by Darrell Goemaat
I’m wide awake at 5:30 on Monday morning, happy that a few hours of uninterrupted sleep can rejuvenate a body exhausted by 53 hours of almost continual travel across 12 time zones. The previous night, Air China gave our team rooms at the Golden Phoenix Hotel (10 minutes from the Beijing airport) while we waited for the next available flight to Bangkok. We missed our original connection because of the Los Angeles airport shooting on Friday. Now I can hear my dorm mates in the rooms on either side of me sleeping peacefully—the walls only prevent us from seeing each other.
Chris Brown and his daughter Kara are in their hotel room down the hall from mine. I drop my gear and visit their room, where we talk about our departure plans for the next day. Thirty minutes later, I return to my room to discover that the hotel wasn’t kidding about its “one room, double occupancy” policy for layover guests. I turn on the light and find a startled and embarrassed man from India who had been asleep in one of the twin beds. As we exchange an awkward greeting, my shock turns to relief that all my camera gear is still here, and that the hotel had the sense to put me in with another man. I’m thinking, “This hotel is huge. They couldn’t find another room for this guy?” He is traveling to New Delhi for a family celebration.
As we talk, I discover that we have something in common. He was also detained at LAX the previous day, but for a different reason. The rubbing alcohol he used to clean his cell phone screen registered as “explosive material” by TSA agents during his security screening. We shake our heads and laugh, but we are both thankful to be alive and safe. Both of us were on inbound flights to LAX when the shooting occurred. The final six-hour flight to Bangkok was difficult—capacity crowd, bad food, and a passenger next to us was continually sniffing what we could only imagine as some type of smelling salts to combat air sickness. Someone thought it might be kimchi. The pungent odor from the vial she opened every five minutes could wake someone from a coma. The smell may have been pacifying her, but our stomachs were looking for an exit row.
The normally 90-minute ride from the Bangkok airport on Sunday night stretched to three hours as the highways were jammed with drivers who prefer the car horn rather than the brake. Our contact says the traffic is unusually heavy tonight because a princess from the Thailand royal family is in town to personally hand out diplomas to graduates at a university along on our route. At about 10:30 p.m., the combined effects of fatigue, dehydration, and skipping that airplane food are hitting hard. Our driver has mercy on us and pulls into a convenience store. Potato chips and ice cream bars become supper.
In a few hours, we will meet up with Chris Hindal, director of International Ministries, and his wife, Deb. Together we will set up conference rooms for our world partners who will be arriving today for the second IPFBM conference. The last time this group met was 2009. (Read “Baptist Groups Partner in Bangkok.”)
We’ve sent texts to our families back home telling them we’ve arrived safely, praising God for journey mercies. We pray the same for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are probably in the air right now. May God grant them safety. The Lord is gracious and merciful. He meets all our needs both big and small (I just discovered two bottles of ice water in my room’s mini refrigerator!). The sun is up now. I can see that Thailand is beautiful, and I’m thankful that my only roommates are a few ants.
Darrell Goemaat is director of photography for the Baptist Bulletin.