I was wearing my Pilot’s uniform, epaulettes, boots, peak cap, reflecting that when I get back to Wewak, I will be lonely. What I am going to do? I pretend I can cook yet I cannot remember the last time I ate protein. Clare in Australia, I in northern PNG, never have we been separated this long. It’s our 30th wedding anniversary this year. I know I am lonely living a charade without her. I pretend I am OK.
I start the stairs to my trusty plane. “I hope you don’t mind if I get on your plane? Is there space?” I turn to find with the wife of a frequent flyer to these parts of the jungle begging to get onboard. “Of course,” I say.
This surreal situation pulls at my innermost thoughts. This lady who has spent years in this isolated place now wants to escape to Australia, and I help her. Will I be the last man standing? I think of Robinson Crusoe. Him and me. One kind. I am close to the coast like him, and my phone picks up a signal. Clare has texted. “Come home now!”
God purchased a house for us last December. It’s remote there. Not many people want that level of isolation. Still, after living in the jungle for so many years, it seems like paradise to us. “Shops are closing, flights are being cancelled. You won’t get another chance.” More texts. Oh, I think.
The Coronavirus is taking its toll. It seems my generation, the first in a long time not to experience a world war, is finally experiencing the global act. “All MAF flights grounded.” This is not the news I expected on landing in Wewak. This is getting serious.
I cannot sleep. The film I just watched of the late Eric Liddell who ran for God, also failed to escape China before the Japanese invaded. It did not end well. It is three in the morning, and I am surprised my wife is awake, sending me another text, “Come home!” Another plea. I cannot abandon my post. That’s not what I do. I have what it takes to be the last man standing. Maybe though, I should find out what a higher authority wants me to do. I pray, which inspires me to send an email to my boss. “Tell me what to do?” I press Send. I sleep well.
Go home. Be with your wife. Here is your ticket. That was clear. But, what happened to me being the last man standing. I realise now that my worth as an effective missionary is founded on both of us, not just me. On my own God probably thinks I am not good enough. He is right, of course. I am fast becoming part of the problem.
I feel a great relief, we are to be reunited as one again, but the plane is late. One hour has been eroded from the two-hour stopover at Port Moresby. This is going to be tight. The lady from the jungle is with me. We are both escaping now. So too are a couple of American pilots when she found out that number two is on its way. A young American missionary from the border is also fleeing to his wife in California expecting number three.
The plane is half empty, and the baggage collection runs smoothly with very few passengers as the airport shuts down. Grounded planes litter the tarmac. Customs is empty. Two more MAF pilots from Hagen make three of us seeking refuge in Australia. The American pilots are turned away at the gate, Australia borders closed to non-residents. The flight is full.
I have been on the plane thirty minutes now, and still, people are getting on. I am hoping to see a MAF family from Hagen make it, but nothing yet. I text Clare, “I have boarded. I am coming home, God willing!” The plane’s doors close and I see the Hagen family shuffle up the aisle. Two kids and dad sit right behind me. The last row. The last tickets for all of us. Mum sits with baby far down the plane.
Food is a sticky bun in a bag. Another restriction. “Would you like a drink, sir?” “Yes please, what have you got?” “Soda water, Tonic water, and water.” “Oh, I best have water then.” Good job I ate yesterday.
“Please fill in this form, sir.” “And this one.”, “And this one.” “Have you filled in this form yet?” It keeps the boarders safe, I guess. The dog seems to latch on to my backpack. It’s handler stares at me. I shrug. She does not smile. I am not sure I would like a job where non-smiling is a part of it.
News pours in; PNG bans all internal travel, PNG closes its borders to everyone, Australia closes its borders to everyone. Last PNG flight today; the US to close its borders, Australia states close its borders. All borders closed. Stay put. Stay at home.
Home now. How wonderful. I am looking forward to fourteen days of isolation, to spending fourteen great days with my wife. God is good, He has provided, and I am pleased to follow His commands.
I hope she managed to find toilet paper!