I was in the terminal at the Fort Lauderdale airport in Florida last Friday when five people were killed by a deranged gunman.
Some would say I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, but I’m not so sure. To be honest, I wasn’t even scheduled to be there at that time. I was only there that day because I had missed my earlier flight. If I’d had my way, I would have been long gone on the noon flight to JFK that I had purchased two months earlier and then off to London later that evening. I would have gone my merry way and later told stories about how my flight took off an hour before tragedy struck, how blessed I was to have missed it all, and wasn’t God good to have spared me the trauma of not one, but two terminal evacuations, and the drama of spending all day on lockdown in terminal two with hundreds of other stranded passengers.
If it was up to me I would have gladly missed all that for a safe, uneventful travel experience back to the UK for the start of school.
Instead I arrived an hour before my flight but due to a miscalculation on my part my luggage was way overweight. Before they would check my bag I had to extract 15 pounds and redistribute it to my backpack and carry-on. This took some doing and it also took precious time. When I finished I was informed it was now too late to get my bag on the plane and they would have to re-route me on a another flight. Ugh! The fee for my new flight through Detroit was $300+. I was kicking myself for not asking how much to just pay an overweight bag fee, which would have allowed me to make my original flight. I texted a friend and shared my frustration over the additional fee. She replied, “So sorry. God must have some divine appointment for you.”
Her words caused me to change my perspective and I became open to a God assignment. I began to ask Him: Why am I here? Is there something you want me to do, someone you want me to meet? If so, please show me.
The answer wasn’t long in coming. Soon after I got to my gate the shooting downstairs began and quickly there was mayhem in the terminal with everyone running and screaming, trying to get outside of the building onto the tarmac. Eventually, calm was restored after the gunman was apprehended and danger had passed. It was deemed safe for everyone to come back inside only to have a second incident occur 90 minutes later, sending everyone running and screaming out of the building again. This time I found refuge under the gate agent counter, crouched inside next to a garbage can as I could hear people yelling, “Go, go, go, go!” to usher everyone outside again. I stayed inside the cabinet, praying for God’s peace to fill the building. After the second stampede evacuation we were all shell-shocked, not sure what would happen next.
We tried to find out about what caused the second evacuation and we heard rumors of a second gunman in the parking garage, which, thankfully, turned out to be false. After some time, a few dozen passengers from outside came back into the building but the rest were bussed off-site while their carry-on bags remained scattered throughout the terminal. We all just sat and waited, wondering what’s next. Meanwhile we were getting updates on our cell phones of our new flight times. I wondered if any planes would be taking off at all that night. I hoped I could get to Detroit so I could make my evening flight to London. After an hour or two we realized no one was going anywhere on a plane and, worse yet, we couldn’t even leave the building. After the first incident only my terminal was closed but now the entire airport was on lockdown. Planes full of passengers were stranded on the runway. Nobody was allowed in or out of any terminal for who knows how long.
The food court had closed after the first incident and never reopened, so as the day wore on we all got hungrier and crankier. A Delta pilot came by and gave out pretzels and peanuts and someone else brought a few bottles of water to distribute. That’s when I remembered I had a couple boxes of protein bars that I had moved from my checked bag to my backpack. I pulled them out and went from passenger to passenger offering what little I had, asking, “Are you hungry? Would you like lemon or chocolate?”
The chocolate bars went first, leaving the less popular lemon bars. Some wondered if the lemon was any good – and I told them it was my favorite. Of course, some didn’t care what flavor. A protein bar was a protein bar!
I soon ran out of protein bars, but I felt bad there was still so many more passengers who didn’t get any. I walked through the rest of the terminal to see if I could buy some food to share. That’s when I noticed the other side of terminal two was jam-packed with hundreds of passengers. My side was only 30 per cent full but this was worse than I thought. The food court stayed closed but the Hudson News store was open and many were buying Pringles and other snacks.
I looked for something affordable and decided Bevita breakfast bars were my best bet. I asked Ana, the store manager, for a bulk discount on snacks and bottled water, but when she found out my plan was to buy them to give it all away she just gave me a basket and let me fill it up at no charge! She then assigned an employee to accompany me and carry the bottled water. I kept running out of snacks and bottled water and going back to her for more. Each time I went back to refill the baskets, I wondered when Ana’s generosity would end. I must have given out ten baskets of snacks. Over the next couple hours I cleaned the store out of all the Bevitas then moved on to Nutrigrain bars.
This is how I became known as the “snack lady”! People thought I worked at the airport. They were shocked when I told them I was a passenger. I joked that I thought I would be flying somewhere today but that hadn’t worked out so well. Then I told them it was happy hour and handed them a free water and a pack of crackers. Some didn’t know what Bevita was, so then I turned company spokeswoman, explaining that it’s like a graham cracker only better. Some didn’t care. When you’ve been sitting around for six or seven hours, food was food. I shared smiles and laughter with lots of beautiful people throughout the terminal, and I knew in my heart this was my God assignment.
The Bible says in Proverbs 16:9 that a man’s heart plans his way but the Lord directs his steps. My plan that day was to get home as quickly as possible for the start of my new semester abroad in England, but God had other ideas. He needed someone on the ground to be His hands and feet in the terminal that day, and I’m honoured He chose me. I’m an ordinary traveler who serves and extraordinary God. When we partner with Him there’s no telling what’s possible. Eventually I did make it out, two days later from Miami. The next time you experience a flight delay or a sudden change of plans, be open to God working through you because you just might be getting your next assignment.