Taking a repatriation flight to the U.S. on short notice was not how we planned to finish our second term on the mission field! But our story has been an incredible reminder of how God has walked beside us, been with us and gone before us. God is faithful!
As some of you know, after the borders of Cote d’Ivoire closed on March 22, we had not taken a previous repatriation flight to the U.S. on March 31. We felt led to stay in Cote d’Ivoire, and we were waiting to see if we'd be able to return to the U.S. for our home assignment set to start in June.
On Friday, April 17, we received an email from the U.S. Embassy that a final repatriation flight would be organized for Tuesday, April 21. It stated this would be the last flight to the U.S. until commercial air travel resumed. After prayer and processing again, we felt led to take the flight. It was to travel to Togo and then on to Washington D.C. We would need to pay by promissory note to the U.S. government. We would then need to organize our own travel on to Indianapolis.
We signed up on Friday to take the flight, but did not know if there would be space for us. It seems a number of the embassy staff were also taking the flight. We applied online for a “laissez-passer” which is a permit to travel on the closed road to Abidjan. (This is the road we had to take to get to the airport. It had been closed several weeks in an effort to contain the spread of Covid-19.)We started to get things closed up around the house, packed, and worked on getting pressing ministry items completed in a hurry – transferring COP funds, connecting with pastors and IBAO students, working out details with our guards, etc. On Saturday (April 18) in the morning, we got an email that said the flight was full, and if we had seats, we’d receive a confirmation email soon. Saturday in the late afternoon, we found out there would be space for us on the flight, so we continued to prepare to depart. We started letting church leaders, pastors, and local friends know of our plans to depart. It was really hard to say “goodbye” in such a quick and abrupt way. We’re still processing this part of the experience.
Although our seats on the flight were confirmed, we had not yet received the permit to travel on the closed road to Abidjan. We heard nothing, and were told we could apply in person on Monday morning at the prefecture office. We got word that we needed to be at the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan Monday morning between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. to complete the promissory note and paperwork, and to confirm our identities in person. (Among the paperwork, was a letter stating that we should not travel on the flight if we had any of the following in the past 72 hours: a fever of 100.4F or above, a cough, or trouble breathing.) Since we were in Yamoussoukro about 2.5 hours away from the Embassy and didn’t have the permit to travel to Abidjan (and the prefecture’s office wouldn’t open until 8 or 9 a.m. on Monday morning to apply in-person for the travel permit), we wouldn’t be able to be at the Embassy Monday morning. Thankfully, the vice consul gave us permission to complete, scan, and email the documents, and because we’d met her once before and “knew” her through the Fulbright scholars, she was fine to confirm our identity when we arrived Tuesday at the airport.
We would still need to arrive in Abidjan by Monday before dark to depart on Tuesday, so Bobby went Monday morning to apply in-person for the travel permit, but the prefecture’s office said that the process could only be completed online. We emailed the U.S. Embassy to let them know our problem, Bobby waited at the prefecture’s office, and Jenny applied again online from home. The embassy staff really stepped up! Within a few minutes of sending an email to the embassy, they called us. The consul put one of his staff members on the case, called us and told us this person’s job that day was to see that we arrived in Abidjan. A couple hours later, the permit came through! The security advisor of the U.S. Embassy then got put on the case, and he started calling Bobby about every 30 minutes to get an update on our progress to be sure we would be admitted by police through the health checkpoint (using the permit) and into Abidjan.
We finished packing our car, did a final COP funds transfer, stopped by Moore’s school to say “goodbye” to his teacher and his best friend (the teacher had been working one-on-one with a different student each day at the school), dropped off an item at a friend’s house, and we drove to Abidjan. Just outside the city limits, our travel permit and our temperatures were all checked at the health checkpoint, and we entered Abidjan without any trouble! The embassy’s security advisor kept in close contact with us until we arrived at the hotel near the airport where we would spend Monday night.
The hotel was empty except for a cargo flight crew from Europe. We ate dinner at the hotel, called and texted some more church people to let them know we were departing, the kids enjoyed the big hotel bathtub, and we went to sleep for the night.
On Tuesday morning, we took the hotel shuttle to the airport where a special area was set up by the U.S. Embassy to check our passports. The very first person to greet us was the U.S. ambassador, and then we met the security advisor while waiting in line. The vice consul checked our passports and confirmed us on the flight, then the airport staff took our temperatures. (This was the second and final time our temperatures would be taken throughout this whole journey.) We got in line at the check-in counter to check our bags and get our boarding passes.
We then went through airport passport control and security. Rease announced that she had to use the bathroom, but there was no place. Gladly, she had a diaper on, but she was frustrated that we couldn’t take her to the potty! While I (Jenny) was taking my electronics out of my carry-on bag to go through the security scanner, I found that Rease had somehow dropped the hotel TV remote in my carry-on bag!
At this point, it was about 1:15 p.m. and the flight was scheduled to depart at 2:55 p.m. About 10 minutes later, as Bob was buying some snacks, they started boarding the plane! We didn’t have time to change Rease’s diaper. We were close to the last people to board the plane, which was open seating (as was the following flight). This relatively small plane (6 seats across) from Abidjan to Togo was nearly full. There were people on it who had come from Mali as well. Pretty much everyone on this flight (as well as the next flight) wore masks.
As we landed in Togo, we had some turbulence, and this is when Moore got motion sickness. Rease, not having had her diaper changed, had leaked all over her pants! When we exited the plane in Togo, we changed Rease’s diaper and pants in the line waiting to have our boarding passes for the next flight issued. Our flight was the only one there at the airport in Togo, so this was a fairly quick process – boarding passes, security, passport check, boarding the next plane.
The next flight from Togo to Washington D.C. was not full. There were many middle seats open. The plane had 9 seats across (3-3-3), so the kids and I (Jenny) sat in 3 middle seats with Bobby sitting across the aisle. The middle seat next to Bobby was empty, but there was a gentleman in the window seat in Bobby’s row.
The aircraft and crew were Ethiopian Airlines, but there was no electronic service on the flight (TV screens were not on, reading lights didn’t work, etc.). This was ok, but a bit of a challenge when the lights were dimmed and Rease wanted a snack – it was really dark! We used our cell phone lights for a bit. This flight had some pretty rough turbulence. Thankfully, Moore was asleep, but Rease was awake at the beginning of the turbulence, and she had motion sickness. This was unexpected as she’s never had motion sickness before. Soon after that, she went to sleep, and both kids were asleep for the worst of the turbulence, thank the Lord! The air got pretty choppy for a while about 2 hours before we landed. ( I would rate this the 3rdworst flight I’ve been on for bad turbulence.) Thankfully, we landed safe and sound around 1 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, April 22 in Washington, D.C. We were given health forms to complete for each person in addition to the usual customs declaration form. The health forms asked if we’d been to China, specifically Hubei province, Iran or Shengen country in the last 14 days, if we’d had symptoms of Covid19, if we’d been in contact with anyone who had it, and where we’d be staying the U.S. (There was a place at the bottom for a health official to fill in our temperature and whether we appeared physically ill warranting a health evaluation; this portion remained blank.)
We exited the plane and followed the “social distancing” stickers on the floor as we waited in line to go through passport control. It was at passport control that the security agent took our health forms. The only question he asked regarding our health was which countries we’d visited in the last 14 days. We said Cote d’Ivoire had been the only country we’d been in, and he gave us our passports and sent us on to baggage claim. (No one took our temperatures, gave directions about quarantine, what route we’d take to get to Anderson, symptoms to watch for, or any other information.)
We got our bags, and went to wait for the baggage counter to open for our flight to Indianapolis. It was cold!! We shared a sandwich and a muffin, and the kids watched the iPad while we waited. After checking our bags, we went to our gate. It was then that the sole came loose and fell off of Rease’s shoe! So the rest of the trip, she had only one shoe!
We were so glad to find that our flight to Indy was going on as scheduled. More than half the flights on the “Departures” board in Washington D.C. had been canceled, presumably due to no or few passengers. The gates were almost all empty. We overheard two airline workers say that this flight to Indy had a handful of passengers, so it was going! We boarded the 50-passenger plane. We were half the passengers! There were 9 total passengers on the plane. Being on a small plane, we were a little concerned about feeling every bump and facing motion sickness with the kids again, but thankfully, it was a smooth and vomit-free flight!
We arrived at Indy airport, which was practically empty, got our bags, rented a mini-van from Enterprise, and drove to Anderson! We were so warmly greeted at the guesthouse with so many who helped prepare it for us prior to our arrival.
We then had an 18-day self-quarantine. Many friends dropped off groceries, toilet paper, and more! Many offered to help and checked in on us.
We’ve had quite a bit of contact by phone and WhatsApp messages with those in Cote d’Ivoire as well as with partners here in the U.S. We’ve kept busy going through storage items, communicating with partners, friends and colleagues, as well as re-starting Moore’s French curriculum studies and preparing virtual and in-person visits for our home assignment time .
We are so grateful to the Lord for walking with us, making a way, and sustaining us. God is good and He is faithful!