3 Years Ago: DRC Diaries Chapter 1
Updated: Mar 25, 2019
On March 21.2016, Hunter and I left home to pursue the finalization of our adoption process of Dorcas and Ruth, with the goal of bringing them home. That was 3 years ago yesterday.
Three years ago today, March 22.2016, we walked away from the Brussels Airport Bombings unscathed. When I realized the date yesterday, waves of emotions, awe and memories of those days flooded my being. How has it been 3 years since we loaded up in that uber for DFW with our gigantic bags packed with everything we thought necessary to survive 2 weeks in the DRC?
Later that day, in a moment of chaos between a soccer game and packing bags for Brackett's choir trip to Houston, I turned to the Psalms as I passed by my Bible in search of a reset for my short tempered nerves, what I really needed was to hear His voice.
"His truth and His faithfulness are a shield and a buckler. You shall not be afraid of the terror of the night, nor of the arrows that flies by day. Nor of the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor of the destruction and sudden death that surprise and lay waste at noonday.....He will give His angels especial charge over you to accompany and defend and preserve you in all your ways of obedience and service." --Psalms 91:3-4, 11
There are no two other days in our lives than on March 21st and 22nd, 2016, that we have sensed God's presence in these powerful ways described in Psalms 91, as we traveled to Kinshasa.
The following are the words from Hunter's journal entries
during those first 2 days of travel:
"Trip to Kinshasa - Day 1 3.21.2016 Today Megan and I left Dallas to begin the journey to finalize the long road it has been to finally bring Ruth and Dorcas home. A journey that started with Little Rock as “home” and will end with that sensation feeling as far as it ever was real. So much has happened since we began this journey - so much has happened in our hearts, in our person, in the deepness of our soul - so much has happened with the reality of our lives - changed towns, changed jobs, changed perspective. One thing is clear with the benefit of hindsight - we were not prepared to take this task on - 4 plus years ago when we started. And, not just perhaps, but most certainly, God knew that. He knew the path He had before us and has architected this day, this moment, for us and for these girls. God has done a work in Megan’s heart that just astounds me - for one who I have always thought is our “spiritual gangster” - God has changed her, matured her, grown her and given her an indomitable spirit - in the process He broke her, He stripped her, and He challenged her - all while calling her to more of His goodness. The refiner’s fire has rendered a women who just simply needs to trust, to just step into the woman God has called her to be - who needs to understand the confidence she should carry herself with - b/c of who
her Creator is and what he has done with her life. And who He has made and is making in her. We awoke this morning at 4, and as we sat with a cup of coffee prior to going to “get a quick workout in,” we both just tried to get our arms around what today meant. Today meant that the wilderness of this process finally has given way to a tangible and real something. That the something of welcoming two girls into our family is but a couple of days away. But because I am always the doubting Thomas and fear the uncertainty of extraction, what can not be taken away is that inside that country those girls are our daughters. So, we will meet our daughters on Thursday. I guess the difference in bringing a newborn into the world is you get to know the baby before they are
really capable of getting to know you…Not so with two six year olds. In the dark on the way back from the gym this morning Megan said her greatest fear is in being disappointed and that the sheer disappointment will result in me being disappointed. I tried to alleviate her on that - she could never disappoint me (I mean sometimes her cooking does, but…anyway) she can’t disappoint me. In fact, as I reflect on this entire process, we have done nothing BUT set up ourselves up for disappointment. From the moment our agency said, “We have a PILOT program in the Congo.” I mean who hears “pilot.” Well certainly not me. Certainly not after having walked the road of adoption in Rwanda and Uganda, you don’t hear “pilot” you hear “so there is a chance.” I have reflected on this prospect of disappointment all day - what if the rug is pulled out, what if we fail the last test, what if the DGM doesn’t like us, what if it all falls apart at the end? Crushing our hopes and dreams and ending it. What if, what if, what if? So I don’t know how this journey ends, or how it all turns out on the ground. I can’t, God shields us from the future for our own sake. Not just because it's good for us, but because it allows us to grow and mature into who He is calling us to be. But I know this - we have risked ourselves, our hearts, our family for what we know HE has called us to and know that whatever the outcome, it is His. And, standing on the prayer of our friends, loved ones, and prophetic words, we believe He will work and move in this for His glory.
Trip to Kinshasa Day 2
3.22.2016 Day 2 began over the North Atlantic Ocean en route from Newark to Brussels for our connecting flight to Kinshasa. The flight, delayed out of the gate for over a hour from Newark (a providential delay, it turned out to be), was an eight hour flight. Megan and I both took a sleeping pill, but neither of us were able to get much if any sleep. We sat side by side - watching different movies. The trip across the Atlantic at night reminded me of my trip to Australia - just how dark it can be yet how brilliant the stars can be as well. It was a beautiful night. We landed in Brussels at 7:40 am local time. We were in the process of deplaning when the pilot came across the intercom and reported there had been a "security situation" and the airport was on lockdown. We looked out the window and there were people running out of the airport. We knew then something was going on out of the ordinary. I pulled up Twitter - and immediately begin to see the reports and pictures. (Pretty crazy how quickly news can spread these days). Gruesome pictures of what had happened less than 5 minutes in the past were already online and we could see the devastation at the airport of both life and property. Again the pilot came on line and said there had been multiple bombings at the airport and there were other bombs in the airport. We deplaned onto the tarmac where other planes were…and could see the smoke billowing from the terminal. Buses were sent to fetch us to evacuate us to the maintenance hangars. Ours was one of the first planes deplaned on the tarmac - all we could hear were sirens. They boarded us onto the buses - chaos was everywhere. It was not exactly orderly. The bus zoomed across the tarmac - SWAT teams were deployed to guard our evacuation. Everywhere we looked were either uniformed police bearing sub machine guns or out of uniform special forces - with black hoodies covering their faces. We were dropped at the hangar - and a crowd of several hundred grew into several thousand. I was constantly checking Twitter to get a sense of the situation. 20 were reported dead and casualties in excess of 200. News reports were showing the airport was sealed to entrance/ exit except for emergency vehicles. Ambulances, police cars, heavy military vehicles were zooming in and out of the airport entrance. We also learned one of the bombs had gone off at the American Airlines counter - a chilling fact for us. Had our plane not been one hour late, we would have been in that very area after having claimed our bags at customs and making our connection. We felt God’s hand on us - gently saying He was watching over us. We began to slow things down and get our whereabouts. Amazingly, we were not panicked. At this point, one hour after the explosions - we knew a couple things. 20 people were dead, 100s wounded, one suspect on the loose and reports of multiple bombs left at the airport. The airport was closed - for an indefinite period of time. We began to play things out in our mind - being stuck in Brussels for a couple days was not an option.
Therefore, the next step in our process was simply get to a European city with connecting flights to Kinshasa. That began our thought :get somewhere to get a flight. So how? As we walked around amongst the crowd, thinking how to get out of this airport, we ran across a Belgian news anchor - randomly we struck up a conversation with him. He too was thinking something similar - he wanted to get back to his station to make his report on tv. We knew, looking around at the couple thousand folks at the airport that being an “evacuee” and waiting for someone to tell us what to do next was futile. We had do something - and the first of the something was to get out of the airport. But, what do about our bags? As we were asking ourselves this question out loud, a Brussels Airline employee overheard us and simply said, “Forget your bags, get out of here. Now.”
So there it was, forget the bags and get out of the airport asap. Our buddy’s brother was trying to get close enough to give him a ride back to the station. He said we probably had a couple mile walk once we figured out how to get out of the secured airport perimeter before we would find a cab or any transport. Faced with staying put with water and blankets in an airport hangar (it was a DHL hangar), we started walking with our Belgian friend. As we struck out over the bridge to the main airport exit we continued to see ambulance and military vehicles streaming in and out of the airport. Sirens blaring incessantly. As we crested the bridge, we began to see a stream of folks running against the direction we were going. Someone said, as the ran by, “He has a gun pointed up there!” and we immediately stopped. We looked down the bridge and there were military personnel with weapons drawn and pointed down into the parking garage of the airport.
Apparently, come to find out, the police and military exchanged gunfire
with one of the suspects in the parking garage and we were witnesses to it.
Needless to say, we turned and went the other direction. In a hurry. We eventually found our way out of the airport proper and began walking on a highway to the nearest village - with our news anchor buddy. His phone ran out of battery - and he could not get a cell signal. All cell traffic was shutdown to maintain bandwidth for the emergency responders. I provided him with my backup cell phone battery, which came in very handy. We asked him where we should try to get to- Paris, Frankfurt or Amsterdam.
He said Paris - get to Paris. So there it was - get to Paris.
But how? He said he would have his brother take us to Maalbeek Station.
There we could find our way to the high speed train. But, his brother was having no luck getting anywhere close to us because the authorities were not allowing any traffic into the airport quadrant.
So as we were walking a couple miles from the airport on a random highway, quite near NATO headquarters, Megan spotted a taxi. It must have been the only taxi in the area. And by the looks of the taxi driver, he might have literally stepped out of his apartment into his car and had just started his car for the day, not knowing what had happened all around him.
Megan said when she saw the sweet Audi with a un-lit taxi sign on top, it was like when Abraham saw the hidden ram in the brushes just before he sacrificed Isaac. One thing was certain, we needed a taxi, had no hope of getting one - and then there it was, God provided like the ram in the brush. All three of us piled into the car, first destination was the news station.
Our driver, Thierry, drove like a maniac. As we got closer to city center, more police,
more military, more sirens and more chaos. It was crazy. As we discussed with our Belgian friend, he instructed the driver what we needed.
After we dropped him, we needed to get to the train station. We began to cross town to Maalbeek station. As we were crossing town, in heavy traffic and going 60 km/h down tiny little cobblestone streets, that looked one way, we began to see on Twitter that more bombs had gone off, the border was closing and Brussels was going on lock down. We had no idea what that meant. Finally we made it to the train station, thinking ah, here we go, a train out of town. When we pulled in, we immediately knew something was wrong. Big time. Ambulances, military vehicles were everywhere and uniformed and special forces bearing heavy weapons were running around. An out of uniform special forces agent pointed his weapon at us -told us to get out of the train station. A bomb had just gone off at the station which had killed 10 plus and wounded dozens more. The train station was closed. And more were threatened.
Our driver high tailed it out of there. At this point, he asked where we needed to get to, We said Paris. He kinda laughed and asked why? We told him were on our way to Kinshasa, Congo. He asked why? We told him we were adopting two children and needed to get there to by Thursday to finalize things. He says (And he is a 6’2’’ good looking Anglo-Saxon guy) “Ah, I am from Congo. Grew up there, when it was a beautiful country and wonderful place.”
"Get the heck out of here!" we said,"Where in Congo?"
“Lubumbashi,” he says.
Megan and I just look at each other, and immediately thought the same thing, “Are you serious God? Our rescue driver is from the same place as the Twins- Lubumbashi?"
In that moment, its evident that God has both a sense of both humor and deliverance, and we felt a complete peace. He knew this encounter would happen, it was a gift- a crazy you can't make this stuff up- kind of gift.
Now here is where real life interjects, we had been screeching around the streets of Brussels for about 45 minutes. We had not used the bathroom since we landed and were both pretty car sick. We tell Thierry, we need to hit the head and game plan on how to get to Paris. About this time, we receive a text from Tabitha, our adoption travel coordinator, saying the border with France is closing (via CNN). So we ask Thierry, how should we get to France?
He says, “Oh, I can take you there.”
So we said, "Done, you are hired. By the way, how much? “
"For you, $400 euro.”
(I think he had bought into the journey!) So we stop at his friends hotel for some water and a bathroom break. Brussels was on lock down and therefore the door was locked, we had to get access via him calling her…After hitting the head, we made our break for border. About two hours outside of Brussels, we safely crossed into France.
Along the way, we booked flights to Kinshasa, via Istanbul. We finally made it to our hotel about 5pm, utterly exhausted. We said our farewells to Thierry.
After two very long, very hot showers, we grabbed a bite to eat at the hotel,
and crashed at 8pm in our bed.
In the last 36 hours, I had slept about 30 minutes, and Megan about a hour. Day 2 was finally finished. Tomorrow we would make our way to Istanbul so that we could arrive in Kinshasa in time for Ruth and Dorcas flight from Lubumbashi on Thursday."