For almost the entire month of June, we were touring the country in our van to see family, supporters, and churches who have loved us and prayed for us and supported us financially for many years. We started off in Missouri, then swung down to Louisiana, then stopped in Mississippi, Kentucky, and Ohio and finally made it to Pennsylvania.
We got to try authentic, homemade gumbo, see good friends who used to be coworkers in PNG, tour Noah’s ark, make new friends, and reconnect with family that we hadn’t seen since 2016. We made it to every destination on time, kept every lunch and dinner date, spoke at each scheduled church gathering, and attended every family event. No one got sick, the van never broke down, and we never got lost. The only trouble we had along the way was a flat tire just as we were ready to leave a hotel one morning. But after asking around, we ended up at a little repair shop in Arkansas where a man said he could fix it right away, and when he found out we were missionaries he refused to take money for it.
We traveled almost 4,500 miles, and when we returned to our home in Minnesota and people asked us how the trip went, I couldn’t help marveling at how good it was. God had been so, so good to us. Only one flat tire in 4,500 miles? Not one bout of sickness? Not one event cancellation? Super lucky, right?
When we returned home after the road trip, it was time to get ready to go back to our other home. We started packing and sorting – one pile for PNG, one pile for storage, 68 piles for Goodwill. We made several last-minute Amazon orders (each time thinking, “This is the last one. For sure.”) Chris made trips to my brother’s house, where they are graciously letting us store our stuff in their basement. Chris also made trips to Goodwill to buy another suitcase when we discovered that everything we wanted to pack wouldn’t fit in the 8 we already had! And all the while we kept hearing disquieting rumors about missionaries who had tried to fly on our planned route to PNG but had been turned back to their home countries for various reasons. Not only does this cause travel delays, but it costs thousands of dollars in re-booking flights. When we spoke to our friends in PNG about our return, and they heard which way we were planning to come, they said things like, “Good luck! We’ll pray for you!”
Disquieting rumors notwithstanding, Chris and I both felt at peace about the route we had planned to travel. We committed it to God and moved forward. I did lots of research online about the things required by all the countries and airlines involved in our trip, and I printed out pages of “evidence” to show what the requirements were to any airline employee who might be underinformed. Then we loaded up our 11 checked bags, 9 carry-on items, and 4 children and waited in our first airport line in Minneapolis.
The nice young man at the first ticketing counter needed to check with his manager because his computer was telling him that the kids needed to have a certain injection. The nice young manager who came to help out looked at my “evidence,” said, “That’s good enough for me!” and checked our bags all the way to PNG. We were so happy! We had to spend the night in LA, and we were dreading trying to get all our baggage to the hotel and back, but now we didn’t have to worry about a single suitcase until we arrived in Port Moresby. We had no trouble when checking in at LAX the next day (no “evidence” required), and every facet of the trip after that was as smooth as it could be. We even avoided the covid tests we thought we would have to endure en-route. Super lucky, right?
As we lived through the last month of everything going right, two thoughts kept competing for attention in my head. The first was, “I don’t deserve this level of kindness from God.” And the second was, “This can’t last forever. Something bad is bound to happen.” In response to the first thought, I had to agree. In response to the second, I had to remind myself that God loves to give good gifts to His children, and I shouldn’t ruin the joy of receiving them with my own pessimistic opinions about what may or may not happen in the future. Hasn’t God been with us during every hardship? Hasn’t He given us good gifts in the midst of them every single time?
There are so many hard things in this world, and many people that I know are suffering all kinds of them right now. It’s hard to understand why God allows hardships for some and saves others from them. But there are also so many good things that He gives us–not because we deserve them, but because He wants us to have them and receive them with joy. When that happens, we know that we aren’t lucky; we are loved by a merciful God whose kindness should lead us to repentance. Thank you for praying for a smooth trip back home. We hope the fact that God kindly gave us what we asked for (in ways that seemed miraculous at times) will encourage you as much as it does us.