is in a fallen condition, things always seem to be unraveling around the edges. Expect to find trouble in this day. At the same time, trust that My way is perfect, even in the midst of such messy imperfection. Stay conscious of Me as you go through this day, remembering that I never leave your side. Let the Holy Spirit guide you step by step, protecting you from unnecessary trials and equipping you to get through whatever must be endured. As you trudge through the sludge of this fallen world, keep your mind in heavenly places with Me. Thus the Light of My Presence shines on you, giving you Peace and Joy that circumstances cannot touch. ~Jesus Calling~


The Jones Family said...

Janel - Could I get your email address? I've been following your blog for quite some time (heard about it through a mutual friend) and I'd like to ask you a few questions about the upcoming trip!
Thanks! Rachael

Kendra Dawn said...

Love this post....isn't it crazy how God works....everything ALWAYS seems to work out!!!!

I think a lot about you Janel and MISS you like crazy!

A. Gillispie said...

Wow! Wow! Wow! I felt like I was on quite a ride just reading about what you've been fighting through! The ticket prices are so high this time of year. =-( I'm so thankful that the Lord made a way for everybody to go in June! I've been praying for your team for weeks and can't wait to see what the Lord accomplishes!

BTW, did you see the pics from my trips (that show the houses/repairs needed, etc.)? If not let me know, and I can send them to you!

Tamara B said...

and you've only begun! and already clearly a need to pray against evil.

Janel said...

Thanks for the encouragement everyone!!!!! Rachael - my email is:

The Jones Family said...

I emailed you - just not sure if you got it!