The final four days before the Naranjos leave us to return to their life and ministry in Ecuador. From where I am sitting here in the living room I can count 13 large suitcases. There are more in the bedrooms and downstairs—not to mention all the carry-ons and “personal” bags. I believe altogether there is something like 31 suitcases, backpacks, computer bags, diaper bags, BIG purses, and so on, for this family of eight. The house has been a series of little rabbit paths weaving through all this luggage, as well as the boxes and totes that will be stored in their van in our garage, for days.
People wonder why it takes so long for them to pack? My sister was surprised when she found out it would take them a good two weeks to get it all done. Just the sheer volume is daunting, and there is a lot of sorting and strategizing that must be done before the actual packing can begin. For instance, Laurie packs one (or more) suitcases for each person to see what they have and if there is something else (like socks or underwear) they are lacking that they must get before they go. Then Fernando goes behind and rearranges everything so that there is a mixture of everyone’s things in all the bags. If a suitcase gets lost or stolen, then, one person isn’t missing everything they have. The job is stressful—mentally, emotionally and physically.
They also have to distribute the weight evenly. There are a lot of big, heavy home school books that must go, a lot of shoes and other weighty things that must be tucked in here and there in order that the bags not exceed fifty pounds. Electronics, jewelry and other valuables (or things that might be perceived as valuable) are distributed throughout the carry-ons. They have learned by hard experience when they have lost several sentimental pieces in the past through thievery. Gifts for family members, as well as requested items they asked them to pick up for them, are enough to fill another whole suitcase or more. And then there are the things that are sorted out to go at a later date. Fernando will be coming back in May to speak at a conference with just a duffle bag, so that he can go back with two more suitcases. Some things may go down later with friends or family who go to visit them.
And why they are taking so much with them anyway? They are packing for the next three or four years, for one thing. Yes, they live in a big city with stores and even a few malls. The closest thing that they have to a WalMart, though, is an Ace Hardware store, and the stores in the malls are horrifically expensive. For instance, there is a Payless Shoe Source in their mall, but the same exact pair of shoes that would be $25 here at my local Payless, is $60 down there. The cheaper, Ecuadorian-made things don’t last at all. And to try to find something outside of a mall is an exercise in futility. The hundreds of small shops in downtown Cuenca lie in a maze of nameless streets (well, they have names but there are no street signs) and you could walk for miles just trying to find a shop that sells picture frames, for instance. (Laurie and I did just that, once.)
Laurie cannot get anything for herself down there. She is head and shoulders taller than the Ecuadorian women so they do not sell clothes, shoes, stockings, etc. in her sizes at all. She is fair while the Ecuadorians are of darker complexions, so that she cannot buy cosmetics. She knows whatever she gets here now will have to last her until she can get back to the States in a few years.
The Lord has blessed them in these last six months with an abundance of wonderful hand-me-downs for the kids, gifts and great buys at the clearance sales. It is a hassle to pack it all up, but in the long run it will save them thousands of dollars, and so it is well worth it. The logistics of getting them and all their stuff to the airport is another thing. At this moment our youth pastor is planning to drive the family to O’Hare in the church van, while Bob will drive a rented utility van to haul all the luggage. Two or three of Fernando’s family members will meet them at the other end with a rented bus to get them from Guayaquil to Cuenca (a three hour drive through the mountains.)
The packing has been interrupted constantly with last-minute shopping and errands, red-tape and bureaucracy, and a flurry of invitations to dinners and lunches and the like. They are almost done now, and I have asked them to save the last couple nights for us. The kids and I are jamming in games and jewelry-making, and I even got to bake cookies with Katie and Matthew yesterday. Tuesday night we will have a special birthday dinner for Laurie, Mandy and Robbie, whose birthdays are all coming up in February. In all that packing, they have saved room, I hope, for happy memories and all the love and encouragement we hold in our hearts for them.
I am soooooo thankful that when we take our final trip, there is no planning or sorting or packing to be done. All we need is our ticket—trusting in the shed blood of Jesus Christ for our entrance into Heaven. “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:” (I Peter 1:18, 19)
There is not a thing we will need to take for the eternity that awaits us—He will provide everything we need. “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:2, 3)
The trip will be easy, smooth and quick. “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (I Corinthians 15:52)
And instead of parting with our loved ones, we will be reunited. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” (I Thessalonians 4:16-18)
It is soooooo hard to say goodbye. If it were not for the fact that I know they are doing God’s work in exactly the place He wants them, I could not do it. As we get older we realize anew that this could be the last time we see some of our loved ones here on earth. But we will be together again “if not here, then there—or even in the air!”