Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.
When I was returning to the United States from my trip to Colombia back in 2009, the itinerary was to fly out of Barranquilla for Panama City, and from there to Houston, and then on to my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. The fog was so heavy in Barranquilla the morning I left that my flight was 45 minutes late taking off. I arrived in Panama City with just 5 minutes until my connecting flight was scheduled to take off. Anyone who has ever experienced the joys of traveling by plane knows that 5 minutes is not enough time to get off one plane and go to another gate perhaps a quarter mile away to get on your connecting flight. Even if it were, it would be a futile attempt as the tarmac usually closes approximately 15 minutes before takeoff. Needless to say, I was stuck in Panama City and although I refused to admit it, I knew in my heart as I raced to the terminal where my connecting flight houston that I would never make it on the plane.
I was not the only person on that flight out of Barranquilla whose itinerary was to fly to Houston out of Panama. There were two older women, sisters who grew up in Colombia. There was a young man about my age who had also spent his childhood in Colombia. There was a native of Ecuador who had moved to Seattle, and a college age girl who was visiting a Colombian friend. The college age girl and myself were the only two out of the six of us who spoke no Spanish. Since we were all in the same boat, we decided to stick together as much as we could. I found this to be very helpful and I can imagine the other girl who spoke no spanish would concur!
The two sisters had done an extensive amount of traveling, so they took it upon themselves to seek out representatives of this particular airline and demand that we all be taken care of while we were grounded in Panama. The representatives agreed to give us several hundred dollars worth of food and lodging vouchers. We took great advantage of the vouchers given to us and went out to eat at one of the airline restaurants. Since we were grounded at the airport for several hours at a minimum, we took the time to get to know each other and what we had visited Colombia for. Everyone took great interest in hearing about my trip to Colombia for a short term mission stay. An open door to preach the gospel!
As the day wore on, a representative from the airline set each person in our little group with a new itinerary to reach their destination. When they got to me however, all I received was bad news. My luggage had been left in Barranquilla and it would have to reach Houston on a different flight than the one I would be taking. This was very discouraging. Being epileptic, I take great care in making sure I always have medication with me when i am gone for a long time. When I travel by plane, I have learned to put at least a week's worth of medication in my carry on bag. so I had enough medication to last me a week as well as a change of clothes and some deodorant. I was told by the representative that I would be given some vouchers for a hotel and food for the night, so I did not need to worry about what i would do for food or where to sleep. But because I was never given any vouchers despite repeated attempts I did worry!
Finally around 9 or 10 at night, an employee told me they were ready to give me some vouchers and take me to a hotel for the night. As I was escorted out of the airport, no vouchers were handed to me still. I gave up, walked out of the airport and approached a cab driver to see if he knew of a way to help my situation. I tried explaining to him that i had no vouchers or money. That did not deter him; his response to me was : "that OK." I should have known that his English was worse than my Spanish but I just wanted to get out of there.
When we got to the hotel, there was a man working behind the front desk who the cab driver seemed to know fairly well. From what I gathered, the cabbie was explaining my situation to the hotel clerk. But then to my dismay, the hotel clerk told me how much they charge and asked me if I would like to pay with cash or credit. ARRGH! now i was really frustrated, but I tried to contain myself and slowly explained to the clerk and the cabbie that I had no money or vouchers. I noticed the cab driver's reaction was much like mine: he sighed and shook his head. "He understands me now, why didnt he understand me at the airport?" I thought. I was able to work out a deal and told the hotel clerk that I did have an emergency credit card on me that I could use. The clerk informed me that he would write up a receipt and I could present the receipt to a airline rep in the morning to receive a refund. Everyone was happy again.
As I was getting ready for bed, I thought about my horrible luck and all the things that had happened to me in that single day. I started to fear about what could happen in the next 24 hours. What if I got robbed, or missed my flight? Would I have to stay another night in Panama and be forced to pay once again out of my own pocket? To be honest, I felt like crying. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the verse Joshua 1:9 came to the front of my mind. I thought about the positive side of the command to be strong and courageous. I thought about the negative side of the command to not be frightened or dismayed. I thought about how the LORD was with me the entire time in Panama and how all things work together for good. I realized I had a bad attitude when I was reviewing the day's events. I repented of my doubt and lack of faith and confessed my sin of unbelief before the God. I decided to review them again, but with these truths in mind that everything works together for good for those that love the Lord, and that God is with His children wherever they go, in whatever circumstance they find themselves in. Now I began to realize that this horrible day was for the glory of God. Everything that happened was for the purpose of teaching me something. For example, when the plane leaving Barranquilla was delayed from taking off because of the fog, I had to learn patience because as I would soon find out, that day would turn out to be the longest day of my life. Throughout the day, I was frustrated with the language barrier and my inability to effectively communicate with any of the representatives. I had to learn to be patient with other people who are just doing their job. I realized that I was given the oppurtunity to witness to five people during my time at the Panama airport; I had to learn to look for oppurtunities to spread the gospel.
When I arrived at the airport the following morning I took the receipt the hotel clerk had given me and presented it to a represenatative like he advised. It took almost a half-hour for them to give me a refund, but when they did, I started to feel better. Instead of flying straight to Houston, I was re-routed to fly to Mexico City and then to Houston. When I arrived in Mexico City, I went straight to an airline official to talk to them about my luggage. Unfortunately, my luggage was just then reaching Panama even though it had a full day to catch up with me. With a renewed frame of mind, I did not let this discourage me. My face set like a flint, I continued on towards Houston.
I weighed my options when I arrived in Houston as to whether or not I wanted to check and see if my luggage had caught up with me. Given the amount of time I had until I had to board my final flight, I made the risky decision to leave Houston without checking to see if my luggage arrived. I especially felt the weight of the decision I was making when I got to the checkpoint and a security guard asked me where my luggage was at. "It's not with me... it's on another flight." I stammered. The security guard looked at me like I was crazy and waved me along. So I flew from Houston to Omaha with only my carry-on bag, believing that God would eventually in good faith deliver my luggage to Omaha in His own time. I arrived in Omaha pretty late, around 11:30 at night. I was exhausted and did not feel like looking for my bag. But I felt that if God was faithful to bring my luggage and I did not bother to at least check, then I would not be faithful to Him and not fully believing on Him. I went to the conveyor belt where your luggage is put on to be picked up and patiently waited for it to appear as other people picked up their bags with no anticipation. After a while, I decided I might as well go to the customer service desk and let them know my luggage had not made it yet. They were closed, which was a good thing, because as I was walking back towards the baggage claims area, I saw my luggage sitting on the conveyor belt directly behind the one that I was originally searching for my bag at. It had been a long 36+ hours but I learned many things about myself. Looking back in hindsight, I realize now that the time I spent in Panama City was one of the most awesome adventures I will probably ever have. If I were given the chance to go back in time and do things differently, I think I would probably decline.