You Can’t Make this Stuff Up!
As many of you know, in January, our oldest daughter, Isabella, began Rift Valley Academy, a boarding school for missionary kids in Kenya. She has loved her time at RVA– the friends, the sports, the community! RVA operates with three terms a year separated by a month-long vacation between the terms where students return home to their various African countries. Our family was eagerly counting down the days for Isabella to return to Madagascar– we just simply didn’t know ALL that it would entail to bring her home.
Here’s a snapshot…
3 weeks before travel: All flights between our city and Nosy Be, the only city with a partially operating international airport are suspended. The only way to get to Nosy Be is via the capital– either a 10-hour drive plus a 90-minute flight or two flights with a few days in between.
2 weeks before travel: We decide it best to have a small MAF (Missionary Aviation Fellowship) plane pick Jamie up in our city and take him directly to the city with the International Airport so as to avoid extra days away, extra plane trips and extra exposure to Covid which is rapidly spreading.
1 week before travel: With increasing Covid cases all around us, we begin to wonder if Jamie would actually get a negative Covid test result and be able to travel. We begin to make alternate plans for a childhood friend of Jamie’s who lives in Nairobi to bring Isabella back to Madagascar if necessary. She graciously agrees.
4 days before travel: With the increased cases of Covid, the President of Madagascar announces he’ll deliver a speech regarding the current situation of the country– something he hasn’t done for many months. We’re anxious and praying that the one international airport will remain open. Alissa reaches out to a missionary group and asks if anyone has heard rumblings about a potential border closure again. Bobby, an American missionary replies and says he is on the same flight in and out of Madagascar with Jamie. The two talk. Bobby is a PILOT with a small plane for their work in the remote west coast. Bobby offers to stop in our city to pick up Jamie and continue to fly to Nosy Be together. We cancel the MAF flight and save a bundle of money.
2 days before travel: The President announces that our city of Mahajanga and the city of Nosy Be (where the International airport is) would effectively be closed off by all road and by all air travel because of surging Covid cases with the confirmed South African variant. The last International flight will be March 27th. The flight that Jamie, Isabella and the other missionary are booked on! We all agree it’s best to bring Isabella home even with the strong possibility that she may not be able to return to Kenya for Term 3 should the borders remain closed.
Monday, Day 1 of travel: After tearful goodbyes, Jamie and Bobby have an uneventful flight to the north and upon landing, rush to the hospital to have Covid Test #1 performed. Because our city will be locked down upon Jamie and Isabella’s return in a week, the paperwork for travel authorization begins in the government.
Tuesday, Day 2 of travel: Hours before their flight, Jamie and Bobby wait in line for 2 hours at the hospital to pay the fees before they pick up their negative Covid results and race to the airport.
Wednesday, Day 3 of travel: Jamie and Bobby arrive at 2am in Nairobi via Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After some much-needed sleep, Jamie takes advantage of the ability to get some supplies for the Sarobidy Maternity Center and birthday presents for our kid’s upcoming birthdays.
Thursday, Day 4: Covid Test #2 is performed in the hotel room by a Kenyan Government Approved Covid-19 Laboratory. Test results are promised by 10pm. No test results.
Friday, Day 5: By noon, there are still no test results. Time is ticking to (1) pick Isabella up and (2) be back at the airport in 14 hours with test results. Jamie keeps calling the doctor and the lab. I call the lab from Madagascar. Still no test results! Jamie begins to make arrangements to get back to Nairobi to have another Covid test performed so it can process in time for results before their flight. At 2pm, hallelujah, the results are in. Jamie is negative!! Isabella’s test is negative. Bobby’s test is negative. Three tests, three labs, three negatives! 4pm. The Kenyan president announces that due to rising Covid counts, 5 counties would be locked down with 8 hours notice. Kijabe and Nairobi are part of this lock down. 4:15pm. Jamie and Isabella are reunited!!! Meanwhile, goodbyes are rushed, if even spoken, as RVA teachers, staff and kids scramble to change travel plans so that kids can get off campus and families can be reunited with these new travel bans. Isabella along with the other students leave without knowing if they’ll be coming back in April.
8pm. Cancel dinner plans with friends and Jamie and Isabella arrive at a hotel near the airport before the 10pm Nairobi curfew is enforced.
Saturday, Day 6 (day 4 of travel): At 2am, Jamie and Isabella check into their flight, Covid tests in hand, Trusted Traveler Certificate in hand, QR code in hand– all documents now required for international travel. 3pm- arrival back in Madagascar on the very last international flight back into the country!! 3:45pm- Covid Test #3 is performed at the Nosy Be airport prior to being able to leave. Results are scheduled to be released on TUESDAY (because the hospital doesn’t perform tests on Sunday and Monday is a national holiday– the thought of waiting all these extra days is tough!). However, the doctor who we have forged a relationship with in the past, tells Jamie to meet him at the hospital on Sunday at 7am to pick up the results.
Sunday, Day 7. The country wakes to the news that former President Ratsiraka died at the age of 84. There will be a national day of mourning on Tuesday. We wonder if this will result in an additional day delay. 7am- As instructed, Jamie arrives at the hospital and waits for the doctor who hasn’t arrived. After 30 minutes, Jamie calls the doctor who is still at home, asleep. 9:30am- the doctor arrives and says the tests will be done at 11am. The electricity goes out. There’s no generator at the hospital so there will be a delay for an unknown amount of time. Jamie returns to the hotel to check on Isabella who is sound asleep. 11am- Jamie returns to the hospital hopeful but still no test results. He waits with five other people. At 1pm, the doctor comes out and announces to Jamie and the others that there are 3 positive tests. For those who are positive, they must quarantine in the hospital for 14 days. Jamie, Isabella and Bobby are negative!! 1:30pm- Jamie scans the negative tests and emails them to be compiled with the rest of the paperwork requesting travel authorization with Bobby’s plane out of Nosy Be and into Mahajanga– both cities which are tightly locked down because of Covid.
3pm- Jamie, Isabella and Bobby arrive to a ghost town of an airport in hopes of receiving the flight authorization from the Civil Aviation of Madagascar and travel authorization from the Governors of the various regions. Jamie calls and speaks with the Governor of our region who then calls the authorities in the capital city, all of whom are at the funeral of the former President. 4pm- the window of opportunity for an afternoon departure closes. Everyone is discouraged and disheartened and tears flow for the three of us eagerly waiting and impatient for their arrival. The Welcome Home Isabella sign and balloons, homemade bagels and cookies must wait for another day or two or three. We’re simply unsure.
Monday, Day 8 (Day 5 of travel): At 7am, Bobby speaks with Civil Aviation in the capital city and they state that as the travel restrictions came from the President of Madagascar, that the permission to travel in and out of these restricted cities must also come from the President of Madagascar!! 8am- Jamie calls the the Governor of our region and relays the message about the need for permission from the President. 9am- The Governor speaks with the Secretary General of the President of Madagascar and permission to travel is granted!!! 10:50am- take off!
12:30pm- With tears and squeals of delight, we wrap our arms around Isabella and Jamie!
To be honest, it was one of those weeks that we exquisitely felt the challenges and sacrifices and heartache of living in Madagascar. It is astonishing, though not surprising how the Lord had all the details planned out well before we even knew we would need them! Each detail- from the small to the massive, and everything in between, was nothing short of God’s abounding GRACE upon GRACE that brought Jamie and Isabella back home to us and Bobby back home to his family.
After many months of quiet on the Covid front, a resurgence has hit Madagascar hard and it’s spreading like a California wildfire! The highly contagious and dangerous South African variant has made it’s way into our community. Our city remains completely locked down to leaving or entering, however the streets are full of unmasked vendors, people walking and working like you would see any day of a non-pandemic year. Currently, we know more than 80+ friends and co-workers who are recovering or who are actively sick with confirmed or suspected Covid. Some of these were positive last year, some of these were positive just two months ago, some of these are in serious condition. In the last week alone, we know 4 people who have passed away from Covid in our city- three of the four were young and healthy. We know there are many, many more but transparency about the situation is muddy at best. Hospitals are turning people away, there aren’t enough beds, supplies or oxygen and there isn’t a single ventilator within our city. Dengue Fever is spreading again as well. It is ominous.
The Sarobidy Maternity Center has continued providing care to women and their babies and we’ve seen active cases of Covid in our program. We’ve also seen the ramifications of Covid with an increase in pre-term deliveries and some dramatic complications during birth (3 in a single week, all with the same complication that we have never seen before– all to Covid+ moms).
We praise God for His steady hand of protection over these moms and their babies, all of whom are healthy and bonding together! We praise God for His protection over our midwifery team despite Covid in our midst. Please join us in praying for God’s continued protection of our friends, our teammates and co-workers, our community and our family.
As I recount the Lord’s grace upon grace lavished upon us this month in all the details of this recent trip to Kenya and back– I can’t help but to know it is but one star in the night sky in comparison to the GRACE upon GRACE that God lavished upon each of us when He gave His one and only Son to atone for the sins of the world. May the PEACE of Christ and the JOY of His resurrection be with you and yours!
With love and gratitude,
Alissa, Jamie, Isabella, Eliana and Gavin
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