“Jerry Lout, right?”

The accent, which I would later recognize as New Zealander, came from beyond a short railing. John Maxwell’s hand, its firm grip on a paper, pressed forward past the barrier and into Nairobi airport’s arrivals section. Labeled Immigration, it was the sector where passports, visas and such are green-lighted or rejected.

The paper being handed me was important. My Work Permit, the document required for our long-term stay in Kenya. The Permit had been signed just recently, an inky stamp-print marking approval. Good for four years. Happy to meet a welcoming presence to the continent, I took the paper from our new colleague, nodding my thanks.

Our plane had touched down minutes earlier, having traversed the Mediterranean Sea north-to-south and a long air path over the Sahara Desert.

Mile-high Embakasi Airport was just a short distance beyond the Nairobi Game Park, popular tourist attraction at the east edge of Kenya’s Capital City. The town’s name, Nairobi, was formed from a Maasai phrase meaning “cool water”. Six years would pass before Embakasi’s rechristening, paying homage to this nation’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

“Well, this is good!”, John’s wife announced cheerily, flashing a smile. “Seems your luggage all made it with you fine.” Jenny’s two pre-school boys bustled close by. Noting Ann’s larger-than-life midsection one asked, “Mummy, will Auntie have her baby now?”

Though wearied from travel, Ann felt lifted by the young mother’s warmth, “Let’s get you where you can relax a bit, shall we?” Jenny was Nairobi born-and-raised, and as comfortably at home in Africa as any expatriate we would come to know. From the outset our households, the Maxwells and Louts, had begun a bond.

Another person drew near – a lady graying a little around the temples, but vibrant. “Welcome, Kiddos.” The American accent stirred a good feeling somewhere inside us.

If what were needed for a pair of green missionary-hopefuls landing on the continent was a matronly, plucky veteran of Africa’s bush-country, Eva Butler fit the role. Single-mom. Servant to Kenya’s more remote peoples and cultures. Being in her company, Ann and I sensed a measure of awe. Then my mood shifted and I nearly chuckled, recalling an uncommon meeting in a small college chapel not that long ago. . . “So this is the man with the black heart!”

My wife and I smiled as, in turn, we took Eva Butler’s hand – sister to the snowy-haired, twinkly-eyed Elim President. Carlton Spencer.

In a few days I would visit one of those remote regions Eva called home. And have a taste of raw fear.

©2017 Jerry Lout

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