As I finished high school, I wanted to go on a 10 day Youth on Missions trip to Berlin and Budapest. The year was 1992, and the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, so this was literally a once in a lifetime experience. My parents were agreeable, so I sent in my deposit to secure my spot. I was SO excited to be going. I happened to see Oklahoma’s youth president at a church convention, and he mentioned to me that I wasn’t on the list of those going. Didn’t I want to go? I said absolutely, and my dad placed a call the next business day while I was in school. The secretary had somehow misplaced my check and the deadline had passed. Unless somebody cancelled, I wasn’t going.
Well, luckily for me, somebody cancelled, so I got a spot on the list. Bullet dodged. I received instructions that I needed to be at JFK airport 2 hours before the Czechoslovak Airlines flight was to leave for Berlin with a layover in Prague.
Also luckily for me, another young man from Oklahoma by the name of Brian Fuller was going on the same trip, so we made plans to travel together to JFK with a layover in St Louis. This was a very good thing for me, since I had taken a grand total of 2 airplane trips in my life, both of those with my parents. We were scheduled to arrive at JFK with plenty of time to change planes. We were set.
On the day of departure, we arrived at the Tulsa airport. Ready, set…wait. Our plane had mechanical problems, our flight was cancelled, and we were rescheduled on the next flight to STL. Since our new flight was an hour later, we needed a new connecting flight to New York, and we no longer had the requisite 2 hours in JFK. We now only had 1 hour in our schedule to change planes. They assured us that we would still be able to make it; we’d just have to not waste time.
We finally got to STL, but discovered that in the process of getting a different flight from STL to JFK, Brian and I had lost our next-to-each-other seats. We were now on a 747 in totally different sections of the plane. I couldn’t even see where he was sitting, which you can understand if you’ve ever been in a 747. Okay. No problem. When we got there, whoever was off first would wait on the other, and we’d be fine.
Well, it was raining in New York. Really, really raining in New York. This delayed our arrival as we circled for a while before we could land. Then we were informed that they didn’t have a terminal for us disembark to. They would use portable lounges to transport us from the airplane to the terminal: rooms on wheels that they packed people into and then drove us to a door that emptied into the airport. Any plans Brian and I had of reuniting upon arrival were totally obliterated.
Obviously, these strange conveyances took longer than just exiting the plane would have. When I stood up to finally get my turn, I had 15 minutes to leave the plane, enter the portable lounge, travel to the terminal, exit the portable lounge, find the baggage claim, get my bag, travel across the airport to a different building, check in my luggage, pass security, check in at the new gate and board the plane for takeoff to Prague. As I finally entered the terminal, I had no clue where I was or where I was supposed to be, and I quickly breathed a prayer that went something like this: “God, I don’t know where I am, but You do, so please help me here.” It wasn’t a very deep or fancy prayer, but it was all I could do at the time. I saw a sign for baggage claim, and I figured I might as well get my bag; I would need it whatever happened. When I got to the baggage claim area I immediately saw Brian. He had already gotten his bag and found our chaperone, Rev. Darrell Johns, to whom he frantically waved across the chaotic area. Out of a whole 747 full of luggage, my bag was the first one I saw. I grabbed it, hefted it up (any 18 year old girl on a 10 day trip has a heavy bag!) and wheeled it quickly across the area and out to the taxi that Darrell Johns had flagged down for us.
We took the taxi over to the Czechoslovak Airlines terminal, rushed inside, discovered that the plane had not left yet (it was delayed also), checked in, and found out I was on standby. The next Czechoslovak Airline flight to Prague was several days later. Not good! Not good at all! Well, someone else must have had trouble too, because I managed to get on the flight and we took off. Here is our plane after we arrived at the Prague Airport.
Now for the rest of the story. In 1992 there were hardly any cell phones in use. The ones there were looked something like this:
Our 2 chaperones, Rev. Darrell Johns and Rev. Kenny Godair had rented cell phones for the day to communicate with each other to facilitate meeting each person as they arrived at the airport for the trip. These were phones they were using just for that day and the number wasn’t permanently theirs. About the time I got out of that horrid portable lounge and prayed my simple little prayer, a lady called Darrell Johns’ cell phone and told him that Brian and I were at the TWA international baggage claim. Coming into JFK from STL, we should have been in the domestic area, but we weren’t where we were scheduled to be.
You see, God knows exactly where we are and what we need. I am very thankful that I made that flight because later that night, on that plane somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, I met Steven Beardsley, the man I would marry 4 years later.