We spent a day in Belize. It kind of reminded me of the episode of “The Office” when Kevin said that “I was on Dallas” (S7 E19) an episode worth rewatching.
Belize was not our intended destination but we were forced to land there due to bad weather. Our original destination was the island of Roatan off the coast of Honduras to visit friends who are building a Teen Challenge ministry on West End. We boarded our plane in New Orleans around 6 AM, had a layover in Miami and then we were off to the Island. The weather forecast was rainy, but there was no mention of a potential closing of the airport. Once we began circling the island of Roatan, the captain informed us that air traffic control has us in a holding pattern circling over the airport. After about 30 minutes, the captain came back on the PA and informed us, that we are being diverted to Belize to refuel and wait out the storm.
Once we landed at the airport, which was about 20 minutes away from Roatan, the weather outside of the window was beautiful and sunny. But from the view through the window plane, we could tell that we were in a very small airport, and not in Belize City. The airplane crew opened the door, signaling that we were going to be there for a while.
We were not allowed to leave the plane due to our immigration status. Ironically, Belize doesn’t allow illegal aliens to enter their country without proper documentation and process. I respect that. That would be a good policy for any sovereign nation to hold.
So we sat on the plane for many hours. It’s strange, how nearly 100 people who had no former relationship can bond when they are thrown together in nearly unbearable circumstances. We were told to remain in our seats, there was no food on board and the door to the plane was open and there we waited.
The flight was filled with some unique characters; there was a family right behind us with two small children under 4 years old, the seats next to us had
travelers that spoke a different language, one couple in front of us was on their way to move out of the US permanently. There were some sober people and some not so sober, young people, old people, business people and tourist on their way to dive the coral reefs off the island of Roatan and two pastors from Louisiana, me and Ken.
Ken and I were on our way to serve missionaries on the island and scout out the island in order to bring a team from Journey next year.
What happened over the next six hours as we sat on the tarmac in a tiny airport in a Central American country was quite remarkable. All of these strangers, from very different places, thrown together in a very tense situation began to bond in a surprising way.
The young family, with two small children, were cared for and comforted by the people surrounding them. We began telling each other stories and asking questions, and even laughing about our predicament. The hours dragged on with no end in sight but the situation on board the plane grew more pleasant and bearable, maybe even enjoyable. The captain from the flight deck gave us updates every 15 minutes on the weather that was preventing us from flying and then about an hour into this human experiment something remarkable happened that would change everything. This may have been the key to the attitude, and maybe even the culture that was developing on board this tiny plane. The captain left the comfort and security of the cockpit and came to the passengers. He stopped in First Class and spoke to each person one by one. That makes sense, since they were the people nearest him, and I assumed that that’s where it would end, but it didn’t. He walked through the curtain and stopped at the front seat of Economy Class. (Economy Class is a nice way of describing the cheap seats).
He continued to walk the length of the plane, stopping at each seat and talking to each person. I watched him in amazement and thought to myself this man is a leader and he really cares about these travelers. We were sitting in the very back of the plane maybe a row or two from the galley. When the pilot finally reached us after a long journey of talking to scores of people, he stopped at my row and made direct eye contact with me and asked sincerely several questions like, “How are you doing? Are you OK? Is there anything I can do to make this better?” I answered each question politely and offered that we are fine and that we appreciate his efforts but I wish I had said what I was really thinking.
“You just made this trip a joyful experience and a memorable journey by your leadership and humanity.”
He left the comfort of his seat, opened the security door to the cockpit and walked among the travelers, even going through the curtain to common people and even to the ones on the very last row. He changed the atmosphere on the plane and we all decided without discussing it to follow his lead and take care of each other.
Later on that night, we were eventually rerouted back to Miami to spend the night and try again the next morning. The weather did clear the next day, and we landed at our intended destination 24 hours later. But maybe that diversion to that little airport in Belize was part of our intended destination.
Maybe even our Destiny.