Our flight out of LAX to Manila, Philippines was not until 11:30pm, plenty of time, right? We approached ticketing and began the process of getting our tickets. The agent asked, “Do you have your visa?” I simply said, “No, we get our visas at immigration in Port Moresby.” I’ve been to this country 14 times, and except for last year’s trip (a covid-induced emergency after Zeck’s death) I’ve always been able to get visas right there at immigration in PNG. The agent answered back, “According to this, you must have your visa in hand before boarding this flight.” The blood drained from my face.
I thought back. I remember specifically checking on this and the website said all Covid-related restrictions are lifted and everything is normal. What happened? What did I miss? The agent said he would call the supervisor in Manila to get permission. After 90 minutes, we were told we could not get on this flight and they couldn’t get their supervisor in Manila to answer in the middle of the night. We talked to the local supervisor and once again explained our dilemma. If we miss this flight, we miss the next four. If we miss the next four, the trip may fail.
After some talking she agreed to let us get on the flight to Manila but that she would not check us to Port Moresby, PNG until we had the visas. With very little time, we had to literally run to make it before they shut the gate. We were the last ones on, all spread out and sweating to start a 15 ½ hour flight. But we were on.
A 15-hour flight has its own challenges. For one thing, even though we will land 15 hours after taking off, we lose 24 hours due to crossing the international date line. This flight was particularly rough for me because I didn’t sleep and I couldn’t read without my mind racing. Plus, I had to fight for leg room with someone’s service dog. I was able to buy internet which was a life-saver because I could communicate with Courtney who was working the phones trying to get a hold of someone in PNG who could help us. I was also able to read every word on the PNG immigration website and figure out what went wrong.
So what went wrong? PNG had erroneous and conflicting information on their website which included forms to download that don’t even exist. It’s kind of a Catch-22 situation. From about halfway across the ocean, I concluded that we would need visas before boarding a flight to Port Moresby.
One of things Courtney did while we were flying was figure out how to email the PNG Embassy in Manila and plead our case. We both emailed several times. While on the flight my computer and phone batteries both died (of course) and the charging on the airplane didn’t work. But when we landed and I got some charge, I saw an email from the consulate saying that if we could get to the embassy, they should be able to help us. We had our plan. Since the embassy was closed when we landed, we would overnight in Manila and then somehow get to the PNG embassy in the morning and hope and pray.
All along we have felt God’s leading as He has assembled this group for this trip for this time. We all felt it and have been feeling it since the beginning. Although I was discouraged, the team was not. They were encouraged that God doesn’t start something like this without finishing it. We just had to be faithful to the call and trust that God’s sovereignty would put us where we needed to be so we could do what we were supposed to do. I’m so thankful for the outlook of these Godly men.