Angels and Otherwise in New York City
“What do you mean you can’t find it? We HAVE to find it.” I whisper-yelled at my wife, Jane. Customarily I would have used my loud yell, but an undetermined number of strangers and eighty-five other Shades Mountain Baptist Church (SMBC) singers and instrumentalists, were well within ear shot. We were all in Kennedy Airport in New York City queued up before a British Airline desk to verify our seating on a plane going to Manchester, England. Our tour guide had just told us that the agent would need to see both a photo I. D. and our passport before we could board. I did not have my passport, so Jane had to have it, right? But she not only didn’t have it, she couldn’t find it! And when Jane can’t find something, it’s lost!
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Our church group was in the first day of a mission trip to Northern Ireland where all or a part of us were scheduled to present thirteen concerts over the next four days. Then we were to take a whole day and a half to see London! A chartered bus had picked us up at our Birmingham, Alabama church campus that morning at 3:00 a. m. and, while some of us tried to sleep, carried us 190 miles to Atlanta where, after a lengthy time of standing in line, we boarded a plane to New York.
Passport was missing
Except for two or three hours of lost sleep the first two legs of our trip had gone well. Or so we thought until now when the passport came up missing. Jane and I dropped out of line, went to an area of the airport where traffic was considerably less and removed from our carry-on luggage all the underwear, socks, shirts, “changes of clothes” which we had packed in our backpacks just in case our luggage got lost. We looked thoroughly taking everything out two or three times. We even looked in the “goody bags” of snacks our fellow church members had made for each member on the mission trip. Still we found no passport.
As we reflected on the activities of the last couple of days, we remembered that before we left Birmingham we had converted $510.00 into British pounds. That currency was to be used for cash purchases in Northern Ireland as well as in London. I had placed these notes in my money belt along with the passport and a few $20 American bills. We could never remember just how many 20’s we had put in the money belt “for save keeping.” Now, apparently all that was lost.
Had I left it on the plane that brought us to New York? Had I dropped it as we were making our way from the gate of the incoming plane to the departing gate for British Airways? I remembered seeing it last in Atlanta. We’d had to show it when checking our main luggage to go all the way from Atlanta to Belfast, Ireland. Then another Atlanta incident came to mind. When I went through the security check there, I stumbled and bumped the side of the scanner. Apparently the bump set off the alarm. The female attendant went berserk. She acted like she had just apprehended one of the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks! She jumped around to face me and noticed that I had a money belt around my waist. Pointing to the belt she yelled the command: “Get that thing off, and go back through that scanner.”
I had put backpacks, pocket change, keys, goody bags, etc. in a tub before I had gone through the scanner the first time. That tub had already passed through its scanner and was waiting for me. So when I removed my money belt, I placed it by itself in an empty tub, then proceeded to walk through my scanner a second time. No alarm sounded. I recall taking my things out of the tub, fitting the backpack on my back, and picking up pocket change, keys, etc. I do not remember reaching into the other tub and picking up my money belt. As I look back now I am convinced that was when I was separated from my money belt.
Angels number one and two
Word of our loss got around to our tour hostess, Amy Powell. She is Angel #1 of at least twelve angels who served us on this trip. Amy was so helpful. Having much more travel experience, she could help us think of things that we never would have thought about without her help. She made many phone calls to check at all the places where we thought we could have left the passport. She and Angel #2, Karen Robbins, of SMBC music staff, kept telephone lines hot between our church, Atlanta, and even places there in New York.
Most times they would have to wait for people to return their calls, then sometimes wait again while the called person found the desired information and called back. They called and had the plane searched which had brought us from Atlanta. All this took hours and our anxiety grew with each passing second.
Finally we had to admit we were not going to find the passport. What were we going to do? I suggested that I should go back home and let Jane continue with the trip to Ireland without me, but she would not hear of that. Was there any way for me to get a substitute passport? I did not know, and, though Amy and others of our group knew it was possible to replace a passport, they had no idea that it could be done quickly enough for me to be a part of this year’s mission trip. “If such a thing is possible,” Kathy Robbins told me, “It will take a bunch of money.” (I discovered later that at that time Jane and I had only $18.00 between us.
Angels number three began her services
About this time Angel #3 began her services for us. Her earthly name was Mrs. Liotta and she had an earthly job as a British Airways Customer Service Agent. When she learned of our dilemma, she suggested that we call the Passport Agency in downtown New York City to ask what we could do. Amy, Kathy, and Mrs. Liotta tried calling the Passport Agency MANY times. Each time they received a recorded message that was quite puzzling. According to the message the Passport Agency was open Monday through Friday from 7:00 a. m. until 4:00 p.m. Consultants conducted business only by appointment. The recorded message told us to call back on Monday to schedule an appointment.
This was Thursday! If the office was open Monday-Friday why were they not open the next day? If we had to wait until Monday to schedule an appointment we could only get to Ireland in time to be in one concert. We could, that is, if we succeeded in getting a substitute passport. Mrs. Liotta kept warning us, “They CAN furnish you a substitute passport, but they do not have to and they might not. You’ll never know until you try.” It looked to me that we might as well go home.
After hearing the recorded telephone message at the Passport Agency many times, Mrs. Liotta suggested that since the message indicated the office was open Monday-Friday, then surely they would be open the next day which was Friday. It was now after 5 00 o’clock, so they were already closed for Thursday. Perhaps the message we were hearing on the answering tape was actually Friday’s message, and the reason we were hearing Friday’s message on Thursday was because the office had already closed for Thursday.
She offered to reserve us a room
We could think of no better explanation for the message; so we decided to follow Angel #3’s suggestion, She offered to reserve us a room there near JFK Airport or in downtown New York and then next morning we should take a taxi to the Passport Agency to get there before 7:00. That way we could find out whether we could get a substitute passport in time to make it to Ireland in time to sing with the choir… We did not know whether it was better to stay near JFK or downtown, but we opted to stay near the Airport… That way we could go to the end of the Airport rail line, give a shuttle bus driver the name of our motel, and he would take us directly to our room, all free of charge.
But we held airline tickets for flying out of JFK at 6:00 p. m. on Thursday. Those tickets had to be cancelled and hopefully changed so that we could fly out at 6:00 p. m. Friday. Would two seats be available on a flight to Manchester, England only 24 hours before it’s departure? Mrs. Liotta had no trouble getting us seats on the New York to Manchester flight. She did have trouble getting us on the short flight from Manchester to Belfast. She had to put Jane on a 2:00 o’clock flight and me on a 4:00 o’clock flight from Manchester to Belfast… When Jane got to Belfast she would have to wait two hours before I would get there. However, Mrs. Liotta thought at least one of the scheduled persons would not show up for the 2:00 o’clock flight; so she gave us specific instruction how I should request a seat on that flight in case there were any “no shows.” She also called the Manchester Airport requesting agents there to help me find a seat on the 2:00 o’clock flight.
Bags had to be pulled from flight
Federal Aviation Association has a rule that luggage cannot go on a flight unless its owner is also on that flight. Except for carry on’s we had checked our luggage straight through from Atlanta to Belfast. That meant those bags had to be grabbed from the Thursday flight at the last minute. Mrs. Liotta was able to do that which was both good and bad. Good that she could get them, but bad because we not only had to lug our carry on’s, which were weighty enough, but we had to carry our two main suit cases which seemed to weigh one hundred pounds each. Think of all the fun we were going to have the next day lugging those things downtown and taking care of them while trying to get the Passport Agency to give me another passport. We could not leave our bags in our room, for it would be long passed check-out time before we could get back from the Passport Agency.
By this time the rest of our group were happily on their way to Ireland. Jane and I were a long way from happy, but were resigned to getting to our room. Breakfast had been many hours before. We had eaten only a salad for lunch. We should have been feeling the need for food, but apparently our experiences had kept us from getting hungry. Undoubtedly, our blood sugar was low. We felt washed out. We picked up our bags rescued from Thursday’s flight to Manchester and began our trek to the motel. Jane was wearing her backpack, carrying a camera, a carry on tote bag, and two goody bags. I was wearing a backpack and carrying what by that time felt like a 200 pound suitcase in each hand. We sweated these to the Airport rail stop, boarded the train, rode to the end of the line, dismounted and bore our burden another block to the shuttle terminal. We had been told that a shuttle bearing the name of our motel, Holiday Express, would either be waiting or would arrive a few minutes after we got there. We found no such vehicle, and after several vehicles bearing other motel names came and went, we asked a resting shuttle driver if he would help us find the Holiday Express shuttle.
“You want go Holiday Express?” he asked in broken English, and we answered, “Yes.” “I take you Holiday Express,” he said, and proceeded to back his shuttle nearer to where we were standing. I put the bags in the back of the shuttle; he drove only about five blocks to Holiday Express motel. I got out, took our bags from the back of the shuttle and was carrying them into the motel when suddenly the oriental driver began to speak in a language I could not understand. He seemed to speak to no one in particular, but the tone of his voice sounded like an American who was cussing someone out. Apparently, he had expected a good sized tip, but I had done all the heavy work. All he did was drive the shuttle a few blocks, and the motel was paying him to do that. 0. K. I’m tightfisted, but you’ll see why after a few more lines.
Angel Number 4 was desk clerk
Like I just said: I want to spend as little money as I can get by with. We went in the motel, registered for our room, found it, and again carried all our luggage to the room ourselves. No help was offered. Apparently, none was available. I guess the motel desk clerk was Angel #4. You’ll understand my hesitancy as you read on.
We went back to ask the clerk about a place where we could get something to eat. She suggested a Chinese take out nearby. We ordered from them. Maybe it was our mood, but the food seemed horrible. We ate very little of it.
We also asked the clerk how to get a taxi to get us downtown by 7:00 the next morning. She wanted to know why, and we summarized what had happened to us over the past fourteen or so hours. She then suggested that instead of paying $75.00 for a cab to take us each way downtown and back, that we simply get a cab to take us to the nearest subway station. She said that would cost $5.00. Subway tickets for each of us would be $2.00 each way. She assured us that the subway would get us there in plenty of time. That sounded like a good plan to me, so we set out to execute it.
Angel Number five offered to hold luggage
We didn’t sleep much that night. The bed wasn’t comfortable, but more than anything else anxiety robbed us of restful sleep. Got up at 5:00, made coffee in our room, and ate a snack from our goody bag. At check out, the motel desk clerk, a man who as I look back qualifies to be Angel #5, offered to keep all of our luggage in the motel office, so we did not have to worry with any of it. The cab was waiting for us, so we loaded up and got on our way. In the course of my conversation with Jane, I mentioned that the taxi’s cost was five dollars.
“Fi dollar! You can’ even get in a cab for fi dollar!” the driver bellowed in exclamation. “I turn ‘roun’ right heah and take you back to motel,” and he started to do just that. I stopped him, and asked how much he would charge. He told me, “Fiteen dollar.” So five minutes later when we arrived at the subway station we paid him $15.00. He’d had to go a block out of his way to get us to the other side of an Interstate highway, but then he turned and went back up the other side of the Interstate to the station which was not more than a block or two from the motel. We could have walked there if we could have gotten over the Interstate and had known where the station was located.
We asked the subway ticket agent how to get to the Passport Agency, at 376 Hudson Street. She proceeded to tell us, but she was in a glassed in cage and we could not understand her. She had a microphone that might have helped, but when she used it, her voice kept breaking up. We could understand very little of what she told us, but we felt it was time we got on our way, so we asked for two tickets. They cost us $2.00 each just as the motel clerk had told us. We boarded the train about 6:00 a. m. At last we were on our way to downtown Manhattan!
After we were seated and began to catch our breath, I proceeded to check our financial status. After counting two or three times I still could find only $3.00! That is the truth! I laughed because it was funny–at least it would have been if it had been happening to someone else. Here we were on the way to downtown New York City and didn’t even have enough money between the two of us to pay our subway fares back to where we had gotten on. However, even though I was treading on thin ice, I did have a plan.
I had a plan
I never would have gone so far with so little if I had not had in the back of my mind that I could make a withdrawal on my credit card. One other time I had been in New York and had seen a Chase Manhattan Bank. I figured I could go into one of their branches and make a withdrawal on my Chase Manhattan MasterCard. Having done that, we would at least have enough money to get home! There was the possibility, however, that I could not find a branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank There was also the possibility that even if I found the Bank, it might be closed. And of course, there was the possibility that officers of the Chase Manhattan Bank up here in New York would be reluctant to allow a withdrawal to be made on a MasterCard issued way off down in Birmingham, Alabama.
Though I had a plan, I had no guarantee. We still were a long ways from feeling good. Neither did we really know where we were going. We had been given 376 Hudson Street as the address of the Passport Agency. The subway ticket agent had told us to go to a certain subway station, change trains there, then go to another station where we should get off and go up to street level and find the Agency. Yes, we had been given directions, but imagine a fast-talking New York ticket agent speaking through a sound system that kept cutting in and out to a couple of super anxious, worried southerners who were totally unfamiliar with New York streets and landmarks. Wouldn’t you agree that such a situation was fertile ground for poor communications? In spite of the directions neither Jane nor I had more than a vague idea of how to get to the Passport Agency. As we sat riding the subway to downtown New York, we discussed how we would know when we came to the place where we had to change trains.
Angel number six arrived
A gentle, petite, little woman, Angel #6, sat across the aisle from us. She could hardly help hearing that we were distressed, and she soon asked where we wanted to go. We told her and gave her the street address. She told us that she had to change trains at the same station we did. We could just get off when she did. She also gave us instructions how to catch the correct train so that we would arrive at our destination. When we got off together, she walked with us to the next track and told us again exactly what train to take and the name of the station where we should get off. Then she went back to catch the train she needed.
Angel number seven gave directions
We took the train as she had told us and got off at the proper stop, but there were stairs going up to street level at both the north and south ends of the station. Jane and I began discussing whether we should take the north or south stairs to come out nearest 376 Hudson Street. We also wondered which way we should go once we gained street level. We had passed through the fence which formed a barrier between the stairs and the subway track, and a man on the subway side of the fence became our Angel #7. He heard us discussing how to go and asked if he could help. We gave him the address and he told us exactly how to go to arrive at the Passport Agency. It was only about 3 blocks.
We arrived at the Passport Agency a few minutes before 7 00. A crowd of 30 or so people was standing outside the closed doors of the Agency building. A carbon copy of Gomer Pyle’s Sergeant Carter was ordering the crowd not to carry food or drink into the building. Looking back today, I guess he should be Angel #8, but he surely seemed to enjoy his authority as security officer. In spite of his bluff, one of the men in line appealed to another security guard and was permitted to enter the building with his drink and food.
Waiting in lines
As we walked up, “Sergeant Carter” was instructing those who had appointments at a certain time to line up in a specific place. He asked me the time of my appointment.. Rather than tell him I did not have an appointment, I told him how I had called the Passport Agency the afternoon before and that I kept getting. . . .“An answering machine message,” he completed my statement in a tone of voice that made me aware that he understood the frustration of answering machines. “So you don’t have an appointment,” he continued in an almost sympathetic voice. Reluctantly, I agreed and told him I wanted to see about replacing a lost passport so that I could leave the country. “When are you leaving the country?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered him quite truthfully. I knew when I wanted to leave, but to tell him I was leaving that afternoon at 6:00 o’clock was the height of presumption.
“When are you leaving the country.” he shot back. This time his voice was raised and considerably sharper.
Security Guard was Angel number nine
I paused because I did not know how to answer him truthfully. Finally I told him I would like to leave at 6:00 o’clock that afternoon. He then assigned me to a line of persons going in before any of those having appointments. When the doors to the building opened, I was among the first to go in. I asked another security guard what I was supposed to do and he directed me to a bank of telephones a short ways down the lobby. I went to a phone, picked up the receiver, told the person answering what I needed. They asked a question or two and told me to come back at 11:00 to speak with a Consultant. On our way out I asked the security guard if there was a Chase Manhattan Bank near. He didn’t just tell me where it was, he walked with me outside the building and showed me a Chase Bank Branch less than a block away. He was so kind, and it was so good to find a bank so close, I felt he deserved to be counted as Angel #9.
There was nothing more we could do there until 11:00. It was too early for the bank to be open, so we could not try to make a cash withdrawal. We couldn’t go anywhere because we didn’t have subway fare. We did not have enough money even to buy a cup of coffee. So Jane and I decided to walk down to Ground Zero. It turned out to be farther than I thought, but after asking directions of several people on the street we found the site. Lots of construction was going on within and around a very deep hole in the ground. We wondered if they were building a subway station in one of the underground floors or in the basement of the building being erected on the site. The rusting steel girder in the shape of a cross still kept its solemn vigil over all the activity going on around and beneath it.
New Yorkers have been stereotyped
New Yorkers have been stereotyped as being indifferent and unconcerned about people visiting their city. We found the woman on the subway train and the man beside the tracks who offered help to be very helpful and friendly. A little later, on the streets, people eagerly gave us directions to subway stations, places to eat, and how to get to Ground Zero.
On the way back from Ground Zero we were walking pretty fast; because by this time the banks had opened, and we needed to seek a cash withdrawal before our 11:00 o’clock appointment. A middle-aged woman was walking her dog and spoke to us as we came beside her, “Slow down. You’ll live longer and enjoy it more.” We agreed with her and passed the time of day for a few minutes before we moved on. Our time in New York made us appreciate New Yorkers a whole lot more than we had been inclined to do in the past.
Angel number ten drew us a check
It began to rain on our way back from Ground Zero. We put newspapers over our heads, but the rain caused the newsprint to run and make black streaks down our faces. By the time we got to the bank building we were quite a sight. I wondered if our appearance would hinder our getting our withdrawal, but a few paper towels in the bathroom made us look better. When I showed the banker my credit card and told her what I wanted to do, she immediately proceeded to draw me a check. No question about it, she was Angel #10. Now we had money! We might not get to Ireland, but we wouldn’t have to go home hungry. It was several minutes before 11:00 o’clock, so we stopped at a small café to get some breakfast.
By the time we finished eating, we were beginning to feel better. We still did not know whether we were going to Ireland, but were pretty sure we were no longer in risk of adding two persons to New York’s homeless population. To pass the few minutes before our 11:00 o’clock appointment we began looking at the map of subway lines. We noticed that we could get on a subway in downtown NYC and ride directly to JFK Airport. I further reasoned that once we arrived at the Airport we could take the Airport rail service around to where the motel shuttles pick up passengers, then catch a shuttle from there to our motel, pick up our bags, and take the shuttle back to the Airport. We could do all that, I thought, for paying a $4.00 subway fare. I was wrong about the amount, but we were able to carry out the plan. It surely was better than paying $75.00 for a taxi which would only take us back to our room. Then we undoubtedly would have had to pay another fare for him to take us and our luggage to the Airport. With our tummies filled and buoyed by those new prospects we made our way across the street to the Passport Agency. We were a few minutes early.
We were finally allowed upstairs
And it was good that we were early. When I reported for my appointment the receptionist asked if I had my passport photo with me. I told her I did not, and she said get one and come back. I ran around the corner to where I had seen a sign advertising passport photographs. It took only $10.00 and 10 minutes, but I was back as quickly as I could. This time we were allowed upstairs. There I learned that I did not have an appointment with a particular Consultant. I was simply one of a hundred or so people all having appointments at 11:00 o’clock. We were gathered in a large room, given a number and told to wait until our number was called. Twenty or thirty workers sat along the walls behind iron bars like tellers in a bank. One of those workers would call out the next number, and if that was your number, he was the Consultant with whom you had an appointment.
When I went up for my consultation, the worker pulled up on her computer before her all the information which I had given to receive my original passport. I thought, “Boy, this ought to be a snap. All she has to do is copy the old one and hand it to me.” Was I ever wrong! She would ask questions, and when I answered she would tell me that I was wrong, and proceed to tell me the answer I had put on the original application. There were really no problems that could not be resolved, and finally we came to the fee. I had paid $55.00 for my original passport. The reissue cost $190.00! After I paid the fee, we were sent to a smaller room to wait until my passport was prepared. They would call my name when it was ready At l:30 they placed the new passport in my hot, sweaty hands.‘
If two days ago someone had told me I would be ecstatic after paying $200.00 for a new passport (Remember $10.00 for the photograph), I’d have called them the worst kind of a liar. Now that it had happened and even though I felt I had been robbed without a gun, I truly was ecstatic. We were going to Ireland after all! We could easily get to JFK Airport before 6:00 o’clock. We had plenty of time to take the subway! A security guard told us how to find the correct station. He said it was only about two blocks down to it.
No subway station in sight
We carried out his instructions to the letter, but no subway station was anywhere in sight. We got further instructions from someone on the street. Apparently we just had not gone far enough, for according to the new instructions the stop was only about a couple of blocks farther on. Again we followed their instructions, but found no stop. Someone else gave us directions and told us it was only about two blocks farther. We got to the site and there was a Subway Sandwich Shop. We wondered if they thought we had wanted a sandwich instead of a ride. I walked into the sandwich shop and asked again how to get to the subway station. They said take the stairs right outside our door. Sure enough, a sign big as life pointed us down stairs to the station.
We asked the agent for tickets to JFK Airport and he wanted to know if we were going into the Airport. We told him we expected to catch a plane out at 6:00 and he said the fare would be $7.00 each. We questioned him about the price, and he explained that NYC subway fare to the Airport train depot was $2.00 each, and the Airport train fee was another $5.00 Just yesterday we had ridden the Airport train all over the Airport and had paid absolutely nothing Why would we have to pay $5.00 to do the same thing today? I figured he was trying to pick up an extra ten bucks for himself, so I told him just to give us tickets to the Airport train depot. I gave him the $4.00 and we proceeded to wait for the train to the Airport.
Angels number eleven showed us how to get to JFK
But again we really did not know which of the jillion trains coming through that station would take us all the way out to JFK Airport. We surely did not want to have to change trains, and if we took the wrong train and got lost, we might not even make it in time to catch our plane. Enter another Angel #11 a husband and wife team! These two young people were on their way to catch a plane back to a mission field after a trip home (to North Carolina, I think). They would show us which train to catch and where to get off for JFK. We could relax.
When we got off the subway at JFK we discovered we really did have to pay $5.00 each for tickets to ride around to the place where the shuttles load. We waited at the shuttle terminal only a few minutes until a Holiday Express shuttle came, took us to the motel, and waited while I got our luggage from the office, then took us back to JFK, not to the place where the shuttles load, but to the entrance of British Airways! This driver acted as if he expected nothing, but I did give him a good tip. After all, I had money now.
Angel number three at British Airways was waiting
Inside in the offices at British Airways we contacted Mrs. Liotta. Remember this was Angel #3 who had helped us the day before. She continued to be helpful. She checked again to see if any seats had become available on the 2:00 o’clock flight from Manchester to Belfast. There were none, but she called Manchester agents asking again that they hold a seat for me if there were any “no shows.” After detailed instructions about how I should check for such a seat as soon as I landed in Manchester, she bade us bon voyage and we went to check in with ticket agent, Mrs. Klass. This lady had proved herself angelic material the day before by helping us when we’d first learned about our lost passport, but an especially generous act at this check in earns her full status as an Angel #12. We sailed through the process of checking in with no problems.
Angel number twelve upgraded our flight
Then our Angel #12 told us to wait right there until she got back from taking a break. It was about 3:30 and we had nothing to do but wait, but still we were curious why we should wait until her break was over. More than 15 minutes passed, and finally she came back. She sidled up to us and quietly told us that they had upgraded our tickets to first class! At first I did not know what that meant. She continued telling us we could go up to the Executive Lounge and rest, eat, drink, and partake of whatever was available there. We could benefit just as if we had purchased First Class tickets. Not ever having flown first class, Jane and I could not fully appreciate what all this Angel had done for us. At her bidding we made our way to the Executive Lounge and found all kinds of drinks, fruit juices of every fashion imaginable, snacks, sandwiches, and all sorts of food delicacies as well as overstuffed, comfortable couches and chairs and clean restrooms that did not smell bad!. All these things were available free for our use.
We were thrilled with the benefits available to us in New York, but that was not all. When we arrived in Manchester and had several hours before our next flight, we again had all the benefits of the Executive Lounge. We were barely going to get to Ireland in time for dinner and our group’s first concert immediately following. The Manchester Executive Lounge afforded us the opportunity to get bathed and cleaned up before our flight to Belfast. Mrs. Klass’ service was not just a luxurious blessing to Jane and me. It was a blessing to those people who sat by us at dinner and .stood by us in choir, because they did not have to be next to our unwashed bodies.
I rushed back down to catch the plane
Oh yes, Mrs. Liotta was right. The 2:00 o’clock flight from Manchester did have at least one “no show.” I walked with Jane and stayed with her until she boarded her 2:00 o’clock flight. Then I went back to spend two more hours in the waiting room for First Class customers. By the time I got back into the waiting room, I was being paged. One of Mrs. Liotta’s contacts had been on the ball and was trying to let me know I had a place on the 2:00 o’clock flight with Jane. I like to have brought on a heart attack rushing with my luggage at full speed back down to catch the plane which I guess they were holding for me because they pulled out as soon as I got on!
A member of one of the churches met us at Belfast Airport and drove us directly to our dinner engagement. The SMBC group arrived on two busses about the same time we did. It was like a family reunion. Everyone (literally everyone!) hugged us and welcomed us back into the group. Both dinner and the concert went well. But it was a most welcome experience to get to our room, get a bath and stretch out in a real bed.
We were to take busses to a church for a concert the next morning; so our director told us all to gather in the lobby at 8:00 o’clock the next morning. We wondered why we couldn’t just get on the busses, but all 87 were there as he requested. The director called attention to Jane and me being back with the group and said to us, “I understand you had to be out a good bit of money in order to be here. The group was concerned about your loss and have made up some funds which we hope will help take care of the cost.” He handed us an envelope. Everybody clapped and we headed out for our concert.
Actually we do not know the exact amount we lost, because we do not remember how many $20 bills I had placed in that money belt, but counting the $510 worth of British pounds lost with my passport, the cost of the motel, extra meals, transportation, and the fees for replacing my passport, our loss amounted to $898.40. The SMBC instrumentalists and singers gave us British pounds and American dollars that amounted to $799.00. How could we express our gratitude! “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!”
Here’s the rest of the story
We thought that was the end of the saga of the missing passport, but as Paul Harvey often says, “Here is the rest of the story.”
Five months later on November 8 my son, Steve, went out of town on a business trip. As he occasionally does he took his family with him. No one was at his address those days. Late Thursday afternoon of that week Steve called and asked us to come over for chicken salad sandwiches. I couldn’t help wondering why they would be having us over for a meal on the same day they came back into of town. And having us for chicken salad sandwiches for dinner? Nothing wrong with that except, that is not what they usually served us when we went to their house for dinner. But of course we went.
We were chewing bites of a chicken salad sandwiches when Steve said, “Dad, you got some mail at our house while we were gone.” Why would I get mail at his house? “It’s a package,” he continued, “and it was addressed to you but at my address. I thought it might be a surprise for you, so I opened it.” As he said this he began pulling from a small padded mailing envelope a black piece of webbed material which looked a lot like the money belt I had lost.
The lost money belt
“That looks like my lost money belt!” I exclaimed, as he handed it to me. A quick look erased all doubt. It was the lost money belt! As I lifted the belt, a small blue card fell out of one of its pockets. I felt some paper in another pocket which turned out to be 115 of the 245 British pounds that had been placed in the pocket. The blue card was my copy of a card which the insurance company had asked each of us to fill out before we left to go to Ireland. It requested the name of someone to contact in case of an emergency. I had listed Steve’s name and phone number, but not his mailing address. My passport had my name but my mailing address was not on it. The sender had had to do some research to get Steve’s address.
Return address and recipient’s address were exactly the same: my name was listed both, as recipient and sender of the package, but Steve’s address (but not his name) was used in both places. Why not use my address? Surely the sender could have researched and found my address as easily as he found Steve’s. What had happened to the other 130 British pound notes? What had happened to the $20 bills we had stashed in the money belt for safe keeping? Why did he send back 115 British pounds? The wallet had contained 245. Why did he keep only 130? Why did he not just keep it all? I guess those questions will remain unanswered.
True story but hard to believe
By the way, a few weeks later the International Mission Board asked the drummer for our church orchestra to go with an instrumental group on a mission trip. His regular day job at that time was with a bank—not the president or a vice president or some other big wheel job; he may have been a teller. I know he did not make a lot of money and he had a young family. In order for him to go on the IMB trip he needed some financial help. When the Choir and Orchestra had given us the money to help with our Ireland trip, I had asked our director how I could go about giving it back to them. He said, “They don’t want it back. They gave it to you because they wanted to. Use the money. That’s the reason we gave it to you.” So certainly, when a part of my original money was returned to me I felt it would be dishonest to keep it; so we gave the returned money to help our drummer go on the mission trip to which he’d been invited. We put the passport in a “safe” place. And we returned the money belt to the man from whom I had borrowed it.
This is a true story. Everything in it happened as is written here. You may choose to believe that instead of angels helping us, it was just twelve nice people being nice to strangers. Each time I recall the events in this story it makes me think of a Bible verse (Hebrews 13:2) “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Jane and I certainly were not angels. To those people we were strangers, but they did not fail to entertain us. Does that not somehow qualify them to be called angels?
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