I was returning home from Haiti looking forward to a nap on the plane. The likelihood is high that I was asleep before we even took off that day. I missed the beverage pass, the snack offer and was awakened by an overhead announcement from the pilot. “You may have noticed that we have circled the airport a few times. We are now being diverted to West Palm Beach airport due to weather. Thank you for your patience.” Back to sleep I went. . .until. . .”Folks, this is a bit unusual, but the West Palm Airport is closed for an emergency. We are getting low on fuel so they are diverting us to the Bahamas.” The Bahamas?! Wow, nearly right back where we started. The Bahamas? I was traveling alone, enjoying the banter that this unexpected announcement brought. People began to wonder if we would be put up in the Bahamas for a night by the airline, but that didn’t materialize.
We had been on the plane for three hours by the time we landed in Nassau, I believe it was. Mr. pilot again, “Folks, I am going to touch base with the control tower here and communicate with our people. We also need to check an engine, we may have taken a bird into one engine and need to look into that. I will be back with you shortly.” He emerges from the cockpit, descends stairs from the plane. . . . and walks across the runway to speak to the control tower. Truly, this happened. No radio communication – face to face it would be. We watch as he returns to the plane, climbs inside to look at the engine, hops out of the engine and back up the stairs. Pilot: “It is airline protocol that we as pilots do an initial inspection. There are not mechanics here on site, folks, so if our people don’t feel comfortable about my observations we will be staying the night here in the Bahamas. I will keep you abreast of how this is developing.”
He announces that all looks good with the engine, no worries. Plane begins to move slowly, turns, moves slowly, turns again. I am dozing off and on this entire time I am so tired. We’re now on the plane approximately 7 hours for an expected 1 1/2 hour flight. I glance out the window, see a cute little building and comment to my row-mate how cute it is. She says, “Tricia we have driven past that same building three times now”. In the same moment our pilot comes on to say, “You may have noticed that we have been driving up and down runways here. We are trying to find a spot to get a good signal. I think I drove past one and I’m trying to get back to that location.” We were driving a jet, searching for a signal. It still just makes me laugh.
This entire time our plane full of mostly Haitians this trip is quite calm and making the most of it. The flight crew had one cookie for each of us and only about 8 ounces of water for each person. They, too, were expecting a 1 1/2 hour flight.
Our families were expecting to have heard from us by now. We had been on this plane for 7 hours! A young Haitian American woman began to walk down the aisle. As she went from person to person she offered for them to use the international plan on her phone to notify their family where they were and that they were safe. While she stood near our row of seats I asked her a few questions, learning that she represents an organization called Countries United for Haiti and travels back and forth often.
After the hurricane I searched facebook for her organization one day. I reached out to her, wondering where they were located, how they fared and if they were involved at all. I did not get a response from her until today as I sat here in Port Au Prince preparing for a day of what we thought would be errands and travel to Les Cayes.
As I prepared to shut down my computer and get breakfast she responded. Apparently she’d been without internet until today. She is in Port Au Prince. I am in Port Au Prince. She has the day off today and wants to say hi. I hesitated – our day was so full. We discussed that there really wasn’t a particular reason for us to meet up, but she insisted, so we waited. After listening to Patchouko’s story, hearing about her work, we plan to depart. She doesn’t have a ride so we will drop her off in a good place for her to get a ride back home. Before dropping her off Patchouko asks her if she knows of a Unibank nearby. She says, “Yes, but you do remember today is a national holiday, right?” The look on his face was priceless. Friends, this meant potentially no shopping for a generator because the store would be closed, it meant no business at all today, and we had planned to return to Les Cayes.
Because we are not deterred that easily we headed out to verify that normal day-to-day businesses would be closed. Wait. I forgot to mention the car. The car wasn’t really on board with our plans from the get-go this morning, and it wasn’t getting any better. Mind you, if we were to leave town we cross over two mountains with added weight in the car of our purchases. After we arrive at the second closed store, verifying that we would not be purchasing a generator and we would be staying in Port Au Prince an additional night, Patchouko pulls the car over. Out he jumps, pops the hood and verifies we need a mechanic after we find a part. Remember my new friend from the airplane? She is still with us and chimes in, “The owner of Japon Auto Parts is a close family friend of ours. I know he will be open today”.
Coincidence? I don’t think you would have thought so if you’d have been in the car when we drove off with power! It comes back to why we waited to see her in the first place this morning. God ordains connections, I just believe it. Are we living attentively enough to notice them? And, are we living intentionally enough to act upon them? It got me to thinking about the “coincidences” along our the way in our Haiti experience.
Daughter brings new friend home for Thanksgiving that “just happened to be Haitian”. Interest develops, we travel to Haiti. Meet Patchouko on first trip, again on second. Trip three originated from a contact made in the south. Trip participant on trip three requests several days with another mission here in Haiti. That other mission “just happened” to be United Christians International. That connection led to a two year project in medical training and clinics with UCI where dynamic Haitian leadership taught us immeasurable things. While at UCI a visiting U.S. professor “just happened” to have taught in Les Cayes for several years and eventually we “just happen” to be working with Patchouko in Les Cayes. One of my greatest Haiti friends I met “by accident” when our Haitian hosts took us to visit the wrong organization. There is our Italian friend that “coincidentally” stayed at the same hotel as us in Miami, who now we call a good friend and colleague. Did I mention the ladies in the market whose husbands are in leadership at a local hospital. . .that we thought we were visiting one day. Well, guess what? Yep, it was the “wrong” place that led to yet another connection as the hurricane struck. It just goes on and on and on. I know, when you get involved in something you tend to run into people doing the same thing, experiencing the same thing, your radar is honed in on it. The question is, are we capitalizing on these ordained meetings? Do we look for God in them? Do we thank and praise Him for them, exchange how we can be a blessing as we are also blessed?
I, myself, do not consider events coincidental anymore. I have come to expect, to anticipate these divine appointments. Where I once would think, “that was interesting” I now KNOW it is a call to action. All timidity aside, God is calling for action and He is putting into place the players he needs on the field.
Erwin McManus wrote a great book called “Chasing Daylight”. It moved me so much it is wearing out. I carry it to Haiti with me. I read it for inspiration on days I feel ineffective. I highly recommend it to anyone – absolutely anyone. Seize the moments – they are all divine!