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Monday, April 19, 2010

Iceland's Volcanic Spew

Europe's been grounded since last Thursday. We had a friend fly into town last Thursday morning and had arranged to meet for coffee since he had a "long" layover...about 5 hours. His flight was late and we later learned that it was diverted due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland. We thought it was noteworthy but didn't give it a second thought as he headed back out to the airport to catch his flight to Barcelona. As the day unfolded, we learned that the airports all over northern Europe were closing. At 6.00 p.m. we got a call from our friend who with a smile in his voice announced that he was now checked into the Hotel Birger Jarl, the hotel that our church owns and is right down the street. He had decided to scrap his meeting in Spain and spend the weekend in Stockholm, having confidently re-booked his seat for Sunday. We made plans to have dinner on Saturday.
Well, of course this mess has turned out to be much more difficult than expected. Today our friend left on a 6.00 a.m. train to Copenhagen as he had a confirmed flight to Chicago in the afternoon. Problem was that the airline made a change in the middle of the night and diverted all traffic to Oslo, Norway which meant that by the time our friend got to Copenhagen, he had missed the chance to get out of Norway. When we spoke with him this afternoon the smile had disappeared from his voice since the next flight they could promise him was a week from tomorrow, April 27. And now he was in Copenhagen. ugh. His 5 hour layover is turning into a traumatizing ordeal.
Since we just arrived home last Tuesday, I have felt utterly thankful that we are home. Then it dawned on me that this could've happened the week we were supposed to leave for Augusta. How disappointing would that have been...that after all my scheming, we would've been grounded in Europe?! I thank God that we have traveled so much this year with no incident.
The ripple effect of European airports being closed is staggering. Food is rotting in African airports because it cannot be exported. All trade is just halting. This whole crisis reminds me of two important things. We are not ultimately in charge. A natural disaster has thwarted many plans. More importantly, it reveals how deeply interconnected the globe really is. To think that the fruit industry in Kenya is being affected by the shut-down of European airports is really something to ponder.
Ultimately, I feel awful for people who are stranded and separated from loved ones. I feel terrible for our friend Jay who is now wondering what the next step for him should be. Last I heard he was taking a train to Jönköping and hoping to get a flight out of Stockholm to anywhere in the US within the next couple of days. The director of World Mission in Sweden is now working on this for him and should he land back in Stockholm, he will likely move in with us for his own comfort. I wish we could do more but there's really little that can be done except pray for people's safety and sanity. As much as we need to get the air traffic moving again, we also don't want to put people in harm's way by flying into unsafe skies.
The big wrinkle for us is that we are hosting the International Pastors' Conference that is scheduled to start one week from today. I cannot begin to think that this event won't happen. It would be so disappointing for we keep hoping and praying that people will be able to get to Stockholm one way or another next Monday.
In the meantime, I am very grateful to be home in Stockholm in my lovely surroundings with my husband by my side. For those who find yourself in a more stressful have my empathy and my prayers. Especially Jay tonight...wherever you.
One last thought...we do deal with stress with humor in many situations and this one is no different. Iceland went bankrupt last year so the big joke has been Iceland, we said cash, not ash! The other noteworthy crack was that Iceland's last wish was to have her ashes spread over Europe. Laugh or cry, right?
And by the way...there has been no evidence of the ash in the air here in Stockholm. We've actually had quite nice weather with blue, blue skies. So we'll see what tomorrow brings.