A 7-hour layover in New Jersey—this is the anticlimactic final chapter to our week in the Congo. It’s not ideal. We’re watching passengers board a different plane also heading to Nashville but three hours earlier than our flight and we’re feeling a tad bit jealous. Instead of giving them dirty looks, I’ve decided to pull out the laptop and write my thoughts about our trip. Here goes:
The Thursday before we left for Africa, I met Brent for a quick lunch at a Greek restaurant near Walmart so we could get a few more things for our trip. A man with an awesome handlebar moustache walked in just before us. I had noticed his giant tricycle strapped onto the back of his car in the parking lot. This guy was a real character. The cherry on top was his old-fashioned top hat. It was black silk and it had a rumpled bill—a foreign currency, I think—tucked into the band. Barely worth mentioning except that on our flight last Saturday from Brussels to Kinshasa, we saw another man with a black top hat. This wasn’t the same man but it still caught our attention. Who wears top hats, especially on a plane? Where did he keep the hat during the flight? Surely he didn’t wear it. Did he stow it? Do you know what happens to items in the overhead storage compartments? To round out the “Top Hat Phenomenon,” on the flight last night from Kinshasa to Brussels, we saw yet another man with a top hat. In addition to the jaunty hat, this fellow also wore a suit vest covered in an odd assortment of buttons. Three different men with three different but similar hats.
You might ask why I would go to the trouble of describing these men. I’m actually asking myself the same question. I know I learn best from metaphors. And don’t get me started on parables—I love them. Why I can’t learn something straight up in black and white is a mystery but if I can compare one situation to another similar situation, it all seems more profound, more relatable. I’m searching for the meaning in the top hats…
Here’s what I mean by metaphors:
As I mentioned in an earlier post, riding in a car in Kinshasa traffic is an adventure. And by adventure, I mean, really, REALLY scary. There are so many near misses. The driver must be aggressive or he’ll never arrive at his destination. There are public transportation vans crammed to the ceiling with people. Some even stand on the running boards and cling to the inside of the van…with the door opened…in heavy traffic. Pedestrians run across several lanes of traffic with the assumption these drivers will stop for them. Africa has so many Christians and it’s no wonder. These highways would make anyone pray. My takeaway (my metaphor) is that I am used to “driving” or at least thinking I’m in control of what happens. Being a passenger this week, I had to totally rely on the driver of our car. I didn’t know how to get where we were going and I couldn’t drive on these roads anyway. Maybe Africa is gaining Christians faster than in the U.S. because they already have the mindset needed to give your life wholly to Christ: we’re not truly in control. I can start the engine and fill it with gas, but any notion that I am really the one making things happen is delusional.
I dozed off for a while during the flight to Newark. I dreamed we were back in Murfreesboro but the toddler bed Ezra used in our hotel room was in our bedroom at home. In the dream, I woke up and saw the bed. I began to wander around the house, looking for him. I was startled awake and realized I was on a plane, wedged between a stranger and Brent. I started to cry, as silently as possible, as I dabbed my eyes and nose with a tiny beverage napkin. Hopefully, the lady next to me didn’t notice. She had her headphones on and continued to watch the tiny screen in front of her. The dream reminded me of our loss but it also reminded me of how little I can control. We could plan and pay for this trip but only God can set Ezra free and allow him to come home. God alone can change the hearts of the government officials (who, incidentally, aren’t in control, either).
So, now I circle back to the Top Hats: unimportant coincidences as insignificant as a “chasing after the wind.” Because I can’t see the whole picture, I grasp at pieces which don’t make sense. I search for reason in this frustrating predicament we find ourselves and our Congolese son in just like I looked for a significance in the appearance of those top hats. It’s as if I think I’m owed an explanation, as if it’s my right, as if I’m the one who makes things happen so I should be privy to all that’s going on. Without wanting to admit it, I think I can script this better than God. “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) If I want to stop feeling out of control, I have to voluntarily give up control to the driver who knows where and how this is all supposed end.