One week ago, I looked out the window at white Wisconsin snow clinging to oak trees like a robe. This morning, I see mist rising like a spirit above verdant mountains in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea.
In one week, God has brought our family of eight nearly ten-thousand miles to the other side of the world!
Let me tell you the story of how we journeyed here, and how I lost track of one of our infant twins in an airport in Papua New Guinea. If you ever wondered what it looks like to move a family of 8, with 6 young kids, to the opposite side of the world, then read-on!
On Wednesday, April 4th, we woke up just after 4 AM for our last breakfast in the United States. Our bags were all packed, including 24 storage totes and suitcases sitting in a tarp-covered trailer attached to my father’s truck. Our dear friend, Laura Nelson, met us at my dad’s house, and we drove to the Minneapolis airport. We pulled up with a minivan full of children and a trailer full of luggage. We went into the airport and asked for porters to be paged, and a few minutes later, two very helpful airport workers marveled at our mound of luggage, helped us unload it onto carts, and we took a family picture before our mountain of belongings. We hugged and said goodbye to my dad with tears in our eyes, and the children told their “Papa” they love and will miss him.
We were blessed with a very empty American Airlines check-in counter, and several staff assisted us with tagging our luggage. I asked the worker at the counter if we could have a humanitarian discount on our baggage fees (something we had been praying for) and after brief consultation with a manager, we were blessed with around $1,500 dollars of reduced baggage fees.
Our flight itinerary was not short: we were scheduled to go from Minneapolis, to Chicago, to Los Angeles, to Brisbane, Australia, to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, to Mt. Hagen, Papua New Guinea, a total of five flights, followed by a short drive from Mt. Hagen to Kudjip. Some people have said we are crazy to travel so far with so many young kids. When people say this, I imagine missionary families from before the modern area, who spent monthstraveling by boat and rail to reach their destination, while our whole itinerary is measured in days. Surely, one can do anything for a few days?
As we walked to our first gate we were eager with anticipation. Check-in at the airport had been as smooth as possible, our 24 bags were out of our hands, and we had been blessed by reduced fees. We were several hours early for our flight, so we grabbed breakfast and walked to our gate.
Here we met the first surprise of our trip: our flight to Chicago was canceled because of weather!
No need to panic, surely there were many other ways to get from Minneapolis to LA before our overnight international flight? I talked at the counter with two agents while Genae entertained the children. Unfortunately, there were not many ways to get us to LA by 9 PM to catch our flight to Australia. After an hour, because of other cancellations and limited seats, we had to divide as a family to take different routes across the country on different airlines in hopes of making it to LA by 9 PM. We quickly divided our passports, snacks, diapers, etc, and I tried to take as much carry-on luggage with me as I could hold. I hopped on a plane to Dallas on American Airlines with Evie, Walter, and Milo, and we all said goodbye to Genae while she waited for a direct flight on Delta to LA with the twins (Ford and Eleanor) and Harvey.
A couple of hours later I arrived in Dallas, and called Genae. She was at the Delta gate, where the plane was boarding, and the Delta agent told her that, “Sorry, it looks like American Airlines never actually booked you on the flight.” Genae showed them the boarding pass that American Airlines had printed out for her, but the agent said, “Sorry, you don’t have seats, and there is nothing we can do. American Airlines must have made a mistake when they re-booked your flight. The plane is full, good luck.” If Genae didn’t make this flight, there would be no way to get to LA by 9 PM and we would miss our international flight and all of the other travel arrangements after that would go awry! Genae was in tears pleading with the Delta agent, who was not willing to help further, and not willing to speak with me on the phone, as the plane boarded and they did final calls. I was pacing in the Dallas airport feeling utterly helpless. I started to frantically call American Airlines and Walter, Evie, Milo and I all said a quick prayer together for mommy, Harvey, and the twins. A few minutes later Genae called back. Another agent was helpful and let her get on the plane right before the doors closed, as apparently the flight was not entirely full. Previously, when I talked to Genae, I said, “I don’t care if you need to hang on the wings, you have to get on that plane!”
Prayers and will did their work, and Genae hopped on the plane to LA while I breathed a deep sigh of relief.
I waited in the Dallas airport for our connection to LA with three of our children, and we all enjoyed some incredible Texas airport BBQ (one perk from our disrupted travel plans!). Then, a few hours later, we made our flight to LA and hustled to the international terminal to arrive about 45 minutes prior to boarding our international flight. Genae was waiting there at the gate with the twins and Harvey, and we were all overjoyed to be re-united as a family, and on time for our 14 hour flight to Brisbane, Australia. Our travel adventures were not over, however. Right before boarding in LA, we were told that our car seats were not approved for travel on Qantas Airlines. We had purchased seats for the infants, because you are not allowed to have two infant-in-arms in the same part of the plane (something we have learned since having twins) and because our hope was to bring the car seats on the plane so the twins could sleep on our overnight flight to Australia. I showed the agents the stickers on the car seats that said they were approved for aviation travel, but was again told they were not approved. Regulation triumphed over reason, and it looked like we were going to have to hold the twins the entire overnight flight. Yet, after trying to be lovingly (and Christianly) persistent, we found a different manager who allowed us to bring the car seats on the plane, a great blessing, because the twins slept in their seats nearly the entire flight to Australia!
Our journey to Australia was not too difficult. We were all exhausted (having been up about 21 hours at this point), and the kids slept most of the way. Genae and I played “Twister” trying to contort ourselves into tolerable positions for sleep while surrounded by car seats and children. We were mostly unsuccessful, but managed to nod off here and there. The flight passed in a half-waking, half-sleeping delirium, and before we knew it, we were stretching our legs on a new continent. We had a six hour layover until our flight to PNG. I washed my face in the airport bathroom, and put on a change of clothes. Genae and I took turns lying on the airport floor with our eyes closed. We spent time talking with Linda, Scarlett, and Sophie, three relations of another PNG missionary who happened to be on our international flight. They provided great assistance with our very emotional and sleep-deprived children!
Then, after a stretch of being an embarrassingly loud family in a quiet airport, we boarded our plane to Papua New Guinea! It was a short flight (only a few hours) from Brisbane to Port Moresby. We were all filled with excitement as we peered out the window at our first glimpses of PNG – a rugged island with turquoise coastal waters and clouded mountains.
The twins cried inconsolably for the whole flight, but we were in a state of exhausted joy when our plane bumped to the ground on PNG soil, and our kids cried out, “We are in Papua New Guinea!”
We departed the plane, and were soon making our way through customs. A young PNG man at the airport came to our assistance when he saw us struggling to hold multiple bags, twins, and fill out customs forms while standing in line. He introduced himself as, “Baker” and had a bright smile that lit up his entire face. He helped usher our big family to a separate counter where we could fill out the needed paperwork, and he went into the luggage area to find our stroller and allow us to put down the twins (who continued to serenade the whole airport with their cries). At one point, I was holding a crying infant, several checked bags, and trying to stand in line while filling out a customs form, only to have Ford lean over and bite off half the form. Harvey and Milo fought with each other and worked their way to an “I haven’t slept in 36 hours meltdown.” I asked everyone else in the customs line if any of them would like to purchase one of our children at auction, and was met with laughs and sympathy.
Half an hour later, Baker was helping us gather our 24 checked bags on the other side of customs, and the twins were now crying in their double stroller, instead of Genae and I’s exhausted arms. I was so grateful that the first PNG national I met, Baker, was so joy-filled, loving, kind, and helpful. I was also grateful that all 24 of our checked bags had arrived, and the only lost item was one car seat. For so many flights, and our disrupted travel plans, to lose only one car seat was an immense blessing!
We gathered our horde of luggage and children, proceeded through customs (uneventfully) and made our way to re-check our 24 storage containers for our final flight from Port Moresby (on the coast of PNG) to Mt. Hagen (up in the mountains near Kudjip Hospital). There are no existing roads to get from Port Moresby to Kudjip Hospital, so our only option was to fly. We met several beautiful and kind people from PNG, who pitied our crying kids and their wearied parents. A woman named Lorraine stopped whatever work she was doing at the airport, and spent about 3 hours holding our babies and leading our other kids behind private airport doors in search of snacks. We were so loved and blessed by Lorraine, Baker, and another employee named Anthony. My heart swelled that God called us to serve in a country where the people are so warm and hospitable.
We were so close to our final destination. 48 hours with almost no sleep. One more short flight (less than 2 hours) and a short drive (less than 1 hour) and we would be at Kudjip hospital! We spent an hour or two re-checking our 24 bags for the final plane. Our flight was scheduled at 1 PM for Port Moresby to Mt. Hagen. Then it was delayed until 2 PM. Then 4 PM. Then it was canceled. Apparently, because of “runway construction” in Mt. Hagen, the small plane that typically flies from Port Moresby to Mt. Hagen, a Fokker 100 jet, was too heavy, and so they could only do flights with an even smaller Dash-8. Because of this, there were many delays and disrupted passengers, and we quickly learned that the last and supposedly shortest leg of our journey would prove to be the most difficult.
The last thing Genae and I wanted to do, after not sleeping for over two days, was haul our 24 bags from the airport to a hotel, but the airport could not store our luggage overnight, and it was the only safe option.
So, with our kids all at the brink of meltdowns (or fully immersed in them) the airline arranged for us to go to a nearby hotel and some workers arrived to help transport our baggage. We piled the family into a van with no seatbelts, twins resting in our laps, and had our first glimpses of Port Moresby. Green flora I have never seen lined the streets. People milled through roadside markets and ran through traffic to cross the streets from all angles. Campfires and vendors abutted busy intersections.
A short time later, we arrived at the “Shady Rest” hotel. Jungle rain poured as we piled out of the van and checked into the hotel. It was dark out and mosquitos buzzed around hallway lights. Hot, humid, equator air wrapped around us as we fell, utterly exhausted, into two adjacent hotel rooms. The kids and Genae collapsed onto beds, and I went out to order dinner. When I came back a short time later, everyone was asleep! I ate “Indian Butter Chicken” (a questionable choice in a developing island nation) and pepperoni pizza, before joining the rest of the family in sleep. We slept straight about 13 hours. The next morning, we felt like new human beings. It is incredible what sleep, a shower, and a new pair of underwear can accomplish for one’s mental health!
For the third time, we transported all 24 of our bags through security at the airport. We were scheduled to fly from Port Moresby to Mt. Hagen at 1 PM. Baker, Lorraine, and Anthony met us at the airport again, and took exceptional care of our family. After several hours, our bags were all re-checked and we were again free of our luggage. Then, we found out our plane was delayed to 2 PM. Then 3 PM. We waited in a sweltering and packed domestic terminal, praying that our flight would not be canceled again. I talked to an airline worker, who said that there were some “Disrupted Passengers” who had been waiting 2 weeks for flights to certain places in Papua New Guinea. On the airline departure board, more flights were marked “canceled” than those planning departure! Anxieties rose at the prospect of another day of delayed travel. Meanwhile, poor Evie shivered in the humid heat beneath a pile of blankets, burning up with a fever and feeling sick.
At 3 PM, we were informed that the plane had arrived and we would depart shortly. A few minutes later, however, we were told that there was a “technical error” with the plane and they had no ETA on when it would be fixed. My heart sank. There were no other flights to Mt. Hagen, and the runway at Hagen does not accept planes at night, meaning that planes had to arrive before 6 PM when the sun set. It looked like we were going to have to collect all of our baggage, again! I was holding Eleanor, standing in front of a big fan trying to cool down, and praying, when all of a sudden an airline worker grabbed us and said that the plane was flying. A few minutes later we were out on the tarmac walking to the plane, pushing a double stroller, car seats, a violin, and a couple of carry-on bags!
On the ramp to the plane, I had to collapse our double stroller but my hands were filled with babies and belongings. A PNG woman offered to hold Ford. I passed him off, collapsed the stroller, shifted around belongings, and was ushered into a queue that flowed like a river onto the plane.
I took my seat, settled Harvey in beside me, looked up at Genae, and, when I saw her holding Eleanor, realized that we only had one baby!
In the frantic bustle of loading, I had never taken Ford back after collapsing the stroller! I looked around the plane and could not spot him anywhere. The propellers turned as the plane started up. I frantically pushed my way against the grain of people loading the plane to get off and out to the tarmac where I had last seen him! I had lost my baby!
A few minutes later, through a language barrier, the other passengers directed my attention to the back of the plane. Ford was happily bouncing in the lap of the kind woman who had helped hold him and who had brought him to her seat at the back of the plane. A wave of relief was followed by a wave of parental shame; I had passed my baby off to a stranger in a foreign airport and then forgotten about them! Good job, dad!
The rest of the flight to Mt. Hagen was less eventful. The twins continued to serenade the plane with their cries. Milo spilled orange juice all over himself and his plane seat and kicked the seat in front of him like it was a soccer ball. We all watched out the window like we were on safari, eagerly taking in the scenery of our new home. As the plane rose, we watched the scalloped green coastline meet with the ocean. Sinuous rivers slithered like snakes connecting the ocean and the mountains. The country appeared vastly uninhabited, with punctuate gatherings of buildings surrounded by dense jungle. We passed in and out of clouds, rain, and sun, and finally prepared for our descent. A heavy midst shrouded the Highlands. The plane landed in Mt. Hagen, and our journey by air was complete! We had traveled nearly ten thousand miles in 72 hours!
The Mt. Hagen airport was tiny. We departed the plane onto the tarmac and walked into the only baggage terminal. There were no other planes or people. In baggage claim, we met Ben Radcliffe, the Director of Medical Services at Kudjip Hospital. He is a general surgeon who actually grew up at Kudjip, where his dad served as a missionary general surgeon for 30 years. Our kids quickly started calling him, “Uncle Ben” and Uncle Ben helped us collect our belongings and pile all of our luggage into a large church bus. The drive from Mt. Hagen to Kudjip was short, only 45 minutes, and the kids peppered Uncle Ben with questions about spiders and banana trees the whole ride.
In no time, we were driving through the gate and onto the Kudjip Hospital Compound, our new home! We were not prepared for what met us there: as we pulled up to our house, there was a crowd of about 30 other people waiting outside our home in the trickling rain. All of the other missionaries and their kids were waiting in the damp, cheering as we arrived, beaming with smiles, and the kids danced around as our vehicle pulled up to our home. This group of people, most of whom we had never met in person before, immediately bombarded us with love, joy, and enthusiasm as we stepped off the bus. A large, “Welcome Home Morris Family!” sign hung at our front door. We joyfully began to hug and greet our new “family” here on the compound. Everyone made a line to shuttle our bags inside.
When Genae and I walked into our home, we were speechless. We had very few expectations about where we would live here, but the home we have is beautiful. It was newly painted, spacious, and lovingly renovated for our arrival. It was already decorated, and felt like a real home. Flowers waited on our kitchen table. A crockpot with delicious dinner was warming in our kitchen. Our fridge and pantry were full of groceries that the other missionaries had provided for us. Tears flowed down Genae’s face. After a long journey, we could not have had a better end in mind.
Truly, life is meant to be lived in community. Few joys measure up against the richness of loving relationships and life together. We can tell that this community we’ve joined is a very special one.
At long last, after many years of planning, after filling out an unspeakable number of documents and applications, after endless prayers, discussions, and anticipations, after hours of sleepless travel, we finally have arrived at Kudjip Hospital in Papua New Guinea.
We are finally home! I could easily write many more pages about our first few days here, days filled with the kids playing endlessly outside, catching banana spiders with the PNG kids, and exploring the local “roadbung” market, but this blog is already long enough and I will save that for later. Suffice it to say that we feel truly blessed to have followed God’s call to Papua New Guinea. We are excited for what he has in store. And we are grateful for all of you who have supported us on this journey.
God bless, and we will share more updates soon!
If you haven’t already, subscribe to our blog below!