As we gathered at 6am on Friday, July 13th, 2012 in the parking lot of First UMC, Lufkin, Texas, Connie, one of our team members, tied leather bracelets inscribed with the word “faith” on each of us. We were excited and eagerly anticipating our Haiti adventure as we drove to Houston to catch our flight to Miami then Port au Prince. Little did we know how much those bracelets would signify truth to us over the next 36 hours!
Storms in Houston delayed our flight and we missed our connection in Miami by 10 minutes. We were told we could possibly fly “stand by” the next morning at 7am. With 9 on the team (7 women and 2 men), the chance that we would fly together was slim. The next “for sure” flight was a week away – the day before we were scheduled to return. Immediately, each team member began searching for alternate routes. We found a flight to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic for that night. We were told by phone that for an extra $94 half of us could fly at 7pm and the other half at 9pm. But, then, other team members were at the American Airlines counter. The woman at the counter overheard the conversation and announced, “I have all 9 of you booked tonight on the 9pm flight with no extra charge”. Enter: Angel #1. We headed to eat, unaware of what we would still face. It had never occurred to any of us to return home. We were determined to get to Haiti!
As I made my way to my seat, I “just happened” to be seated next to Monique and Henry. Enter: Angels 2 and 3! Monique was a Canadian and Henry was from Bogata, Columbia. They were traveling together to the D. R. for vacation. I told them of our plight and our plan – to simply sleep in the airport and then, catch the bus across to Haiti. She looked at me funny and said “I’m pretty sure that they close the airport at midnight.” Then, she pulled out all of her travel information, including hotels. They would be staying in Boca Chica, a beach town outside of Santo Domingo.
We arrived at midnight and we were the last flight in for the evening. And, she was right: they were closing the airport and putting us out on the street. Not one of our team members knew Spanish. We were clearly at the mercy of God! Monique and Henry walked us through customs, got us in taxis, and took us to their hotel. Monique pleaded on our behalf for rooms. They had no rooms available but the manager called another villa and made arrangements for us. It was not far and so we wanted to walk. They all shouted “No, it’s very dangerous!” Another cab was called and he took us in two shifts to our next villa. Enter: Angel #4. Ernesto, the new cab driver, “just happened” to speak English and he agreed to pick us up the next morning and take us to the bus station in Santo Domingo.
It was now 3am and we were exhausted! We got 3 rooms for the 9 of us. “Air” was extra, so we slept with the doors and windows open and our bags exposed. Some of us even slept on the roof where it was cooler. After coming home, a woman whose husband had worked for Continental airlines for many years told me that he ALWAYS had an armed guard outside of his room when he traveled to this area of the world. I laughed and said “We did have armed guards; you just couldn’t see them!” Enter: Legions of angels!
With 2 hours of sleep, Ernesto picked us up at 6am, took us to the bus station, bought our tickets, and made sure we were safely on board on the 8am bus before he left. It was about an 8 hour drive across the Dominican to Port au Prince. The border was rustic at best. The bus attendant took all of our passports, told us where to get in line, got us back safely on the bus. This happened twice, at both border stations! Another angel.
When we arrived in Port au Prince, we still had to change buses and then wait for the Methodist Guest House transportation. We arrived safely about 24 hours later than scheduled. Only then, did we take pause and say “What just happened?” Not one of us ever said “What are we doing?” We were never afraid but, instead, simply walked by faith. And now, when we look back, we know God orchestrated each of our steps! Each “angel” was placed in our path and arrived at just the “right time”.
The rest of our trip still had adventures, too, including thunderstorms, lightning and lack of materials. When we returned, everyone asked, “What did you do?” It’s such a human question. We are interested in accomplishments, results, success, etc. But, God is interested in the process because He already knows the results! I can’t tell you what we “did.” But, I can tell you what God did. He guided, He provided, He strengthened, He equipped.
How fitting that at the end of our trip at the Port au Prince airport, we joined in a “flash mob” with other mission teams from all over the world, singing “Our God is an Awesome God!” He calls us to be faithful and obedient and He will take care of the results. And, when we do, we discover that life with Him is an adventure because He is an Awesome God.
Marty Sholars, First UMC Lufkin team member to Haiti