As journeys go, ours had its share of highs and lows. Our departure from Columbus, Ohio on Valentine’s Day was anything but lovely, but what would a good world traveling story be without at least a few snafus?! We were to depart at 1:15 pm and although we watched the forecast carefully and knew there was a chance of snow that afternoon, we had little concern that it would cause any trouble for our take-off. With the help of our family from Mount Vernon we successfully loaded, unloaded and checked all ten of our bags without a hitch. We had a leisurely lunch together at the airport food court and then said our (sad) goodbyes. We were set to get through security with a good 45 minutes to spare and aside from Katherine’s pat-down because of the child’s apple juice that exceeded the 3 ounce limit, all was well and we made it to our gate in plenty of time.
We watched out the huge windows that looked directly onto the runway and our hearts sank as our previously on-time flight was just now being delayed due to the sudden closure of the airport. The fiercely blowing snow made visibility poor and no flights could take off. We were discouraged, but still maintained hope as we knew we had a couple of hours in Minneapolis before our flight to Anchorage. We waited and waited. With two well-behaved (but soon to be very antsy) boys. After what became a two-hour delay, we knew that we most certainly would not make our connection and Ben stood in line to find out our options. The desk attendant made it a point to mention that if we could not be re-booked on another flight that day, then we’d be sleeping in the Minneapolis airport as there were no hotel rooms available. This seemed odd to me at the time. Really? There were no vacant hotel rooms in the entire city of Minneapolis? Anyway, perhaps it put a fire under us to get our plans worked out quickly. As Katherine was texting back and forth to her Mom and through the power of social networking we discovered that if we needed it, we would have an empty condo to stay in just 15 minutes from the Minneapolis airport! Our dear friend Johanna has a brother who lives there and his in-laws have a condo that they only use when they’re in town. Amazing! At this point we knew that we WOULD in fact need a place to stay as the next flight available to Alaska was the next morning at 9 am. And although it wasn’t a direct flight as we’d anticipated, the flight times and the layover in Seattle seemed perfect. So, we were re-booked with those tickets and then we waited. At one point, they called for boarding of families and we were literally handing our boarding passes to the agent when they scurried about discussing where in the line-up our flight would take off. They then decided since we were third in line for de-icing and take-off that perhaps we should wait to board. We waited another hour. Finally, our time came.
We got ourselves settled into the rather small commuter plane. It took a bit to push back from the gate, but as we started the 45 minute de-icing process, we were starting to feel encouraged that at least we were leaving shortly and we had a place to lay our heads in Minneapolis. We finally moved out to the runway and we sat. And sat. And sat. Now, mind you, at this point our boys are much more squirmy and hungry and irritable. As were we. FINALLY, the pilot could be heard over the crackly intercom. We were informed that although we were next for departure, we’d have to return to the gate because a computer message could not be cleared from their system and this had to be completed before take-off. There might have been tears at this point. That small plane felt tiny and we were sweating bullets (although Ben and Matthias did manage to escape the madness with a brief nap). [On a side note, how is it that its possible to use a 3D printer to build a functioning vehicle but there is yet to be invented an effective system of heating and cooling an airplane?] We taxied back to the gate and were miraculously told that we could exit the airplane if we wished. Katherine and Simeon began to make the walk to the front of the aircraft (was it mentioned that we were seated in the very. last. row?) when Simeon did exactly what the rest of us would have liked to do had it been more socially acceptable. He had a meltdown. We couldn’t blame him, so instead of leaving the plane, we took that moment to pull out one of the presents that Grandma Betsy had stashed in his backpack for each flight of the long, long journey. He opened his finger puppets and was appeased for awhile. After another 40 minutes at the gate we finally taxied BACK to the de-icing area where we waited another 30 minutes for our turn. Another crackly message from the cockpit, “Well folks, when it rains, it pours. We’ve been informed that the truck that was due to de-ice our plane has just broken and we’ll have to wait for it to be fixed or to be sent another truck, whichever come first.” Its almost laughable to re-live this whole experience through writing, but at the time, it was anything but amusing. Although we received MANY compliments about the good behavior of our young boys, we were very aware that we had approximately 31 hours of flight time ahead of us and we had not even taken off yet! This was a discouraging thought at the time, but we were grateful for how well Simeon and Matthias had done so far. By the grace of God (oh, there were prayers involved), another truck came very quickly and we were FINALLY making our way to the runway.
When the day was done, we had spent three hours waiting at the gate and five hours on that airplane for a two hour flight to Minneapolis. We were tired already, but SO grateful for a timely pick-up by our new friend and a short drive to our beds. We had texted our friend’s brother and asked about carseats, informing him that we have a two-and-a-half-year-old and a 10-month-old. We were willing to hold them on our laps if we needed to! We were desperate. He texted back to say that he and his wife have a two-and-half year-old and a 10-month-old as well! Amazing. We slept well and were thankful for the pack-n-play that was already at the condo for Matthias. They even brought kid-friendly snacks and breakfast food for the morning before our flight. God knew exactly what we needed that night.
We made it to Anchorage the following afternoon and we were SO glad to see Joel, our brother-in-law, who picked us up and helped man-handle all of our luggage. Fortunately some very kind folks from their church offered to bring their van and get our luggage to the home where we stayed for a short 2.5 day visit. Our time was blessed with newborn baby Rosie snuggles, a trip to the windy and beautiful lookout over Anchorage, a lunch of Moose’s Tooth Pizza, lots of cousin playtime with 5-year-olds Dora and Sylvia and a wonderful visit with Bekah, Joel and Grandma Kathy. Ben even got the chance to speak at Joel and Bekah’s church during our brief stay. It was a blessing to get to know the people who have taken such good care of them during their time so far in that beautiful city. We were sad to say goodbye, but so very grateful for our unexpected detour!
The remainder of our travels, including stops in Seattle, Los Angeles, Brisbane, Port Moresby and then our final destination of Mount Hagen, were surprisingly unremarkable. Oh sure, there were the few scream-offs between Matthias and the 4-month-old little girl in the seats next to us on the 13-hour flight, but this was to be expected, of course. The most challenging time was the 2 hour wait for the long-haul flight out of Los Angeles, which left at 11 pm (although our bodies were still telling us it was 2 am). The last 20 minutes of that wait and the first 30 minutes on the plane before take-off was a mild form of torture for all of us, but we emerged unscathed and the boys ended up doing amazingly well on the long journey (but not so well that we’re signing up to do it again anytime soon). Throughout the flights we received many nice comments regarding our boys’ behavior and it did make us proud (and hopeful, seeing as this whole missionary thing will likely be a career for us). After each flight Simeon’s favorite thing to do was strap on his backpack and barrel through the terminal. It was an added bonus if the long hallways included those “people mover” conveyor belts. He was mesmerized by them and actually got the knack of entering and exiting them without any major mishaps.
We landed in Brisbane, Australia with the blessed knowledge that the worst of the flights was behind us and only a 3-hour and 1-hour flight remained. We were able to shower in Brisbane (and change into our OSU gear) and fortunately for us, there were only 50 passengers on the 3-hour flight to Port Moresby so we had empty rows all around us. This allowed Simeon to move around a good bit and play peek-a-boo with his brother between seats when he wasn’t coloring on the iPad or watching a video. We were gearing up for our arrival in the capital of PNG, knowing we’d have to gather all 12 pieces of luggage (if we included Mom’s) and get them through customs as well as get our boarding passes for the last flight. We quickly found Mom’s two bags and three of ours, however it didn’t take long to realize that the remaining SEVEN bags were not coming off that conveyor belt. After asking several personnel standing around, we discovered that our bags were in fact NOT in Port Moresby, although nobody could tell us where they were. We quickly filled out the required paperwork that might allow them to get transferred to another airline and flown on to Mount Hagen. Did I mention it was obscenely hot in Port Moresby? Its always hot there. And humid. But after being in the cold and snow for so long in Ohio and Alaska, the heat was especially breathtaking. A sweet Papua New Guinean man must have taken pity on the sweaty, red-faced toddler in the terminal and offered to buy him a Sprite out of the soda machine. In fact, he seemed almost privileged to do so! Simeon was grateful. Many troubles and potential outbursts can easily be diminished with the promise of a sparkling, sugary drink! Just don’t tell his dentist. [On another side note, during a trip to the other side of the world is NOT the time to worry about being judged for the things that you feed your children and allow them to do in order to keep from losing your own mind. “Yes, I AM in fact feeding my toddler his fourth package of fruit snacks in a row. And you would too if you knew what this moment would look like without them.”]
Despite the delay with the luggage, we made it to the large open room which serves as the domestic terminal. When our flight was called, we handed over our final set of boarding passes and stepped outside into the heat of the afternoon to make the trek to our plane. We quickly settled into our seats and Matthias quickly made friends with the Papua New Guinean ladies next to him. He’s hardly met a stranger on this trip! Simeon was asleep within 30 minutes of the flight and missed the most beautiful views of the highlands as we descended into the valley. We were moments away from landing in a place that already felt like home and we couldn’t have been happier.
Despite the news in Port Moresby that Jim and the operating room staff couldn’t come to the airport as expected because of an emergency surgery, they were there waiting for us as we de-planed! Apparently they did the fastest surgery in the history of time in order to make it and we were SO glad. Aunt Lydia, Uncle Cilla (yes, that’s what Simeon has called her for months now), Uncle Bill and Aunt Marsha McCoy and some other hospital staff were waiting too. We loaded up the vehicles with our fewer-than-expected pieces of luggage and drove the hour to Kudjip. Home was waiting for us. As we pulled onto the station we were greeted by a beautiful sign and flowers woven through the gate. We were preparing Simeon for “our new house” as we’d been referring to it for months. We’d say, “We’re almost to our new house Simeon. Its just around this corner.” He had a look of anticipation on his face. As we neared our home, we saw what seemed like the entire missionary family on our front lawn! We drove by a few of the kids playing in a yard nearby and Simeon chirped, “Are those my new friends?” Yes, yes they are! If there are friends and toys, that boy is happy. There were many hugs, some new faces and lots of “good to see you agains”! Simeon had his mind and heart set on finding his beloved “orange juice truck” which was a purchase at a next door garage sale in Mount Vernon and ended up making the trip to PNG via our first crate six months earlier. Simeon had literally been talking about that truck everyday as he was just itching to get his little hands on it. And that he did. He took it back outside to show off to his new friends (who didn’t seem nearly as impressed as he was)!
We were home and never before had the word HOME meant so much to us. It seemed that all of our homes up until now had been a sort of transition. Sure, we settled into them and made them comfortable and a place of refuge, but this felt different. We knew that THIS home would welcome not only us, but also many of these beautiful people whom we have come to serve. We had completed our long, long journey. And that journey led us home.