A Second Journey: A Weekend Update from Two of my Team

I have been very busy working on the blog posts for the last few days, so I will allow my teammates to update you on the events of last weekend.  I took these posts (with their permission) from the Scotland RP Mission Team page on Facebook.

Saturday

We went to Sea Cliff beach with a few friends from the Airdrie RP Church, had a picnic, explored, and enjoyed a sweet time of fellowship. At this beach, we were able to look over the sea to “Scotland’s Alcatraz” – the Bass Rock – on which Covenanters were held, and some killed, for their faithfulness to Christ’s Crown and Covenant. Also, on the cliff that we were on, just north of us was Tantallon Castle – once held by Covenanters, destroyed by Cromwell. It was a great day. – Joseph Dunlap

Lord’s Day

Hello again! This Sunday the Mission team travelled to Glasgow by way of blue minibus for worship. The Rev. Kenneth Stewart exhorted on Psalm 23, reminding us that Christ is the great, good, and true Shepherd for those who are His. He was also introducing the Psalm for follow up in the evening. After tea and biscuits with the congregation, we made our way to the Gillies’ house for lunch. The afternoon was filled with delicious food (the puddings were amazing!), petting the family dogs, and Psalm singing. In the evening we headed back to the church for evening worship where Rev. Stewart preached over Psalm 23 urging us to hear and follow our Shepherd for He truly satisfies all our needs and leads us for His glory. After the service the congregation was invited to more tea and a Q. & A. with the Mission team. We were able to share what we’ve been doing over the past weeks in the community and also thank the congregation for their hospitality and prayers. We know that we have not gone on our own to share our testimonies and spread leaflets, and we are thankful.

Alissa Terpstra

A Second Journey: Why I’m Missing my Little One with Wings, Part II

Totaled, it was a solid cumulative three hours on the phone over about six hours in all, and I was beyond frustrated by the end.  Wednesday morning, we had received a response from the Scottish department of agriculture, and we exchanged further emails over the next few hours.  Our correspondence soon revealed two things:

1. Guide dogs are allowed to fly into Glasgow through other airlines, only US Airways lacked some approval or did not themselves approve it.  I haven’t quite figured out what the issue specifically is with that. Either way, there is no Scottish or EU regulation saying guide dogs cannot travel through Glasgow airport, and he did say that one could fly through Edinburgh on US Air, so clearly most of the US Airways people I spoke to were wrong about that.

2. I sent him Oleta’s paperwork electronically to make sure that everything was in order for her to enter the country the next morning.  To my horror, he emailed back saying Oleta’s tape worm treatment was no longer valid, because of the visa delay, and getting a new treatment that day with a doctor’s note would not be sufficient.  Not only did the tape worm treatment have to be within 72 hours of arrival in the UK, it also could not be within 24 hours of it.  We would have to get another treatment, schedule an appointment with the vet to complete a fresh set of paperwork, drive 8 hours to Richmond and back to have it restamped by the department of agriculture, oh, and reschedule my flights… again.  That was impossible… all of it, for so many reasons, and I knew it.  As soon as my Dad read the email to me, I burst into tears and tried to keep myself together long enough to make some phone calls to my guide dog school.  I needed somewhere for Oleta to stay for 4 weeks, and I hated it, but it had to be done.  I wasn’t together at all.  I sobbed my way through the various necessary conversations, then majorly broke down on my floor for a while.  I basically didn’t stop crying until I fell asleep on the plane that night, alone, without Oleta by my feet for the first time in four years.  I have never had such a distressed slumber, and I haven’t slept well since.

So there you have it.  My best friend/soul mate/partner in completely legal activities has been forced from my side.  I want to continue with a discussion on the legalities and a better system of international travel for guide dog users, but after another hour of crying (the first since arrival surprisingly), I don’t have the energy.  Make your own judgements, and if it frustrates you as much as it does me, share this (and the previous) post.

Until then, I know that God is providing for us even now, with a loving family and a Guiding Eyes puppy raiser to care for my Little One with Wings in the best way possible while I’m away.  For me, He has provided purpose in our missions work here in Scotland, reunion with precious friends, and a team of some of the most compassionate and generous individuals there are.  Thank you Lord for your comfort in these difficult days.

A Second Journey: Why I’m Missing my Little One with Wings, Part I

If you thought Friday was a fiasco, it was nothing compared to Tuesday.  The day dawned with the thrilling hope that I would be leaving for Scotland the following day.  I spent the morning reading and starting to touch up my previous week’s packing job.  After a long conversation with my big sister in the afternoon, I got an email from US Airways saying there was a problem with my service dog traveling with me to Scotland.  The email didn’t shock me exactly; Oleta and I have experienced plenty situations in which there was misunderstanding or down right ignorance where our partnership is concerned, and certainly the legalities that surround guide and service animals.  If you are not aware, in the United States, guide dogs are legally protected to enter any public area with their handler, including restaurants, stores, schools, museums, hospitals, public transportation, etc etc.  Refusal to allow a guide dog team into any such area is considered a federal offense.  You can read more about that here.

http://nagdu.org/laws/usa/usa.html

Keep that in mind as we move forward.

I realized I had also missed a call from US Airways, and found a voice mail that said basically the same thing as the email.  Resigned, but only a tad worried, I called the US Airways number and talked to a customer service agent.  They clearly were not very educated on the topic, as they began spouting things about vaccines, blood tests, and quarantine.  I pointed out that I knew perfectly well what the regulations were regarding guide dogs entering the UK, that I had done this twice before, and that I had the necessary paperwork.  Was there some other problem?  I thought about hanging up right there, but I was afraid there was some legitimate issue that I would need to sort out before our departure tomorrow.  If I wrote them off now, it’s possible I’d arrive at the airport Wednesday evening and they would not allow us to travel.  As far as I remember, the customer service agent then proceeded to read something about how pets had to enter the UK through London Heathrow.  I made it clear that she is NOT a pet, and those regulations, if they are directed toward pets, should not apply to her.  They then claimed that the policy specifically says that service dogs also have to comply with this directive.

This was strange.  Everything I had read on the UK and Scottish government websites had seemed to say that guide dogs were exempt from traveling on prior approved routes.  What is more, I flew US Airways through Edinburgh last year without an issue.  This left several possibilities:

1. The customer service agent was woefully ignorant and this was a case of discrimination/misunderstanding.

2. The customer service agent was correct and this was a legitimate UK or EU law that we could do nothing about.

3. The customer service agent was correct and this was a discriminatory US Airways policy that probably should be illegal under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

I was fairly sure that number two could not be true, considering three factors:

A. I traveled through Edinburgh May of 2014 with Oleta with no problem whatsoever.

B. I remembered reading headlines several years ago about the UK putting through legislation to allow guide dogs on all airlines and through all airports.  I wasn’t sure that legislation applied to international travel, but if it did, it seemed unlikely that they would have changed those laws so soon after.

C. All of the UK/Scottish websites that I had read seemed to indicate the opposite.

Number 1, on the other hand, seemed highly plausible, so I tackled that one first by asking to speak with a manager.

She was even more unhelpful, if that was possible.  She merely emphasized her underling’s claims, complete with the clear lack of understanding about the UK pet travel scheme and the specifics on legal guide dog protection.  In response to my inquiries about why I could travel through Edinburgh last year, she said that their policy changed in October of 2014.  When I asked whose policy, she claimed that it was a change initiated by the EU.  Back to square one.  If she was right, that meant number 2 could still be a thing.

She became irate when I told her I thought she was mistaken and asked to speak with another manager.

“This is not a matter of my competence in my job, Ma’am.” She insisted angrily, “This is a matter of you refusing to understand what I am telling you because you don’t want to hear it.  If you are not going to listen to what I am saying then we might as well end this call right now.”

Okay, I thought, so you’ve got an attitude.  That’s exactly why I need to speak to someone else.  Finally, she transferred my call and I was able to converse with a slightly more rational human being in Phoenix, AZ.

I didn’t get much further with him, except to discover that it was a US Airways policy, not an EU regulation.  Still, he said I would have to fly through London Heathrow and offered to change my flights.  I told him I would not pay for a flight change, as the information regarding my guide dog had been on my reservations since May 1st, and we had heard nothing of this until the day before my departure.  He said it wouldn’t be fair for me to have to pay “out of pocket”, which sounded unconvincing, so I said I’d call back after I sorted some things out.  A bit of online research on the legalities of all this, a few emails to the department of agriculture in Scotland and England, three or four more phone calls, a stern conversation with one of the customer service agents about the ADA and the possibility of a law suit, and a FREE flight change later, I hung up under the impression that I would be able to travel to Scotland (via London) with Oleta the next evening.  How wrong I was.

A Second Journey: Congressmen, Consulates, and Changing Plans

Alert: This is quite a long post.  Also, Please forgive my rather scattered writing style… especially near the end.  I can’t seem to properly communicate exactly what I would like to, but hopefully my feeble words will do some justice to the concept of what I’m trying to say, if not every detail.

No, unfortunately I am not writing to tell you that I have arrived safely in the land of the Scots.  Despite the email I received Tuesday morning informing me that my visa would be sent out within 24 hours (which would mean that I should have received it Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday at the very latest), it never showed up, and I spent all of Friday afternoon trying to figure out where on Earth it was and how I could get it.  Thanks to the advice of my clever aunt, I was able to get in contact with the consulate through my congressman, or rather through my congressman’s case manager that deals with this sort of situation.  (I know, isn’t my aunt awesome?  How did she even know that was a thing?)

So, we chatted, I explained the circumstances, he sent me a form to sign, I replied with the signed document and further explanation, and he passed it along to the consulate.  Their first response, which he forwarded to me, was extremely disheartening.  My visa had not yet even been dispatched, and they could not be certain when it might be—probably sometime in the next week.  Alarmed, I sent two more emails of a rather more urgent nature.  By this time, it was getting quite late and we had been forced to call US Airways and reschedule my flight.  Unsure when my visa would come, we chose the latest departure date possible within the confines of Oleta’s valid paperwork, Wednesday the 27th.  With two day priority shipping, my visa would need to be sent out THAT FRIDAY to arrive on time, since Monday was memorial day.  I couldn’t help imagining a repeat of the last three days, checking the mail over and over only to discover Wednesday that it hadn’t arrived, and be forced to cancel the trip all together.

To my great relief though, shortly before 7 Pm that night, my congressman’s case manager replied saying my visa had now been placed in the mail, and Saturday, I got a text from my Dad saying we’d received it already!  Praise God!

Needless to say, Friday was a bit emotionally taxing.  I spent most of it worrying, and the rest of it praying.  I was frustrated with myself—if only I had done something different, surely I could have avoided this situation.  For much of the day, I was utterly uncertain what to do, and it made absolutely no sense to me that not getting my visa and missing my flight could possibly be part of God’s plan.  I knew that I should have faith, but suddenly I wasn’t so sure I knew what that meant.  I don’t mean faith in Christ’s salvation, or in the person of God, but small scale faith, the every day sort of faith.

Was having faith being positive of a certain desirable outcome based on belief in God, or was it trusting that any outcome was under God’s control, whether seemingly desirable or not?  I searched for an answer in God’s word, and found these verses.

Romans 10:17 – So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Okay, I thought, so I’m doing the right thing by reading the Bible at least.

Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

If it was impossible to please God without faith, that must mean He desires his  servants to have faith in Him in all situations, no matter what the outcome.

Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

And the outcome isn’t always what I might expect.  If I am not to “lean on my own understanding”, then my idea of an ideal situation won’t always match with God’s.  If I am to acknowledge Him in all my ways, trust, not resignation, is what is required for every happenstance, whether apparently positive or negative.  No matter what the outcome, He will make straight my path, which means that I must have faith that He has a plan, and that His plan is good.

It sounds trivial and ridiculous now.  Of course I knew these things, and yet, in that moment, I didn’t, and that’s all that seemed to matter.  I realize now that however many times I have come into contact with the meaning of everyday faith, however many times God has revealed to me His faithfulness, it has often been after the fact.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t been a Christian a very long time, but I was so used to looking at situations in retrospect.  Of course, God had a plan for my blindness, for every family drama, for every one of my sins and mess ups.  With years or months or weeks to separate me from any such event, it’s easy to see his hand at work.  It’s harder to recognize in the midst of it all.  I’ve always known that, but now I think I’m starting to truly understand.

so of course, He has a plan  now, and maybe part of it is teaching me to rely more on Him.  Whatever it is, I’m thankful.  I will be leaving for Scotland tomorrow, and can’t wait to discover what other things He has in store for me to learn there.

Scotland Trip: The First Week

If you think I fell off the face of the Earth, you would be right, because Scotland is out of this world!

Okay, so bad joke aside, it really is lovely here—I have met so, so many great people, and been some really beautiful and fascinating places.  Still, contrary to my assertion in my opening statement, Scotland is a REAL place, with REAL problems, especially spiritual ones.  When you’re tucked away in normal life in semi-rural America, it’s easy to think of foreign countries like Scotland as somehow separate from the everyday human experience, a far away land of music, legends and fairy tails: bagpipes, harps, fiddles, and selkies.  Of course, it isn’t.  The reality is that Scotland, like us in America, and like the rest of the world, is full of broken, God-Hating individuals that need reconciliation with their creator, which can only be found in Jesus Christ.  So, that said…

Our first Monday and Tuesday here were designated to our reformation tour through Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, getting to know the sights and history of the Scottish protestant reformation.  Until I can get all the details, suffice it to say that it was a dark and bloody time, and nearly all of the stories we heard involved imprisonment, torture, hanging, shooting, decapitating, disemboweling, burning at the stake, etc, on some level.  I liked both cities greatly, though they are very different.  Saint Andrews, with a population of only around 18,000, is really more of a town, especially when university students are on break for the summer.  It is known to many as the home of golf, and is famous for a movie, “Chariots of Fire”, that filmed a race on a stretch of it’s sandy seashore.  In classic touristy fashion, a couple members of our group ran the beech, singing the theme all the way.  In classic Shea fashion, I knew nothing about this movie, and so spent the time restraining Oleta from going after other dogs on the beech, or rolling in the sand, or dashing into the ocean and dragging me with her.  It was a delightful day to be on the beech.  Despite the chilly breeze that came off the water, the sun was bright and warm, and I didn’t exactly blame Oleta for wanting to go for a swim.

Edinburgh, on the other hand, is a thriving metropolis of nearly 500 thousand.  It feels much more like New York or Nashville, always bustling with plenty pedestrians and vehicles, full of shops and restaurants and tourist traps, and complete even with street performers, from drummers to fiddlers to bagpipers in kilts.  Edinburgh is actually built on and around several dormant volcanoes, which we were able to see quite clearly from the top of the Edinburgh castle, which I will detail in a later post. 

So, needless to say, those two days were awesome—a wonderful opportunity to get to know Scotland a bit better, and to get acquainted with our new family here in Airdrie.  We also got to taste two of Scotland’s most famous, or possibly infamous, foods: haggis and IRN – Bru.  The latter we tasted on the beech in Saint Andrews, curtesy of one of our newfound friends, who will remain nameless for curtesy’s sake.  Anyway, it is an orange, or so I am told, fizzy drink, soda rather, that to my American taste buds tastes just like bubble gum in liquid form, which is why I’m also convinced that it’s pink, not orange.  Either way, it’s basically pure sugar.  I think an entire bottle might kill me, but maybe I’ll try it before I leave.  What’s life without a little risk?

We tried haggis at a restaurant in Edinburgh Tuesday afternoon.  I wasn’t too sure I wanted to try it, but Patrick was already passing over a fork full before I could decline.  Much to my surprise, it was actually quite good, sort of like a sausage, but mushier.  I’m not sure if that made it sound appetizing, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Tuesday night we attended our first MET (mutual encouragement time), which is essentially a bible study.  They have been studying Esther, and were on the middle section where Haman is planning for Mordecai, and the Jews’, demise, and his plans are foiled when the King, seemingly by chance, recognizes that Mordecai once saved the King’s life, and deserves to be honored.  It was a fascinating discussion, and a true testament to the way God can use even the littlest things in our lives to carry out his plans.

We spent Wednesday mostly at the church, discussing the upcoming schedule, starting preparations for school presentations the following week, reading a book by Donald Whitney called, “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life”, which has proved incredibly edifying, and attending a second MET.  Thursday and Friday followed in much the same fashion, with a third MET on Thursday.   Friday evening we participated in Kids club, ages 3-10.  The children played games, had a snack, and I read them a story about Jesus, and his interaction with children, the point being that Jesus desires a relationship with all of us, whether young or old, and that we are to depend on God like children depend on their parents.  We had a short discussion, then they cut out and colored paper dolls, that represented the children listening to Jesus.  The kids were rowdy, but adorable, and for the most part LOVED Oleta.  I think they may be asking their poor parents for a dog for weeks to come.  Last night, at one of the METs, someone from the congregation told me that a little boy said to her the other day, “Is the lady with the dog ever coming back to the church?”

“I don’t know.” she answered, “Why? Did you like her?  Do you want to see her again?”

“No.” he replied, “I just want to see the dog.”

The nature of being a guide dog user I’m afraid… constantly overlooked in favor of the dog.  Ah well… keeps me humble.  Haha.

Friday night we also attended the CY (covenant youth) meeting, where we gave our testimonies and hung out with the young people for a while.  Thankfully no one got injured this time, and by that I mean, no one threw mobile phones at my head. 🙂

Saturday began leaflet distribution in Edinburgh.  That is an entire adventure unto itself, so I will pick up there in the next post.  I am glad to have finally caught somewhat up with y’all!  There is still last week to recount, but here’s to more frequent updates in the future!

 

Scotland Trip: GOd Can Speak Through Bagpipes… Who Knew!

I am currently sitting in the window of my hostess, Beth’s house, as the sun is out and feels so lovely after the damp chill of the outdoors earlier.  Today has mostly been cold and rainy, as many days are here I suppose.  Still, I enjoy the crisp air.  It reminds me of fall.

So yes, after a lot of hassle and stress, we arrived yesterday at around 9:30 Am, Scotland time.  There were many moments Friday night when I thought I might not be here today after all, what with terrible traffic, ratchet rest stops, packed parking lots, clueless airport check in agents, and of course the constant fear that they might reject Oleta’s paperwork for some obscure reason, I was a little worried, but we did get there in the end, and I knew we would.  On the way to the airport, and as I went through the checking in, security routine, I was sick with nervousness, for several reasons, but through all of it I had the underlying sense that no matter what went wrong, this was God’s plan, and he would redeem every situation for his purposes.  With that knowledge, I tried to calm down, though I still couldn’t bring myself to b excited exactly.

That is, until we reached the gate, where we were greeted with this:

[audio http://vocaroo.com/i/s0l5ciLqLb8x]

And it finally hit me.  The music was in celebration of the fact that this was the first direct flight from Philladelphia to Edinburgh, offering the passengers and flight crew an early welcome to Scotland, but to me, it felt like a welcome from GOd.  I heard his voice in it, rejoicing in this new experience in my life, and the way it has and will continue to draw me closer to him, assuring me of his blessed sovereignty through everything.  I needed assurance, and encouragement, and He knew there was no better way to provide those things to me than through music.  He is so awesome!

With that boost of confidence, my anxiety melted away, and I felt much more secure hugging my Dad goodbye and taking my seat on the plane.  As we taxied onto the runway, I marveled at God’s providence, the way He had brought me here despite all of my stumblings and lack of trust, and how incredible it was that our All-powerful, All-loving God would choose to work through me, through any human, to achieve his purposes.  God is, as I said, all powerful.  He doesn’t really need us to do anything, but He loves us, and wants us to participate in His perfect plan, even if we do mess up and make things more complicated sometimes.  That is also awesome! 

In that moment too, I realized that this trip will change my life.  In what ways, I don’t know, but I know that I will return to the States different, with new purpose and fresh direction.  I hope others will be changed by it also.

So, after a 40 minute delay due to air traffic, we took off, and were in the air, headed to the Scottish city of Edinburgh.  They served dinner, and I ate half of my hard tack roll, and a bit of my oatmeal raisin cookie, but left the chicken and very sad salad alone.  I couldn’t eat much, partly because I was still full from dinner, which probably hasn’t ever happened before in my life, and mostly because I was too occupied to be hungry.

After dinner, I curled up with my airline pillow and blanket and tried to sleep.  About 2 and a half hours later, I awoke to the sound of the speaker, as a flight attendant announced breakfast.  Groggily, I accepted orange juice and a cynamin muffin from the stewardess, and checked my clock to see that it was about 3:30 in the morning Maryland time.  I guess it was Maryland time… who knows.

An hour on, and we were touching down onto the runway of the Turnhouse airport in Edinburgh.  I could not believe it!  We were in Scotland!

Oleta and I disemBARKED (haha, get it?), and found our way to the immigration people.  They asked only a few questions, stamped my passport, and I settled down with a friendly airport employee, Fiona, I seem to remember, to wait for the department of agriculture person to come check Oleta’s paperwork.  After an hour of friendly conversation and confused phone calls, someone called to inform us that we had to go to another room to have her checked, so, huffing and puffing on my behalf, an entire entourage of employees escorted me to the room in question, and got Oleta processed and verified.  Finally, Fiona, Oleta, and I headed out to the luggage area, and found my team leader and our host church’s secretary waiting for us there.

I am cursed with being a very detailed writer. It is late, again, and I shall have to complete this account tomorrow.  I will try to make my posts a bit briefer in the future.

Right then.  Good night.