Greetings from Cape Town! Yes, August was our final month of furlough and we returned to South Africa during the third week. We are glad to be back.

It seems that once folks realize we are about to leave, time speeds up and arrangements begin to bang heads! Pam and Steve Hamilton, who kindly loaned us their home near the lake, took us out to a stunning Mexican restaurant in Kendalville (IN). We enjoyed their company so much and didn’t have the words to thank them for their sacrifice. Their home provided the tranquil space we needed between our speaking dates.

It was sad to say farewell to the Neuenschwanders, too. They had loaned us their Chevy Astro van during our furlough and had done so much for the mission and for us personally.

We visited as many people as we could during the last week or two – Mrs Brokaw of the Angola Christian Church made lunch for us. She is well into her 90’s but that didn’t slow her down one bit! Pat and I wanted to visit so many more but the clock ran down. We also shared a Turkish meal at a genuine Turkish restaurant with Mark and Lynn Vernik in Dayton (OH) which was another highlight of furlough. Bob and Roberta Snyder drove us through to Detroit so we could catch a feeder flight to Chicago. We were sad to part with them.

Seeing that this furlough was short, there were churches we could not get around to during the time. Mike Regan at Aurora and I tried to weasel and squeeze a date but we couldn’t match Sundays. We also missed Battlecreek and Hillsdale in Michigan; Eastside Christian Church in Virginia; Hartford (KY) and Fayette City near Pittsburgh. All of these congregations will get first crack when the next furlough comes around. We do apologize if anyone was disappointed.

Some of you may have heard but Pat and I flew into a huge mess. Normally, we try and make a small break in whatever country we land to re-adjust our time differences and do a little sightseeing. London seemed to be a good place to do that – it is a big city and prices are cheaper than Europe. Pat was a little nervous going back there since the bombings on the underground trains. (We had been on exactly the same train that was blown apart near King’s Cross Station two months later!) But security was tight and there were bobbies patrolling everywhere. That wasn’t the problem.

Unknown to us, while we were visiting St Paul’s Cathedral and Fleet St, the British Airways catering company ran into major problems. Some of the workers had gathered outside the food processing factory and were discussing the working conditions. An irate manager came out, threatened the workers and an hour later, fired the lot – even the ones inside working, as well as those on vacation or sick leave. The union called a total strike and in sympathy, the entire ground staff of BA followed suit in a wildcat action! They simply walked off the job, leaving planeloads of people stranded on jets wanting to take off or just landed. The baggage handlers, guidance crews, drivers and gate personnel vanished leaving 8000 people stranded.

Pat and I found out passing a café with a TV blaring. We had air tickets on Friday and it looked increasingly likely that we would also be stranded. The next day, it was worse – 70,000 people worldwide stuck without flights. BA had to cancel everything in or out of Heathrow. They diverted flights to other airports in England Europe. There were jets in airports that couldn’t take off; pilots and crews who could no longer fly because of time restrictions. Passengers outside Terminal Four with no more hotel rooms or accommodation – every hotel and room had been taken! Pat and I tried to get through to see if our tickets were still valid but every phone line was jammed and the BA website had crashed, flooded with thousands of inquiries! We remained at the bedsitter in Paddington just in case and it was a good thing we did. I e-mailed Shirley Neuenschwander urgently because we quickly ran out of money. (For some reason, before we left America, I had asked Shirley for an extra $250 travel expenses, “just in case”! I never knew just how much this would be needed!)

Eventually, I had to call our travel agent in South Africa, who managed to secure another set of tickets on a Saturday flight via BA in Johannesburg but when we arrived at Terminal Four, we couldn’t enter without valid tickets because of the crush! (Our tickets were booked online.) Eventually, we managed to get into the terminal, thanks to a South African yachtsman who we discovered knew a mutual friend and inside the terminal, it was an absolute shambles. Every counter, elevator, check-in, restroom and seat was jammed. We stood in a line that seemed to stretch to Tibet waiting to check our luggage. As the time drew closer to our flight, I realized that we would miss it at the rate the line was going. That meant more delay and we’d run out of funds. But the Lord watched over us. Twice, we were suddenly pulled out of line and sent to newly opened counters. We just made the flight with minutes to spare. There were no meals serviced on the long flight south; only tea, coffee and water. But we were ecstatic!

Your prayers for our safety and wellbeing were answered. I fully believe that it was only the Lord’s intervention that we made it back when we did! Our son, Brice (Kelley) and his new wife, Louise, met us at the airport and we thankfully went home for a huge breakfast – we were starved. Even our dogs seemed delirious that we were back.

Our thanks to each and everyone who helped during our furlough. Pat and I consider it a success because of you. Everyone gave a part and the whole worked so well. And in all, we give thanks to our Lord.

Steve and Pat Zimmerman
S.A. Christian Mission, Cape Town.