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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Why Missionaries Hate Airports

Illustration by: photoraidz

I keep in touch with quite a few missionary women from all over the world. I see their posts as they come and go, and I have quite a few travels under my belt after thirty-plus years on the field. I'll open the door to what it’s like to be a missionary by letting you in on the not-well-kept secret: we strongly dislike airports!

Now, unfortunately—or maybe fortunately—the best way to get from Point A to Point B is by air. It doesn’t matter where your home country is and where your mission field is; it’s true. You have to fly. (Years ago, someone asked us if we were going to drive from the U.S. to Spain, but that person’s geography was a bit misinformed.)

One of my worst memories (indeed, without doubt, those more than 24 hours were the worst day of my life) was when we left for Spain the first time, over thirty years ago. My family and my husband’s family were in the airport. We said good-bye, not knowing when we would see them again. We were leaving family, country, and everything we knew. Plus, we were taking the only grandchild on both sides with us. It was excruciating. It felt like our hearts were being ripped out. Thankfully, we never went through anything quite like that since. We learned to say our good-byes before going to the airport. We learned to drive alone to the airport when possible. We also learned not even to say “good-bye.” It’s better to say something like “until next time,” knowing full well it might be in the clouds (Rapture), or in heaven.

The first thing missionaries hate about airports is the “good-byes.”

I don’t know why they’re so much worse at the airport, but they are. It’s like your heart gets torn in two—time after time after time. Believe me, it's as hard for us to leave as it is for you to let us go.

The second thing missionaries hate about airports is security. Now, I know TSA is there for a reason, and they are doing their job. I understand. I am even (usually) happy they are there—and doing their jobs.

But, missionaries, since they live abroad—and since some things can’t be bought in the country where they live—take very strange things across the ocean. This is a security worker’s nightmare, as you might understand. I’ll list a few of the things we’ve taken with us (most before the 50-pound, one suitcase limits went into force).
  • A snow blower, in several pieces
  • China dishes
  • Lampshades
  • A crock pot
  • Cooking spices
  • Grits
  • A dehumidifier
  • Vitamins
  • A photocopier

We’ve been stopped for:
  • Hair cutting scissors in a carry-on (a long time ago)
  • Olive wood eggs in checked suitcases (I took them as hostess gifts. Worst. Mistake. Ever.)
  • A glass paperweight they thought was a tomato . . . A tomato in a suitcase? Honestly!
  • Candles (I had to remove the candles to show to the security workers. They were looking at the wicks, I guess?)
  • Wrapped Christmas presents
  • Books (all sizes, even my husband’s Bibles)

It works both ways across the ocean. Our daughter was recently stopped entering the States from Spain for two little, sealed-from-the-store bottles of food coloring for the Spanish dish, paella!

I travel in a skirt. Maybe that’s why I almost always end up getting “enhanced security” pat downs. In all the trips since September 11, I think I only missed this very personal treatment once. Do I really look scary? (Please don’t answer that!)

The third reason we hate airports is that they always signal many hours of sitting in planes. Sometimes, the flights are very long. We fly economy, and there's not exactly a lot of comfort over a long flight. Then, we have to run to the next flight, so we don’t miss the next connection, and the next, and the next. Sometimes, it’s a challenge! Yes, traveling by air sure beats traveling by any other mode of transportation over the distances we travel, but it is not easy, and it never has been.

When we were young, we had little children on those flights. Do you know how other passengers look at families with little children?

As we got older, so did our kids, and it wasn’t so bad. But now, it is just plain physically difficult. When we land at our final destination, it’s hard even to remember our names. We have had it!

So, when you’re with a missionary friend, remember he doesn’t like airports.
  1. Let him say his good-byes to his family before going to the airport. (Maybe you could offer a lift.) Airports are symbols of separation and loss. No one wants to be sobbing in public.
  2. Pray for smooth sailing through security—and for all his luggage to make it to his destination.
  3. If the missionaries have small children, pray for a lovely, peaceful, non-stressful (non screaming baby) flight.
  4. Pray that, if it’s God’s will, they would make their connecting flights. (For us, from the U.S. to Spain, we have three or four flights. Some missionaries have several more!)
  5. Pray for his health and stamina on a trip that takes between 15 hours and two days.
  6. Do wish him a good, safe trip!

We appreciate your prayers and support—
and for understanding why we don’t like airports! 

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, 
baptizing them in the name of the Father, 
and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Teaching them to observe all things 
whatsoever I have commanded you: 
and, lo, I am with you alway, 
even unto the end of the world. Amen.
 (Matthew 28:19-20).


  1. Yes! Thanks again for posting this! I wish I could send a copy for everyone who tells me, "It must be so fun to fly to France!" GRRR

    1. Oh yeah! A real riot! I think that once they've actually done it a few times, understanding increases exponentially. :o) Thank you, Susan, for your comment. God bless!

  2. We used to have big send-offs for missionaries at airports til they changed it so you can't go down to the gate with them. Now it doesn't make much sense to crowd into the lobby, and they have a long security line to get through so they can't linger. I hadn't thought how hard it would be for the missionary to have all those goodbyes there and then. We just had a send-off at church last night for a missionary family going back on the field after furlough, and I can see it is probably easier on them to say good-bye to church friends in that venue and save the last good-byes for family in private. I just thought of that aspect, too - if my kids were going to another country, I'd rather have our last good-byes privately instead of in front of a whole crowd.

    Some friends of ours ministering in New Guinea told about making an 18 hour trip there with 3 boys in a metal can. I've always remembered that imagery! I guess it's better than 2-3 months at sea like missionaries used to have, but still - makes for a very long day or two.

    I haven't flown since my son's wedding 5 years ago - I'm sure it will be a shock to the system next time I do. I wear dresses also - I HOPE that's not a signal for a pat-down!

    What was the problem with the olive wood eggs?

    1. Yes, 18 hours in a tin can! Ours is usually a little less, but it feels the same. And yes, it's so much better to fly than to sail back in the old days. As to the eggs, I had them throughout all the suitcases, and U.S. Agriculture thought they were REAL eggs and wanted to open all our luggage! That's only the beginning of a long, awful story. Thank you for all the things you do to help missionaries. You are a blessing to so many! God bless you, Barbara.

  3. Lou Ann,

    Thank You! I can relate! :-) We have had some interesting experiences too! I think that every Missy wife can laugh and cry as they read this! ! ! Panamá

    1. I'm sure! I'm glad you could laugh. It's a sure sign of "healing" from our experiences. God bless you, and thank you for commenting.


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