HomePrayer UpdatesNot Quite the Slow Boat-- But Close

Not Quite the Slow Boat-- But Close

After a 3 month medical leave in the US for Jeff to have several eye surgeries, we were eager to return to our home in South Sudan in early March 2015.  This is the tale of a family of ten traveling around the world...

It used to be that missionaries took several months on the “slow boat” to get to their field of service.  Thankfully, we live in an age of rapid global transit—usually…

We arrived at the Denver airport on schedule for a Sunday evening departure.  Our 30 bags were neatly stowed in our cargo trailer, all under the allotted 50 pounds (according to our highly calibrated hand scale from Wal-Mart).  The skycaps met us at the curb and took our bags into the check in counter, where there was just a short line.  Our booking was a humanitarian fare, and we were allowed 3 bags per person, but our travel agent warned us that the agent might not see the notation, so she had prepared us.  As expected, the agent balked at the 30 bags, but we were able to refer her to “lines 38-39” of the reservation.  Somehow we ended up with 32 bags (those higher math skills are a challenge to us doctor types).  We were prepared to pay the overage, but their computer system kept displaying that we owed them for 22 bags—over $4,000!  The supervisor couldn’t solve the computer issue, so she simply let it go (she has apparently seen “Frozen”) and didn’t charge us anything.  We were grateful for the reasonableness of the agents.  It seemed that this trip was off to a smooth start…

With that saga over, we were prepared for 2 long flights, and happy not to have to manage the checked bags again until we reached Uganda.  We were free of jackets and sweaters, as the next time we would leave the airport would be in ever-warm East Africa!  We slogged our way through security with the inevitable “illegal” items that were in our kids’ suitcases unbeknownst to us (the 10 year old, freckled, strawberry blonde Olivia was the suspected terrorist this time, with a large tube of shampoo, conditioner, and cream cheese as her weapons).  Our remaining concern was the short transfer time we had in London—1 hour 50 minutes—especially as it took us 2 hours 30 minutes to make the transfer the last time.  We got the sense from the Lord to not worry about it, but we did fret about it some, as our experiences with security screening in London was obnoxious to say the least.  Upon check-in, we noticed that the departure was delayed one hour, which increased our concern even more.  They assured us, however, that the arrival time would still be the same because of favorable tail winds.  Sure enough, as we got airborne, the expected arrival time was even a bit earlier than scheduled, so we relaxed and got some rest.

Elizabeth and I awoke to the sensation that the plane was slowing and descending.  The pilot got on the radio and explained that a passenger was very sick and the plane would have to make an emergency diversion.  We were about halfway through our journey from Denver to London, about to cross the Atlantic.  They would be dumping jet fuel to allow the plane to land safely in St. John, Newfoundland, Canada—the easternmost city in North America.  He assured us that we would be back in the air shortly, after refueling.

After some time on the ground, the captain again came on the intercom to explain there was a problem with the refueling valve, but that the engineer was on his way to fix it.  After about one hour, the engineer arrived and starting working.  The pilot later came on to explain the good news that the problem was fixed, but the bad news that the crew was now near the end of their legal amount of time on duty.  If we took off, we would need to land in Ireland to change crews prior to continuing on to London.  Several minutes later, he returned to say that they couldn’t even make it to Ireland within the time limit, so we would need to overnight in Newfoundland.  We continued to sit in the plane, on the runway—now about 14 hours since we left for the 9-hour flight.  As the airline did not use this airport, they had no ground crew to manage the 300 some passengers.  We continued to sit in the plane as they tried to figure out where to put all of us.  The passengers by now were quite agitated, and tempers flared.  It was a bit scary, mostly sad, to see the stress response of people.  We noticed a man near us who was moving constantly, and talking to himself incessantly.

The children did great, and we were thankful that God kept us in peace as we tried to keep our minds staid on Him.  We disembarked and learned that we would need to collect all of our 32 checked bags.  And, it was cold there, with a foot of snow on the ground, and none of us had jackets (Winnie was in a T-shirt only!).  Thankfully, we were able to store the bags at the airport (though they were not completely secure).

We decided to embrace the delay—perhaps God was going to allow us some rest in a most unexpected place.  The airline put us up in a nice hotel, the kids went swimming, and we had some good meals.  Elizabeth found some great jackets at a thrift store, where things happened to be 50% off that day!  Most of us needed jackets for the rare times it gets cool in East Africa, and the Lord provided some great ones.  We were up the next morning at 4:30 AM, but felt refreshed.  We collected all 32 bags (nothing missing as far as we know) and rechecked them after waiting in the 300 person queue. 

The flight resumed.  Again we were seated near the man who evidently suffered from some form of schizophrenia.  His talking got louder and his movements more erratic.  We visited with some of the other passengers who were now becoming an unusual cohort of total strangers undergoing a difficult situation together.  Plans were being disrupted. 

People don’t watch how you act during good times; they watch how you deal with trials.  Near the end of the flight, a flight attendant came and knelt by Elizabeth and shared that she and her husband were getting ready to start a family, and she wanted to raise kids like ours.

“What’s your secret?” she asked.

“There is none—simply to train your children to worship the one true God,” Elizabeth replied.

“Yes, I know, I am a Christian, but what is your secret to raising your kids?”

“Only to be a worshipper of Jesus and follow Him before our children.”

We are not sure she received that—there truly is no parenting secret other than this.  Elizabeth did also refer a book to her—Shepherding a Child’s Heart.

We arrived in London on Tuesday evening (rather than the scheduled Monday morning).  We would have to overnight in London as well, and arrive to Uganda 48 hours later than expected.  The children’s new passports were quickly getting filled with unplanned entry stamps—Canada, United Kingdom, and then Uganda.  The Jordanian man with schizophrenia was again next to us at the customer service counter.  We were prompted to pray for him—such a stressful situation for anyone to deal with, much less if one has under/untreated mental illness.  We may never know the specific effects of our prayers, but effects there are.

Usually on a 9-hour flight, one barely gets acquainted with any of the other passengers.  In a bizarre sort of sociology experiment, we were with this group of people for nearly 60 hours.  The reason for the whole flight delay?  A young man tried to kill himself by taking pills and drinking alcohol.  A large, for-profit airline spent huge amounts of money to divert its flight for the sake of one passenger’s life.  How much more did our God of Mercy do by spending the blood of His Son to save our lives!

Just before we left our town in Colorado, I noticed a church sign which rung true with me—“Change is easier when you trust in an unchanging God.” Along the way, there was much time for being in God’s Word and listening to Him.  We are grateful to serve an unchanging God, one who is more concerned with His people knowing Him than a “smooth” travel experience.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 April 2015 20:12

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Share the gospel of Jesus Christ and strengthen His Church through medical care and education, discipleship, and loving the people of South Sudan as a family.

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