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With a tip of the hat to the late singer John Denver, “I’m leaving on a jet plane.” In my case, however, I know “when I’ll be back again”: 13 April, God willing.

This morning, I am somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean heading for the United States. Jill and I will be visiting our parents along with a brief visit with our youngest daughter and son-in-law. I will conclude my trip in the States with some teaching and preaching at Bethany Community Church, pastored by our friend Daniel Bennett. We have been looking forward to this trip and yet wondering whether it would actually happen. You know, COVID-19, and all that. But here we are. My nose is probably in a book while listening to some relaxing music. And there are only thirteen more hours to go!

I used to take travel for granted. But no longer. The airport at Joburg yesterday was eerie, like a ghost town. The hustle and bustle of passengers was no longer the vibe. My, how things have changed since my last flight in March 2020. Back then, as I travelled back from Lusaka, I inwardly rolled my eyes at the mask-wearing nervous airport workers and some fellow passengers. It seemed like a lot of unnecessary hype. Little did I know. And though I still don’t know much, I do know that life has changed, radically.

I fully suspect that upon hearing we are from South Africa, some will treat us like we have the plague—literally! You know, the infamous “South African variant.” Regardless, Jill and I are grateful for the time together and for the opportunity to be with our parents. I don’t take this for granted.

I think of missionaries, after long boat rides to the land of their calling, never returning to their homeland, many never again seeing their parents in this life. Many died of strange diseases, and many of these had barely begun their ministries. I am reminded of the first missionaries in Central Africa who died of Yellow Fever shortly after arriving. And yet, knowing the risk, missionaries volunteered to go and take their place. Many of these died shortly after their arrival as well. Why would they do this? Because they loved God and therefore did not count their lives as something to protect at all cost. They emulated the words of Paul: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). What a way to live! Loving Jesus trumped loving security. Like those martyrs honoured by Jesus in the first century, these missionaries persevered against the enemy and “they … conquered … by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11).

As I contemplate these heroes of the faith, I am motivated to strive to be less self-protective and to be more faithful to my Saviour. I am pretty sure that some of the challenges of this past year will be repeated in the next twelve months. Yet I am committed to doing less grumbling and to be more grateful. I aim to be less stressful and to be more prayerful. I aim to know God better, which means I will say, “No, God,” less. In a few hours, some of this resolve will be put to the test, in little ways.

I anticipate tests such as long queues at passport control, the inclination to fret about how things are back home, aggressive non-masker conspiratorialists as we head to the southern part of the States, the temptation to spiritual slothfulness as I enjoy some downtime, as well as the possible tension arising between Jill and me as I forget and begin to drive on the left side of the road!

Nevertheless, when the jet plane brings us home next month, I trust that I will have made some progress. But you can be the judge of that (1 Timothy 4:15).

Going away, but growing with you,