The Miracle in Miami

I was reminded yesterday of something that happened 5 years ago exactly, on July 4th, 2005.  I've told this story often, but have never shared it on this blog, and I should.

A little background first.  In 2004 I went on my first mission trip, a ten-day visit to Belize in Central America. We have an affiliation with the Belize Evangelical Mennonite Church, a group of churches spread across the country.   In 2005, BEMC organized a Youth Congress, and invited us to participate.

I traveled to Belize in June of 2005 with twelve high-school students from Gospel Light and two long-term missionaries to Belize, to visit some of the village churches and participate in the Congress. That was an amazing trip, but not the point of this post.  On Monday, July 4, I left Belize with the twelve students, headed for home.  The trip included a connection in Miami.

For those who've never traveled internationally, the process works like this:  you arrive in the U.S. at the international arrivals terminal.  From there you go to U.S. Immigration, where they check your passport.  From there you go to baggage and get your checked luggage, and schlep everything to Customs, where they search your bags and make sure you are not smuggling any fruits or vegetables.  Everything else, apparently, is OK.  Then you re-check your bags, and since you've been in contact with them, you have to go back through security at the domestic terminal, lest you have a contraband mango somewhere on your person. As you can imagine, this process - four separate lines - takes time, especially on a major holiday.

Our 1PM flight left Belize early, but somehow we landed at Miami International almost an hour late.  This left us a grand total of forty-five minutes to navigate the aforementioned bureaucratic obstacle course. First stop, immigration.  I actually got a very nice agent, who said "Happy Fourth of July, Mr. Mahoney.  Welcome home."  Sweet.   Then down to baggage.

Now, in those days, an international traveler flying American Airlines was allowed a carry-on, a personal item, and two seventy-pound checked bags.  Each of us had been limited to one suitcase, and the other was filled with clothing, bibles, Sunday school supplies, etc... to leave in Belize.  The result was we had about twenty bags, one portable display case and one guitar checked, plus about ten carry-ons to deal with.  We waited at the baggage carousel for our stuff.  And waited.  And waited.

The time for our flight to New York to board - on the other side of the airport - came and went.  I began to have visions of trying to get twelve minors re-booked on new flights to New York on a holiday.  Nightmares, really.  Right around the departure time, someone who had been on our flight shouted "Hey, my bags are over here!"   Turns out they sent all our bags down the wrong carousel, three away.  We run over there and start hunting for bags.  We pulled them off one by one, and piled them in a corner.  And that's when the miracle happened.

As I took the last bag - number twenty-two - off the carousel, I hear a voice behind me say "Do you have all your bags?"  I turned to see a young woman wearing an American Airlines uniform standing there.  "Excuse me?" I ask.

"Thirteen people, flight to New York, right?" she asks.

How did she know that? "Um, yes."  I reply.

"Got all your bags?  Got all the kids?" she asks.  This is seriously the entire conversation.  "Yes." I said. Then she says "We're holding the plane.  Let's go!"  With that she turns and just starts walking.  We grab all thirty-some odd bags and run after her.  Miami International is huge, and we must have been a strange sight running through the airport.

Now get this, and remember this is freshly post-9/11.  No customs.  No baggage check.  As we approach the security checkpoint for the domestic departures area, there is a cadre of baggage handlers standing there.  They just start taking stuff out of our hands as we ran until they had everything.

Finally we arrive at the checkpoint.  The woman moves to one side, and opens a gate and waves us through.  No metal detector, no ID check, no take-your-shoes-off.  I stand at the gate and count heads. Number twelve goes through, and I turn to thank the woman.  Except, she is nowhere to be seen.  Gone.  Vanished.  Poof.  Now, I can see a good sixty feet in all directions, and she is just gone.

We get on the plane, a sold-out 757 with three-hundred-plus ticked off passengers who've been on the plane for forty-five minutes waiting for us.  But the angry stares could not penetrate the wonder at what had just happened.

You may believe in angels, and you may not.  I do, and I sincerely believe that's who helped us through the airport that day.


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