Our team’s experience the last 6 days have us asking, “who prayed for patience?” No doubt, our patience has been tested...and all in all I think we all passed the test with flying colors.
The original plan was to leave DIA (Denver) on Sunday, April 10, at 4:50pm on a Frontier flight that was to land at LAX (Los Angeles) at 6:30pm. We were then to catch an Air Pacific flight from LAX to Fiji, departing at 11:30pm. This flight was scheduled to land at 5:30am on April 12 (you “lose a day” crossing the international date line). The next flight would take us to Port Vila, Vanuatu, with a scheduled landing of 9:10am on the 12.
Instead, we woke up on Sunday morning (10th) to approximately 8" of snow…and it was still coming down. We diligently shoveled the driveway, swept off the cars, shoveled the driveway, swept off the cars, shoveled the driveway, etc, etc, etc. We packed up and finally arrived at the church building an hour late (the trip, which normally takes 40 minutes, took about an hour and a half).
We were surprised to find that about 60 people had braved the weather and also arrived safely for services. After singing, praying and remembering our Lord’s death, Wayne Burger spoke briefly about Acts 13:1-3 (Paul and Barnabas being sent out on their first missionary journey). Three of our elders then got up and spoke in regards to our being sent out. Lastly, George Robison gave the congregation’s “charge” from 2 Timothy 4:1-5. It was truly a beautiful and humbling hour of worship and service.
Once we had said our good-byes to those present, we had to put our minds to travel arrangements. Being Sunday, both our airlines’ and travel agent’s offices were closed. The only fact we knew for sure was that DIA was closed until 5:00pm. It was originally planned that we would have a nice lunch before heading to the airport, but because of the snow and ice we decided to get something quick and head to the airport. We reasoned that we would rather be at the airport and not get a flight, than have the opportunity to fly and not be there (even though ALL the media was suggesting that no one travel to the airport). After waiting in the check-in line for 2-plus hours, we made it to the desk. We already knew that the 4:50 flight to LAX had been canceled, and that a new flight had been developed for 9:15 that night. At the ticket counter we learned that all scheduled passengers had been randomly(?) reassigned to another flight. Eric, Shawnda and Mike checked in first and were confirmed on the 9:15. Aaron, Cindy and Kaela followed them, but learned that they had received confirmed seats for the April 12 flight (two days later). We begged and pleaded for them to keep our traveling party together, but to no avail. All they could do was put the Bakers on the standby list for the 9:15…they were numbers 57 and 58 on that list (the plane holds 163 total and there were over 80 people on standby).
We left our friends and family at the security check-point. THEY WERE ALL SUCH WONDERFUL HELP. We cannot imagine how we would have gotten through it all without their invaluable assistance. It was a sad good-bye, but one we were prepared to see through. The team found a spot on the floor (the place was absolutely packed with unhappy travelers) near the gate, had a bite to eat and prayed together. After some discussion and consideration, we decided it would be best for those who had the opportunity to fly to take full advantage of that opportunity. We knew that would probably result in splitting the team for a time…but none the less it seemed best. Eric, Shawnda and Mike boarded the plane at 9:00pm, and watched hopefully as standby passengers began to board. It turned out that only 30 extras were allowed to board. Aaron, Cindy and Kaela called some fellow-Christians to come a pick them up. They spent the night at Shawnda’s sister’s house in Denver. Though the other three boarded at 9:00, their plane did not take off until 11:50 (there was a LONG line at the plane de-icing pad). At that point we already knew we would miss our connection in LA. We finally arrived at 1:15am, local time. We hurriedly gathered our baggage and headed to the international terminal, hoping to find someone to talk to (we had been leaving phone messages all day…with no response). The terminal was empty except for a few maintenance workers and the cleaning staff. We called the Super 8 hotel and asked them for a room and a ride to the motel. It was really nice to have a warm shower, a soft bed, and an air conditioner.
After only 4 hours of sleep, we woke up at 7:45 to prepare to make more calls. Eric called Aaron first for an update. Aaron had been unable to contact Frontier (the line was continually busy…go figure), and was prepared to head back to the airport. Eric then called Air Pacific (the airline responsible for the getting the team from LAX to Vanuatu), hoping that they would be understanding of our situation. Truth be told, since the team did not purchase the extra trip-insurance, they could have required us to purchase tickets again. However, they had no problem rescheduling us to the Tuesday flight, which departed at 11:30pm. Eric quickly called Aaron back to inform him of the confirmation, and the Bakers headed to the airport. Aaron called back at 3:00pm to say they had confirmed seats on the 4:50 flight, Monday afternoon. Eric, Shawnda, and Mike met the Bakers at the LA airport at 6:30pm, local time. The team was back together and things were looking up!
We went back to the motel (with a one-hour detour to the wrong Super 8 . . . oops), ordered pizza, and enjoyed a great night’s sleep. We rested and prepared during the day on Tuesday, and arrived at the airport at 8:30am. We boarded the plane and arrived in Nadi, Fiji 10 hours later (5:15am, local time). We gathered our checked baggage and went to the departures terminal, expecting to be on standby on the 9:30am flight to Vanuatu. Upon arrival at the ticket counter, we learned that we were actually on standby for the 9:30PM flight (there was no AM flight). The team decided to get a motel room for the day (we were to be there over 12 hours) and the shuttle came and picked us up. Eric stayed at the airport, planning to be at the Air Pacific ticket office when it opened at 8:00am. He was able to gain confirmed seats on the 9:30pm flight (rather than standby), and joined the team back at the motel. We were all exhausted and just laid around in the room most of the day. We ventured out only for lunch at a nearby restaurant.
We arrived back at the airport at 6:30 and checked in. They certainly aren’t used to people having only a one-way ticket, which caused our check-in experience to last almost 30 minutes. Nonetheless, we made it through check in and security, ordered some supper, and waited patiently for our departure. At about 8:30pm, Randy English walked up to where we were sitting and introduced himself. He and his family are missionaries in the neighboring Pacific Island country of American Samoa. He had been Vanuatu for two weeks prior, and we had hoped to meet him there. It was wonderful to get to meet and pray with him. He and his wife have already been invaluable resources to our team’s preparation…and no doubt will continue to be in the future.
The one and a half hour flight to Vanuatu was pleasant, and we landed at 10:00pm, local time. We gathered our luggage and (barely) stuffed it all into two taxis. We arrived at the Coral Motel about 11:00 . . . our home for at least the next couple of weeks.
As we look back on the past, we see God working at every point. He brought the team together, made it possible for us to become acquainted with Vanuatu and its wonderful people, provided a wonderful sponsoring congregation, provided financial support quickly, and watched us through every step of our travel. He no doubt used many, many people to assist us. To all those who prayed, contributed financially, sent an encouraging message, joined us at our going-away parties, came to help us pack, served and loved us unendingly…please accept our wholehearted appreciation! We consider you all blessings from God. Thanks for letting Him use you!