I leave for my next trip to Uganda in a few weeks. There is so much planning that goes into preparing for a trip. For this next trip, we are transporting WELLcome home kits (wash cloths, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, notebooks, colored pencils, and pajamas) for Bless a Child Foundation. This is the organization that provides housing, transportation, meals and other supplemental services for kids with cancer. We are also taking malnutrition products from Edesia and first aid supplies to support the full-time nurse we are funding to improve outcomes. We have a lot of stuff with only a small team to help transport everything. This is the kind of thing that used to cause me a lot of stress, but I’ve learned to give up control and trust that a solution will surface.
Several years ago, I was taking another small group to East Africa. We had 10 extra bags full of school uniforms and supplies for making washable sanitary pads. We had just installed a new septic system at St. Monica’s Vocational School and had developed a sustainable plan to help the 200 women living on campus afford and manage their menstrual cycle.
I remember making numerous calls to the airline and travel agent asking about Humanitarian Bag Policies and pleading for special treatment. It was extremely frustrating being transferred from agent to agent and getting rejected each time. Why did this have to be so hard when I’m trying to do something so good? I didn’t have an extra $2,000 in the budget and couldn’t justify spending $200 for each extra bag.
I resolved to bringing the bags to the airport in hopes of persuading a ticketing agent. I numbered the bags from 1-10 in order of importance in case I got a little lucky but couldn’t take everything. I prepped my husband that he was going to help unload all the luggage and was maybe going to be reloading most of it and taking it home. I remember feeling unusually calm once we arrived and met the rest of the travelers.
I was directed to an agent who checks in groups for international travel. I politely explained my situation and asked if they could help me. He was very kind but told me that he didn’t have the clearance to accommodate my request. I asked to speak to his supervisor. His supervisor was also very nice. He told me how he served on a board of a nonprofit that also did international work, and he couldn’t get them any special treatment either. Their electronic system was designed so employees couldn’t make exceptions for any circumstance. Even though I felt defeated, I appreciated the kindness from the airline staff.
I had been holding two Visa gift cards that were donated by Thrivent Financial. They would cover 2 bags. The ticketing agent started checking in luggage for each of our travelers. There were 5 of us departing from Phoenix. The electronic system allowed for 2 free bags for each person. Four people were checked in when something interesting started happening. After checking in the first 2 bags for the fifth traveler, it allowed for another to go through without asking for payment. Then it allowed for another bag, and another bag, and 5 more bags. 8 free bags were allowed through the glitch free electronic system. I handed him the 2 Visa gift cards to pay for the final 2 bags. All 10 bags made it. The ticketing agent didn’t understand how that happened. He said his system never did that, and he couldn’t explain it.
This is just one of the many miracles that I’ve witnessed throughout my journey. It reminded me that when I don’t have the answers and can’t find the way, I need to trust that a path will be provided.
200 women learned how to make their own reusable sanitary pads, and they will teach others who arrive at their campus how to make them as well. This solved St. Monica’s septic system issue, it provided a significant savings to their budget, and it provided a solution that can be shared with other girls in the community so they don’t have to miss school during their monthly cycle. The uniforms were tailored by the women learning how to sew and given to girls who couldn’t attend school because they couldn’t afford to buy a uniform.
It was important for the women at St. Monica’s to receive the contents in those suitcases. This practical solution was life changing. It was important for the sewing group at Scottsdale Bible Church who made the patterns for the sanitary pads to see and hear how their idea and efforts were being taught and replicated to vulnerable women in Uganda. It was important for Dennis Uniforms to know that their overstock inventory was giving girls living in extreme poverty a chance to go to school. It was important for Thrivent Financial to know that their Visa gift cards were a game changer. And it was important for me to understand that I don’t have to solve all the challenges that come my way, I just have to believe.
I’m trusting once again that all the bags full of important plans and dreams will find their way on my airplane and fly with me to a special place overflowing with potential.