A Story of Shipments

It was funny—while we were in the States on furlough this last summer, there were two occasions in which we happened to be with two other missionary families. It wasn’t planned, just happened. And on both occasions while I was passing the other two ladies in conversation, I heard them discussing shipments!

“Are you using a container?”

“How are you shipping your things?”

Apparently this is one of the first things on missionary women’s minds.

This is what you would find me doing for a few weeks in America!

This is what you would find me doing for a few weeks in America!

We have made four shipments now. Seth shipped his things as a single man, and then we shipped my things when we got married. We made another shipment after our first furlough with a toddler, and now again after our second furlough. Each time, there have been different needs—Seth’s, mine, babies’ items and things I didn’t know to bring when married since I’d never been here for a visit, and this final shipment was a lot of clothing and materials for homeschooling. So each shipment would look different for us.

If we had come over with our family right from the beginning, we might have shipped a “container.” But every time we have shipped, we have done it in a smaller way, using a crate. I recently heard of a possible way to take it all on the plane with you; but up until now, because of airline restrictions, we have shipped a crate.

The first time Seth shipped (#1), there was confusion, adventure, and eventually clarification. He didn’t know that you need a company not just to ship your items, but also to receive them and get them through customs. The next time we shipped after we got married (#2), the shipment was several weeks late, and some of our things were damaged or stolen. They blamed it on Hurricane Katrina. It was nerve-wracking. The last time (#3), I can’t remember any big problems. And this final time (#4), we were so relieved to get our shipment only a couple of weeks late, with everything in tact.

Storage tubs in my parents' garage waiting to be shipped.

Storage tubs in my parents’ garage waiting to be shipped.

The summer before our furlough, I discovered homeschooling forums on the web, and all of their accompanying “for sale” sites. The “used” prices allowed me to buy so many more great books and curriculum for my kids than if I had purchased new or off of Amazon. My parents were kind enough to receive boxes after packages after envelopes of homeschool curriculum and books for the kids. They stored them in their home for almost a year until we shipped them over here! I also frequented thrift stores and garage sales in almost any town where we stayed for more than a day all over America, and I had the chance to go to two big library sales while on furlough. It was so fun to take advantage of America’s sales! People were so kind to take me shopping, and some even donated books to our stash.

We don’t have a TV, and we really want our children to love reading and learning. Probably most missionaries wouldn’t ship as many books as we did this past shipment, but that was an area that we had decided was important to us.

Seth and I also love books! So probably more than half of our shipment was books. The rest of the shipment was clothing and shoes for the kids, church materials, some kitchen equipment (I got a Kitchen Aid! :)), and home décor.

It was a very weighty shipment! Thankfully, when you ship a crate, it is the size that matters for the bill, not the weight. So we sent most of the weighty books in the crate, and clothing on the plane. But that also presented a problem for Seth when he needed to pick up the shipment and bring it back here. Shipment #2, they drove a truck right to our door. Shipment #3, Seth went to Johannesburg to pick up the things, but they fit in our truck. This shipment exceeded our truck. Seth borrowed a trailer from a friend, but we were concerned about our old truck having trouble pulling the load.

Some of the bins were taken off before I thought to take a picture.

Some of the bins were taken off before I thought to take a picture.

Another small drama came up when the shipment arrived in port in Durban. The receiving company told us to put our signature on a couple of forms to get it through customs. But one of the forms required our signatured promise that we had not shipped any “vegetable matter” or stuff from bees. Unfortunately, we had! We shipped a huge tub of coconut oil, and two boxes of beeswax. Our hope was to use it as a church to make homemade lip balm to sell to make money for our church building.

When Seth contacted the clearing agent to discuss the form, the agent advised him to lie. “Just don’t read the forms, sign the papers, and send it back.” If we admitted that we had those items in our shipment, it might hold up our getting the items for weeks as the customs officials would probably search our entire shipment (a scary thought as far as keeping the items in tact! :(), and they might confiscate the oil and beeswax, as well as anything else they might want! Can you tell I struggle with trusting government officials over here? There is so much corruption.

Now those three items sitting in obvious view on the top of our pallet of materials were compromising our shipment! And we had bought and added them to our shipment on the very last day we actually shipped it. It was a last minute decision, and I felt terrible about it on this end. “We shouldn’t have done it!” I worried. I had had no idea that those wouldn’t be accepted in the country.

No matter your philosophy on lying and whether it is acceptable in war or to save life or whatever, I don’t think this situation fits. We couldn’t justify lying in this situation. I am so thankful that Seth didn’t lie, tempting as it was. He checked the two boxes, signed his name, and sent the form back. Later that day, the agent informed us that our shipment had been cleared, with no further problems! Oh we were so thankful that we had done the right thing! God blessed Seth for his truthfulness. And even if we had experienced problems, it still would have been right to tell the truth. God hates lying—much more than we would have hated losing our things!

Seth took a day and a half to visit church members in Johannesburg and returned with our things Thursday evening. (He also managed to make a plan to repair our piano!) He took a young man from our church with him to help keep him awake and to visit the other church members. They had so many valuable discussions together! Maybe I’ll share some of those lessons later…

The young man who went on the trip with Seth!

The young man who went on the trip with Seth!

Everything worked out beautifully:

  • The truck had no breakdowns.
  • The shipment wasn’t too heavy for the trailer.
  • Seth didn’t fall asleep while driving. (This was a definite concern!)
  • Visits with church members went wonderfully.
  • Our things got through customs and arrived to us in good condition.
  • And we even got the piano down there to be repaired!

We took time, like Noah, to thank God afterwards for bringing us safely over the sea. It is so good to have so many comforts with us here.

About Amy

I'm Amy, a missionary wife and homeschooling mother of five children, blogging about our lives and perspectives on culture in South Africa.
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7 Responses to A Story of Shipments

  1. Rachel says:

    Oh, Amy! Your encounters just trying to get in your precious and carefully chosen packages has me almost in tears… Love you guys and so glad you received your items without more delay! Hugs and love from all of us… please send the kids love to you kids they miss them and talk about them all the time!

  2. Beth says:

    That is very exciting that you have received your shipment. I think the majority of our shipment is books with toys and some kitchen things and my sewing machine. Hopefully we will see those things the beginning of the year.

  3. Yay!!! I read this, and forgot to comment! I am so glad you got it all! Must bring so many memories as you unpack it of Homeschool convention, and garage sales, and mom’s house. So much fun! We miss you! I’ll pray you get your piano soon–and safely!

  4. Pingback: Learning and Growing | Ita Vita

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