Flying from country to country, meeting new cultures and sharing our God-given message in different languages has been part of our lives for almost two decades. With the present pandemic, much of our way to share the gospel and to travel to different destinations has been deeply impacted.
On January 7th, I left Guam for what was to be a week-and-a-half trip just to renew my passport. As required, I had my PCR Covid-19 test done a tour SDA clinic before leaving and with my negative result in hand, I was ready to leave. It was a “short” flight considering the distance between Guam and Lisbon, Portugal (almost 12,000 miles). Not many people were flying then and the planes were mostly empty.
After 30 hours, I landed safely on January 8th, already anxious to go back to Guam where my wife and two children (9- and 12-year-old) remained safely under the protective supervision of friends and church family.
Just a few days after landing on European soil, the unexpected happened. Several countries, including Portugal, started closing borders due to an unbelievable spike in the number of coronavirus cases, leaving me praying that my flight scheduled for January 20th wouldn’t end up canceled. So on January 18th, I had another PCR test done in order to fly back home to my family. That was the beginning of a series of events that brought me to my knees in prayer, seeking the One who sees all things and holds the key to open doors in our lives that we can’t even imagine.
On January 19th, I received my PCR test with an accusingly positive result for Covid-19. I was incredulous, then in shock and finally, scrambling to make some sense out of this circumstance. I tried to remember if I had been in any situation of risk, but couldn’t recall any. I had always worn my mask, sanitized, followed protocol - how could this happen?
Then the feeling of guilt came - what if I infected anyone? My mind kept racing over this question, while also analyzing my symptoms. Up to that point all I had was a very slight cough. I didn’t feel really sick. The following couple of days, I had strong headaches and nothing more. Sharing the news with my family in Guam was almost unbearable. Seeing the disappointment and fear in their faces was deeply marking.
Forced into isolation for ten days under daily medical surveillance by phone and internet gave me time to search God in a very personal way. My heart rate was incredibly high every time I thought about my wife and children and the huge distance between us. “What if they never open up the borders?” - I thought many times. The news about countries closing down one after the other led me to just refrain from watching or reading news. I couldn’t bear it anymore. And hoping in political changes was not helping at all. Among the countries suffering with this pandemic, the faces of the world leaders showed that they were themselves were lost for words at the numbers of people infected and dying on a daily basis. Deep inside I knew God could make a way where there is no way. But I needed to find patience and peace inside in order to face the challenges ahead.
On January 27th, my doctor wrote that I was officially discharged and healed from Covid-19 and that for the next three months I wouldn’t need anymore PCR tests to travel. I immediately made plans to board the next available flight, but another bad surprise was waiting. The U.S. had closed borders with all Schengen territories in Europe. In order to fly back home I needed a special clearance from the local U.S. Embassy. After phone calls and bureaucracy back and forth, I finally received the permission to return home. Step by step, I could see doors finally opening wide to reunite me with my wife, my children and my church family.
Amid the difficulty of finding direct flights to the U.S., due to the pandemic restrictions, I finally found a flight that would get me to Guam in just 25 hours (which was incredible), flying through France and South Korea. I booked it and felt very confident about it. Once all the paperwork was validated in Lisbon, I took the first flight to Paris, France, but could go no further. Although I could get into a U.S. territory with a medical discharge, I couldn’t transit through other countries without a renewed PCR test, contradicting the info I had received when departing Lisbon. My trip ended short of my final destination, and after spending two nights in the airport, I was forced to fly back to Portugal.
Two weeks later, I attempted the exact same route. This time I was able to get all the way to Seoul, South Korea, but when I was just one five-hour flight from home, again another stumbling block. For some unexplainable reason, I couldn’t board the last flight. The more I asked why I couldn’t go home, the less the airline could explain. All the paperwork was in order, but new restrictions made people more confused about who can and cannot enter several countries.
Stranded again, far from everyone I knew, was not a pleasant feeling. It was another night in prayer at the airport, knowing that the following day I would have to find a way and the strength to fly more than 15 hours back to Portugal. Before boarding, I received a phone call from Don Lloyd, GMM Treasurer, saying he had been on the phone with a lawyer who told him that all my paperwork was right and I could go home. Even with this, I just couldn’t convince the airline of their wrong doing.
Seated in the airplane headed back to Europe, I felt the heart sinking and stretching as the distance from my family grew. I could still hear the tears of my wife and children from the previous day's phone call. They were getting ready to go to the airport to pick me up when they learned I wasn’t allowed to fly home. It was heart breaking, but at the same time, I came to a moment of truth. Many “why’s” started arising inside me. Trying to make sense of the events of life in such an unstable world can be very challenging. Several Bible texts started to come to mind, like John 16:32,33:
Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
Jesus shared these words anticipating the events surrounding His crucifixion. The text makes relevant the fact that He wanted His disciples to experience peace and assurance while Jesus would be suffering and agonizing under the beating and the cross. As amazing as this seems, this reveals to us two important notions in our spiritual experience. First, He wants us to know that whatever happens in our lives, nothing takes Him by surprise and He’s still in control. Secondly, He loves us beyond our capacity to understand it. He couldn’t bear the idea of spending eternity without us and that’s why He came to this world giving us the assurance that we can trust Him our lives fully and completely.
This thought gave me the strength to say right there, in the midst of my incredulity and loneliness -
“Lord whatever you have for me, I will follow. I give you my beloved wife and my precious children.”
After two more flights heading to Lisbon, I was more determined than ever to make it home. Many hours of prayer led me to the foot of the Cross making it possible to feel His presence closer every step of the way. Once arrived in Portugal for the third time, I learned that there was one company that was connecting Lisbon to New York for passengers who had either American passports or the same legal paperwork I had. I immediately booked my flight. It would be very long, but worth it.
On February 26th, I was able to fly in to the U.S. via New York, San Francisco, Honolulu and finally Guam. I couldn’t believe I was finally home.
Outside the airport my children and wife anxiously waited. In our minds the question remained - “Is this it?”. Coming out the gate, reaching the outside, and seeing my two children running then jumping on me, almost throwing me to the ground, it felt like it was more than worth it. For them and my wife, it definitely felt too long. But finally, 38,601 miles later, I was finally where I belong.
This human experience leads us to think about how God the Heavenly Father feels about the chasm of sin between us. He surely misses His children more than any earthly parent misses their children. But He left us a solid promise through Jesus that one day we’re to be reunited to Him again (John 14:3):
"...I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."
We look forward to that day, with special anticipation, when there will be no more separation of any kind.