While enroute to the airport, I learned from Stephanee that the group was split into two smaller groups by the airline. One group got routed through Chicago while the other was coming through Denver. In addition, the “certain German airline who will remain anonymous”, had routed one of the chaperons on a flight the next day on a different airline. This airline had also placed one of the teenage girls on a separate and later flight. Not good!
I went to work at the ticket counter with an agent, explaining the fiasco and the need to keep all of the children and chaperons together. The agent explained that all further flights that night were booked and that there was no way that they would be flying to Texas tonight (she had to tell the guy in front of us that his rebooking was for two days later). With a little work, she found seats on the first flight out in the morning to Austin for 10 of the 12. She booked the one chaperon and the teen girl for the next flight out to Austin but told me to show up early and get those two on standby if at all possible. You got it sister!
Having the rebooking complete, I ran down to the customs & immigration gate and waited for our guests. In no time at all they arrived. They are all very cute, but were very tired. I had brought along Nadia to translate and help with the kids. The orphans warmed up to her and asked a few questions about her, “was she adopted”, “was she Ukrainian”, “was I her father”, etc. Meanwhile, Jordan had landed so I sent Nadia to go get her at our usual rendezvous. The kids took turns going to the bathroom, drinking from the fountain, and asking many questions. Soon enough Nadia & Jordan were back and off we went. Stephanee had arranged for a hotel and pizza delivery and I loaded 15 people “Ukrainian style” in a 12 pass van (don’t ask). Thank goodness the hotel was a short drive off the airport grounds.
The fine folks at the Holiday Inn looked the other way as we roomed 12 people in two rooms. They even threw in extra blankets and towels. (I’ve been known to shamelessly use the poor orphan story from time to time). I left the two chaperons, Denis & Zhenya, with instructions to be ready to roll by 6:15 am and I gave them my extra cell phone. “See ya in the morning”, I told them.
The next morning I rolled in around 6 am and found the girls already dressed and ready to go. The boys on the other hand were iron-drying their underwear. It seems they felt the need to wash their underwear in the sink that night and had laid them out to dry. I didn’t ask what they had slept in. A boy was finishing up ironing a pair of cotton tights and in quick order, we were ready to go. Heidi had put together a care package of string cheese, apples, oranges and chocolate chip cookies for each of them. I had stopped and picked up a sausage McMuffin for everyone, too. As they loaded into the van, I handed these out to all the kids. Denis asked to lead a moment in prayer when we arrived at the parking garage. It proved to be the big difference as you will soon see.
I was horrified at the 10 mile long line at the United counter when we arrived and I knew that they wouldn’t make it if we stayed there. It was as if I felt God say, “Felix move” all of a sudden. Denis sensed this too and he and I pushed our way to the front of the “special needs” line, or whatever they call it. We got to the counter eventually and pleaded our case. In what seemed like eternity, we waited and we waited and we waited as the agent meticulously worked each ticket that had been booked the night before. The one chaperon and teen were another full fifteen minutes of keyboard typing and I watched the minutes fly-by! The flight still showed full but the agent placed the two later-flight people on standby, just in case. “Felix, Move!” I gently and subtly reminded her that the flight was about to board. That got me a quick look, but I pulled out the shameless orphan story again. Whew, gotta watch how you handle those ticket agents!
Glancing at my watch, I now had less than 40 minutes to get said guests to the gate…and we still had to go through security. As we snaked around and around the security wait area, I felt it again, “Felix, move!” I spied an under-worked security guy standing around, told him my story, and we got through security in 10 minutes!
Of course the aircraft would have to be at the last gate in the entire B terminal! We didn’t run, but I bulldogged our way to the gate, walking as fast as the little legs behind me could run. I glanced at the departure boards every chance I got, nothing new, aircraft still at the gate, boarding to start immediately. We finally arrived at gate 80, Terminal B East (Kansas I think).
I actually ran up to the vacant counter before anyone could get ahead of me. Out of breath, I told the agent, “We are the 12 you have been waiting for!” The lady looked at me with a frown on her face and said, “I’m sorry, we have closed the flight and the aircraft is about to back out”. I said a few “pleases” and few “C’mon, pleases” a few “but we ran as fast as we could” all the while she was shaking her head NO! Defeated, I bowed my head, about to say a quick prayer when the agent said, and I’m not kidding, “Gotcha! I just love doing that to folks who run up to the counter! The flight is still here, we are slightly delayed and all these people are waiting with you!” I wanted to lunge across the counter, needless to say.
Instead, I went along with her joke and played nice. Did I mention that everyone waiting saw me and cracked up laughing? I thought it was Christmas, not April Fool’s Day! I told the agent that it was indeed funny (lie) but that she owed me a favor for that one; I needed my two standbys placed on the flight! She said, “Oh honey, we got plenty of seats, but they are scattered and middle rows”. I’ll take ‘em! What better way for fellow Americans to meet an orphan than to have one in a middle row seat!
A few minutes later, my guests got in the boarding line and high-fived “Uncle Felix” as I was nicknamed. A couple of the girls got teary-eyed when I told them that I would not be going. I assured them that they were in for the time of their lives and to have fun in Texas. Zhenya thanked me profusely and Denis exchanged information with me.
So I got to see Christmas through their eyes and to see the face of Jesus in these children as I do every day in my children. Thank you Stephanee! Thank you God for another chance to see your grace in action.
~ Felix ~