Today was supposed to be a special day. We were going to leave for our eighth trip to the U.S. Besides time with family and supporters in Oregon and Colorado, we would attend that debriefing session in Colorado which we couldn’t get into last summer.
In late May we bought tickets, July 18-September 22 on American Airlines, telling ourselves we needed to hold very lightly to our plans, as no one knew what the COVID-19 situation would be here and in the U.S. this summer. At that point COVID-19 seemed to be calming down here and in the U.S. and we were hopeful things would continue to improve.
Our plan was to voluntarily quarantine for two weeks in Oregon (doing our Ecuador work remotely), then see family and supporters in outside settings in early August. I (Jody) would go to my 50-year high school reunion. We’d go to Colorado for the debriefing, see friends and supporters there, and maybe even go to Texas to see a long-time friend. Then back to Oregon, probably working remotely during the week but connecting with people evenings and weekends. And—if the Ride the Rim around Crater Lake happened—Scott would get to ride it again on his big-wheel unicycle.
For me, there’s a certain rhythm in preparing for a trip to the U.S. I have an on-going list of things I want to bring back, and I start ordering things on Amazon. I plan my groceries here so that my fresh stuff runs out right when we leave. I make a packing list and a to-do list. What gifts do we want to take? Do we need to make doctor appointments in the U.S.? Who will to water the plants and check on our apartment here?
A big question this trip was, “Where will we self-quarantine?” “We’ll put the need in our June newsletter,” we said. So we got the newsletter done in mid-June and sent it off to our wonderful family member who formats our newsletters. He emailed saying he’d do it that weekend. But then he got a stomach flu and spent his weekend very sick. The thought crossed my mind, “Maybe something is going to change this week and we’ll need to change the newsletter.”
So we’re into the last week of June and it was full of hard news. COVID-19 cases were increasing in the U.S. We were going through Customs in Miami, a current COVID-19 hot spot. Our debriefing session was still on, but did we want to travel by plane in the U.S. in August? Also, cases were rising in Quito after three weeks of relaxed restrictions. Our neighborhood has good compliance with mask wearing and social distancing, but a lot of the rest of Quito does not have good compliance, mostly due to poverty and extreme crowding. The case numbers were soaring and hospitals were maxing out.
Besides the issue of health risks, a caution we had about traveling was getting stuck in the U.S. In March, Ecuador closed its borders very abruptly, giving tourists one day to leave and out-of-country residents two days to come back. We had missionaries stuck in the U.S. and Cuba for months. If things continued to get worse here, Ecuador might abruptly close its borders again. Or if things continued to get worse in the U.S., Ecuador might refuse flights from the U.S.
Then on Friday American Airlines announced they were going to start filling up their flights; no more leaving the middle seat vacant. This was the deal breaker for me. While the air filters in planes are very effective, if someone is sitting next to me for four to six hours and removes his or her mask to eat, his or her breath is going to reach me before it reaches the filters.
So we talked over dinner and decided to cancel the trip. Scott promised that we’d take at least a vacation trip to see family as soon as we felt it was safe. And we’ll try to attend a debriefing session in 2021. We edited the now-July newsletter and sent it off to our formatter. And the rhythm of preparing to go came to an abrupt halt.
I am disappointed but at peace about the decision. In the last three weeks COVID-19 has surged both here and in the U.S. For us, 2020 is not a good summer to be traveling internationally. We’d prayed for wisdom and God gave us enough reasons to stay put. We have worthwhile work we can do here, and there’s always Zoom and Skype to connect with people.
And my Amazon purchases are waiting for me in Eugene; it will be like Christmas when we go, since I’ll probably forget what I’ve ordered!
(Disclaimer: please don’t think that we are ranking canceling a trip right up there with losing your job, your health, or a loved one. We know this is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things; we’re just sharing our experience.)