Rule # 1: Don’t Forget Your Passports

November 9, 2007

Friday 1:09 PM
O’Hare Airport

In earlier, happier, pre-9/11 days, you didn’t a passport to fly to Canada, but now you do, and the airlines are enforcing it as part of the anti-terrorism crackdown. And I’m glad about that. But that didn’t help this morning when our passports were in the little box on top of the dresser in the guest bedroom of our home in Tupelo and we were in Chicago. It happened that I have scanned copies of my passport for emergency purposes, but I doubted that would work. I was right.

What to do? We briefly considered driving back to Memphis (about 9 hours on the road) and having Mark meet us there with our passports, and then try to fly to Montreal. But I start speaking tonight and Marlene and I both speak tomorrow at the Missions en Fete conference, an invitation we accepted over a year ago. Driving south meant we would probably not make it to Montreal at all.

So we stood in line at the United counter where a friendly gentlemen said we should go downstairs to the baggage office and see if they could ship the passports from Memphis to Chicago sometime today. Downstairs we were helped by even friendlier people–two United workers who spent a long time discussing options with us. They even called the Memphis airport and talked to a supervisor who said he would be willing to ask the pilots if they would be willing to bring the passports with them, leaving them at the gate. How would we get to the gate? Perhaps could give us “gate passes” to make it through security.

Meanwhile I called Mark and asked him to drive in from the cabin and find the passports. I called Dave Hoy who called TSA and the Customs people in Washington who told him that passports are required for flying to Canada but not for driving to Canada. Good to know but we’re at least 14 hours by car from Montreal and now the morning was disappearing. So we told Mark to drive to the Memphis airport (85 miles away).

Then I called Vivian Sturgeon, one of the directors of the Canadian conference, informing her about our plight. She was very kind and even cheerful as she said, “We need to pray about that.” And we got a call from Jo-Ann Bouclair, a Canadian email correspondent whom we have never met but who prays for us often.

One contingency plan involved us flying to Detroit, renting a car, driving across the border, then flying from Windsor, Ontario to Montreal and having Mark Fed-Ex our passports overnight so we could fly back on Monday as planned.

Marlene spent most of the morning standing in line, talking to United officials, trying to work things out. They were extremely sympathetic, but without a passport they couldn’t help us. Then Vivian called and said, “Could you fly to Burlington, Vermont? That’s only two hours from Montreal. Someone can pick you up and bring you directly to the conference.” Good idea. Turns out that United has a number of flights to Burlington every day.

So upstairs we go, dragging our bags with us, standing in line once again, until we met Gail, a most helpful United agent who after looking at our comment-filled computer file said, “I’ll need approval to do this.” She phoned the Help Desk and found another kind soul who evidently took pity on us. The bottom line is that we are now booked on a flight from Chicago to Burlington, leaving at 4 PM and arriving at 7 PM. With the two-hour drive, we should arrive at the conference sometime around 9:30 PM. Tonight is the big youth rally featuring all sorts of musical groups. I’m scheduled to give the wrap-up talk at 9:25 PM. If all goes well, we should make it.

Meanwhile we called Mark who was waiting at the Memphis airport for further instructions. We explained our plans and gave him an address in Montreal where he can Fed-Ex our passports.

God willing, we’ll end up in Montreal tonight but what started as a simple flight has turned into an all-day adventure. Early this morning the woman at the baggage office smiled when I told her that we serve with Keep Believing Ministries. “I’m going to remember that,” she said. “That’s what we all need to do.” Indeed it is. We’re getting a chance to practice what we preach.

And lest you miss it, my friends, the lesson is clear. Don’t forget your passports.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?