9 June 2018
After what felt like a never-ending flight from Amsterdam to Cape Town, the countdown on the screen in front of my airplane seat told me we had six minutes until landing. Since it was after nine o’clock at on a South African winter night, the sun had set hours before. I looked out the window to see an expanse of dotted lights below.
Cape Town spreads out forever, I thought. Having lived in a quiet American suburb for the past five years, I was surprised by how densely populated the city looked from above. I wished it were daytime so we could see the mountains and coastline, too.
It felt so different from my first ever descent into the Mother City sixteen years earlier. Has it really been sixteen years? Back then I was single and not yet twenty-one . . . This time my South African husband of fourteen years and our three children occupied the seats next to me and behind me.
Back then, my flight landed during the day and the aircraft made a full aerial tour around the Cape peninsula before landing. It took my breath away. This time I felt a blip of excitement in my stomach mixed with a healthy dose of uncertainty as to how it would feel to be back after such a long absence.
We anticipated that our South African pastor would be waiting for us in the arrivals terminal, having borrowed a minibus to cart all five of us with our seven suitcases. I wondered if his wife would be there with him, but expected that we would only see my mother-in-law about thirty minutes later when we arrived at her home, since she didn’t drive at night.
When international passengers disembark at the Cape Town airport, they immediately cross a bridge with full-length windows on both sides. To the right on the way to customs, they can see outside. To the left, they can look down on all of the people waiting to greet those who have just gotten off the plane.
As we reached the wall of windows, I looked down, scanning the crowd for our pastor. Much to my surprise, I saw a whole group of people huddled together, jumping, waving, and dancing.
They were there for us.
One held a big posterboard high over her head: “Welcome Home Motaungs.”
Five years of missing these people welled up inside me all at once, and I burst into tears. I’m not talking about blinking back a threatening tear or two . . . No, I full on bawled my eyes out.
I don’t care what I said in my book about how much I missed South African food or the beauty of Cape Town . . . One look through that window on the bridge and I knew—it’s all about the people.
In that moment, God showed me a tiny glimpse of what it will be like during that glorious and long-awaited homecoming when His people are united in glory. And it will be far beyond all we can imagine this side of heaven.
This is the first post in a series. Read Part 2 here.
Read more about my ten years in Cape Town in my memoir,
A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging.
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