This afternoon we loaded up the luggage for another try at the airport to get these missionaries on their way home. Here’s what today’s plan looked like:
Two small planes are coming from Lagos. One is flying from Lagos to Cotonou, Benin to Abidjan to Accra and back to Lagos. The other is flying form Lagos to Abidjan to Accra and then back to Lagos. They will pick up missionaries along the way and take them to Accra. Then they’ll go back empty to Lagos and everyone in Accra will get on a big plane (Egypt Air) and fly to Freetown, Sierra Leon, refuel in Cairo, then continue on to Manila to deposit the Filipino missionaries, and then it will continue to Brisbane Australia (arriving there Sunday the 26th) where the rest will get off (one big step closer to their homes in the islands). It was a grand plan that took a lot of work to negotiate.
Even as we left for the airport, things were not finalized.
At the airport we met up with the 11 Elders from the Yamoussoukro mission who were also hoping to depart today. We were told to wait outside the airport until we had word that all was going as it should.
The Elders were instructed to have masks and gloves.
John is giving instructions and reviewing the flight plans.
Here are our 16 travelers:
Then we waited. For 2 hours we waited.
Finally word came that the approvals were not given for the two small planes to land in Accra and for the passengers to transit to a different plane there. This was not going to happen for these missionaries AGAIN. We sadly headed back to the parking lot and loaded up the luggage again.
Here come the Yamoussoukro Elders.
They will return to stay with missionaries in the Abidjan West mission. Our 5 Elders are staying in the old AP’s apartment. Now we wait for Plan B. Actually Plan D.
Here’s how Brent Belnap, our Legal Counsel in Accra described what happened today:
Wonderful sendoff today of approximately 150 missionaries from the Philippines, Australia, and other Pacific Island nations who had been serving in Ghana and Sierra Leone, to whom we were able to add approximately 80 non-Church member Australian nationals anxious to get home. Lots of long days, sleepless nights, and often seemingly insurmountable problems over the past 3 weeks to get these missionaries on a chartered flight from Accra to Freetown, Sierra Leone and then to the other side of the world. (Unfortunately, despite several last-minute miracles and government approvals, we couldn’t evacuate the 17 remaining foreign missionaries in West Africa–1 in Benin and 16 still in Ivory Coast.) Next stop: Manila, then Brisbane. Special thanks to the Australian High Commissioner Andrew Barnes and his team in Ghana, the Australian Government, the Philippines Government, the Ghanaian Government, the Sierra Leonean Government, the Benin Government, the Ivory Coast Government, and U.S. Embassies across West Africa for making this repatriation flight possible. Getting the requisite flight clearances, government approvals, internal travel permits, health checks, etc., was like playing three-dimensional chess magnified across multiple countries, legal systems, regulatory hurdles, and personalities in West Africa, Salt Lake City, Manila, Auckland, Canberra, and Accra. Complicated? Definitely. And yet so many miracles, large and small, at every turn. I’m ready for the first relatively low-key weekend in several months.