Monday, January 12, 2009


Our plane landed at 6pm, the sky darkened, and immediately the heavens unleashed a massive wave of crashing thunder, lightning and an overwhelming flood. This was my welcome to Nigeria last June on the second leg of my African mission. I was soaked, but ran across the tarmac toward the baggage depot, appreciative that any later, our plane could not have landed or even worse crashed, like one a few months earlier at this very airport, killing all on board. The thunder wasn’t just noisy: it shook the whole earth; the lightning illumined whole sections of the sky. One child put it this way: “God is taking pictures!”
But how were His pictures developing in me that day? Port Harcourt is not my favourite airport, but it is my most eventful. I ‘expect the unexpected’ there. 25 years ago on my 1st arrival, I was arrested by the military police before even entering the country. Years later, I spent an entire day in its sweltering terminal, jostling 500 other passengers for only 125 seats, all holding ‘OK’ tickets. Seats opened for those who had proper connections and money, in stark contrast to the prominently posted warning: “It is illegal to give or take a bribe.”
And here I was again, back in this same memory-provoking terminal. Another drumroll of thunder shook the entire building and… God took a picture. So far, the day had been manageable; no emergencies. I felt relieved. I waited as the baggage carousel emptied; passengers claimed their luggage and headed into the raging storm. My clothing bag appeared, but my second suitcase didn’t. One bag, same shape as mine but different colour, circled around and around unclaimed. Then the belt stopped, only this bag remained… and mine was still nowhere in sight. Another thunderclap, the unexpected was expectedly happening; my bag had gone missing; questions filled my mind and …God took another picture.
Three hours of bureaucratic hassle followed. Security officials refused to believe someone had inadvertently taken my bag and left theirs. No one could get by security without the proper luggage tags, so my bag must be back in Lagos. We had to get information “into the system” and my bag would arrive in the morning. I obediently followed them from building to building, getting even more soaked. In a typically abrupt Nigerian manner, my 3 baggage officers argued, blaming each other while quizzing me for information about my bag. The loudest thunderclap of all then effectively knocked out the power; we sat there in darkness, but they continued arguing non-stop. The power eventually returned, but not my bag.
My missionary friends had advised me to stay at a nearby hotel where they would pick me up the next morning. It is not safe to travel after dark: police roadblocks often turn out to be masquerading bandits. One agent sympathetically called me a taxi driver whom she knew because, “Some drivers just come to take you and then they take you away!” Not too assured, I drove off into the night with her driver, hopefully to the hotel. More lightning and thunder filled my senses; rain and fear were now driving me more.
I had stayed there before, but that night this hotel seemed eerie. No other guests were in the lobby. I asked the desk girl for a room. “$100 US cash, no VISA; has to be one $100 bill.” A cashier took my money and gave me neither a word nor a receipt. “If you and your room are ‘OK’ tomorrow, we might give you some back,” she muttered. Not very reassuring. A porter took my only bag. By this time my imagination was running wild and he looked to me like Igor from the horror movies. He even dragged his one leg behind him as we headed for the elevators! And the power outage had rendered them out of service, so I followed ‘Igor’ up 6 flights of stairs. Why up 6 floors in an empty hotel? At the landing, 2 uniformed ‘guards’ confronted us; one carried what resembled a submachine gun. I hoped he was what his uniform professed. Igor assured them I was a real guest and led me down the hallway, sloshing through 4 inches of water. The leaks had become a river. He turned the key and opened the door to my room. All appeared fine until I thought to tip him, but without any change from the cashier, I only had a 100 Naira bill. Not knowing its value, I thought that would suffice. Igor however took it, fumbled it, mumbled at me, and threw it down! I didn’t want to offend the only friend I had left in the world, so I frantically searched further, added another 20N, and offered him both. He grunted, took them, walked out and locked my door with his key behind him! I ran to the door and slammed the deadbolt shut from my side. The storm again shook the whole building. God took another picture and I wasn’t looking too good.
Fear gripped me. I had to contact someone. I grabbed my cell, dialed my missionary friends’ number. No response. Using my Roaming Network, I hoped to touch home base in Abbotsford somehow, regardless of the cost. I dialed the familiar numbers of wife and family - home. It rang, but an unfamiliar generic telephone voice answered. I could have coped with, “Wrong number,” “Busy,” or “Out of Service,” but this voice declared, “This number does not exist!” and my heart dropped. I felt I had fallen over the edge. Nothing that really mattered existed any longer. More thunder and lightning followed and God continued taking my pictures: Fear exposed and despair developed.
How do you counter Fear (believing that something bad you cannot see/control is going to happen)? I would like to say I dealt with fear better than I did that evening, but I didn’t. Only when I subjected my shaken thoughts to the Faith of God’s Word did I find peace. I remembered Revelation 4:5: thunder and lightning proceed from God’s Throne. God is in control; not the devil. Satan only twists what God has set; he creates nothing on his own. When Faith (believing that something good you cannot see/control is going to happen) rose in my heart; I trusted God and rested.
In morning light, Igor really didn’t look so fearful, the cashier gave me some money back, the traveler who’d mistakenly taken my bag returned it, and my friends arrived to pick me up. Things are not what they often seem to be; we need not fear, but have the faith of God. Thunder and lightning really mean that God is taking your picture. Smile!!!


  1. God is on the throne! You described the moment so well I felt like I was there with you.

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  3. Nice, ha ha ha, now I think He might have lots "not so happy face " photos from me. I will remember that, and next time I will try to smile.

  4. That was a good read, Henry. You are a good writer, my friend. I appreciate you and the time you've given to me during this season. God richly bless you in return.

  5. Henry, we lived in Port Harcourt in 1985, and this story reminds me of many such incidents.

  6. This is Port Harcourt Airport! It has a way of being indelibly written in the experiences who've travelled through it! How did you find this piece so quickly?