Two days ago, I left on the last plane out of Uganda. Just before the country closed its borders, I flew out on an Ethiopian Air flight with a final destination of the United States. I had been given 2 hours to pack before I could leave.
The last few days have been a hurricane of emotion. Right now, as I write this, I am in Saint Albans, West Virginia (the USA). I have been here for barely under 48 hours. The story of how I got here is something straight out of Hollywood, and it all starts with my uncle’s wedding.
Nine months ago, after dating for well over three years, my uncle and aunt finally decided to get married. The event was well anticipated, and for good reason. My uncle had taken a long time to decide to tie the knot.
The date of the wedding was set- the 13th of March. My mom booked plane tickets for herself and my little brother Noah, who often comments on my posts. They were set to stay in the United States for 12 days, then fly back to Uganda. Everything was normal, it would just be another trip.
Then, coronavirus happened and the world went into an uproar.
Two days before my mom and brother were scheduled to return to Uganda, my mom came down with Influenza. This complicated things; after all, Uganda wasn’t allowing sick people into the country on the possibility that they would have the virus. If my mom had come, she would have been charged over $2,000 to pay for her own quarantine. We didn’t have that kind of money, so we decided to re-schedule my mom’s plane tickets for a few days later in the hopes that her sickness would abate.
It did not.
Then, somehow, things got worse. Uganda announced that no foreigners would be allowed to fly into the country. Suddenly, my mom was stuck in the United States with absolutely no way to get back. Panic set in, and my little siblings suddenly realized just how much they missed their mom. I did too.
This problem seemed to be easily solved- we would just fly back early. After all, my family was supposed to go on furlough (a break from mission work) in June, so we would simply begin our furlough early. With that, we booked tickets for the 24th of March-yesterday. These tickets were carefully planned. The Ugandan government always announced changes in laws on Wednesdays, so we figured that if Uganda was going to completely lock down (that is, not allow anyone in or out), they would do so after we had left.
This decision was already going to be difficult. That gave us around 4 days to pack and say our goodbyes. Thankfully, we had some friends who helped us pack on Saturday the 21st, hoping that they would get all our packing done on Saturday so we would have the next few days to relax and say goodbye.
This was God’s first act of grace towards my family, as you will see in a moment.
Keep in mind that I had been in Uganda for nearly 16 years by that point. I had played on the ministry’s basketball court for over half a decade. Those of you that don’t play basketball will find this difficult to understand, but leaving your home court for good is really hard. I hadn’t played on a different court for years. It was all I knew. Leaving that court was going to be difficult, but I was prepared.
That Saturday, after we had finished packing, a thought began to play on the edge of my conscious. “What if, over the next few days, you don’t get the chance to play on that court for the last time?”
This was God’s second act of grace.
I immediately went over the court and practiced for over an hour. I said a mental goodbye, took one last look at the court, and left. As it turns out, this was my goodbye, since I wouldn’t get another chance to play on that court again.
The rest of the day went about normally, as we finalized our packing jobs and got everything ready. Then, at 9:00 PM, the world came crashing around my head. My (adopted, sort of) sister Betty heard from two of her friends (one works at the airport and the other in the government)- Uganda was going to make an emergency announcement that night, giving foreigners 24 hours to get out of the country before they shut down the borders.
At first, I was calm. Perhaps Betty’s friends were wrong. Perhaps we could still fly out on Tuesday. Then, we listened to the broadcast. Betty’s friends had been correct. All foreigners had 24 hours to leave Uganda before the airports closed. All flights leaving Uganda after midnight of the following day would be canceled.
My first thought: we’re trapped here. My dad had looked into earlier tickets and they simply had not exist. Ethiopian Airlines literally told us, “every single plane leaving Uganda over the next four days is completely booked.” We were trapped. My dad, thankfully, began looking for tickets anyway and, somehow, found them. The plane would be leaving at 6:45 the following day, merely 5 hours before the airports would close. This was God’s third act of grace. Somehow, He gave my dad the plane tickets, despite the fact that the airline these tickets were on (Ethiopian Air), had expressly told us that they had no tickets. Even crazier, these new tickets were cheaper then the tickets for Tuesday, saving us almost $600. This was God’s fourth act of grace.
God’s fifth act of grace is something nearly unbelievable. For ten years, my dad used a little Nokia phone. Then, last year, he finally upgraded to an iPhone, leaving the old Nokia in storage. As we had been packing, I found the Nokia phone tucked away in a random place, and I randomly gave it to my dad. For some reason, he thought to turn it on, only to discover it was dead. I mentioned the fact that we could give it away, so he plugged it in to charge. This all took place about four hours before we bought the tickets.
So, right after my dad bought the tickets, he was told he needed to give a phone number if the airline needed to contact him. My dad tried his iPhone, but that phone was on a Ugandan number, and for some reason, the airline website would only accept American phone numbers. Laughing about it, my dad punched in his dad’s number, thinking that the airline wouldn’t need to call him at all.
As it turns out, the airline immediately called my grandfather’s number to confirm the purchase of the tickets. My grandfather had no idea what was going on, so he gave the airline my dad’s phone number. Only, he gave them the old number, the one that had been discarded up until that day (when we charged it). This was God’s sixth act of grace.
We couldn’t believe it when the old Nokia, still plugged in, started ringing. My dad answered it and, to his surprise, it was the airline calling, trying to reach a Keith McFarland. My dad confirmed the tickets, and we were set.
Then, to add to my surmounting surprise, the airline told my dad that the $95 he paid to keep my family in the same section of the plane was being refunded to him. We could keep the seats, no extra charge. This was God’s seventh act of grace.
Well, I now had two hours to pack my entire life, and I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye to any of my friends. My dad and I went into a packing frenzy, trying to get everything done before we went to bed. I managed to finish packing by 11:30, and so I went to bed. My dad finished by 12:30 before retiring. Neither of us slept long. I woke at 4:30 with my heart pounding, and my dad woke at 5:00 for the same reason. Not only were we unable to process what was happening, but we were completely exhausted, both mentally and physically.
We finished everything up, got everybody into the car, and at 8:00 AM, we drove for the airport. This drive is usually a 3-4 hour drive, but somehow, there was zero traffic. This was God’s eighth act of grace. We got to the airport so early we managed to stop and buy a few necessities for the plane trip. Then, at 11:00, we checked ourselves in, almost 7 hours early. This was God’s eighth act of grace, as you will see in a moment.
Since we had checked ourselves in so early, all we could do was sit the afternoon out and wait for the plane to begin boarding. As it turns out, we got there at precisely the right moment. Not only were we able to get into the airport early, we also managed to get there before 3:00 PM. As we would later find out, Uganda had miscommunicated the airport closing. Instead of closing the airport at midnight, they were simply closing flights down at midnight. The airport itself would be closed at 3:00 PM, so if anybody had a flight after 3:00, they would need to arrive before the airport closed. Since we arrived before 3:00, we managed to get into the airport.
I passed the long wait in the airport by praying. I knew that, despite the flight’s time, if Ugandan president Museveni chose to cancel our flight, it would be done. I was very close to panicking, and just kept praying that our flight would be allowed to leave. It was. This was God’s ninth act of grace, since it turns out that our flight was literally the last flight out of Uganda, into Ethiopia. And, somehow, it wasn’t canceled. We flew at 6:40 PM.
I did not breathe a sigh of relief until we touched down in Ethiopia. Finally, I knew we were alright. We were going to make it to the United States.
After a layover of about twenty minutes, we boarded our next plane. This time, it would be taking us directly to the United States in a 17-hour flight to Chicago. This is the longest I have ever flown, beating my previous record of 15 hours in a flight from Dubai to Chicago.
God’s tenth and eleventh acts of grace occurred on that flight. His first was in allowing my dad and I to sleep more then we ever had on a plane- around 7 hours. His second was in giving my siblings complete grace, as they were total angels for the entire flight. They hardly made a peep (which is insane, given that I remember flights in which my sister screamed nonstop).
Seventeen hours later, we landed in Chicago. Now, by this point, my brother and mom had actually traveled to West Virginia, where they were going to meet us (we own a house there). My dad had booked us flights from Chicago to Atlanta, then Atlanta to West Virginia. However, upon landing in Chicago, we learned that our flight from Chicago to Atlanta had been canceled. God, in his twelfth act of grace, gave my dad tickets flying directly from Chicago to West Virginia. Previously, we hadn’t known these tickets existed. After overcoming a few minor hurdles (like the fact that I, without a winter coat, had to guard our bags outside in the 32-degree weather for 15 minutes), we got into the right terminal and checked into the airline. We were told that the flight left in three hours, so we knew we had a little time.
Now, remember that the wedding my mom went to took place in Chicago, where both my uncle and grandparents live. My dad, being the genius he is, called my grandparents and told us where we were. Twenty minutes later, they were at the airport with us, and they had brought Wendy’s for lunch, something I had not had in a year and a half. After finishing my heavenly lunch, I was able to hang out with my grandparents for an hour before our flight left.
The flight was the most empty one I have ever seen. The tiny airplane sat a maximum of 50 passengers, but we were only 18 people. There were even empty seats in the front row. Needless to say, we were quite comfortable. We landed in West Virginia, reunited with my mom and brother, and went home.
Since then, the hurricane has slightly abated, but it continues to be crazy in the McFarland home. We are now trying to get the house in order, buy a car, and unpack. To make matters worse, I can’t see any of my family since we just came back from an international flight and nobody wants to take a chance of getting sick from us. But God is good, and He has a plan. His grace abounded so much, it was almost unbelievable, and if Hollywood wants to make our story into a movie, I wouldn’t be surprised.
All right, that’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed my crazy story. If you haven’t already, make sure to click that Follow button below (or to the side). That way, when I release new posts like this, you’ll get notified. Thanks again, and I hope you have a fantastic day!
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