When A Mission Trip Goes South
Our mission trip to Brazil was derailed by a truckers’ strike that threw the country into chaos and escalated on our departure day.
Our team has travelled to Brazil for four years to participate with Project 70, a Brazilian-led church planting strategy that permeates cities with the Gospel, resulting in new converts and new churches. The Brazilians zealously lead the way and Americans step in and follow their lead, serving side by side.
God does amazing things there. People are more open and responsive to the Gospel, and many make first time commitments to Christ. Last year, though hampered by rain, we saw 447 people come to Christ. In 2016, we saw 1055 people make decisions.
We were pumped up and prayed up as ten people from McDonough Road Baptist joined twelve members from Wynnbrook Baptist in Columbus at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to travel to Ft. Lauderdale, then on to Viracopos. A final flight to Curitiba followed by a four-hour bus ride would take us to our first ministry city. I was ready to preach the Gospel.
On Monday before we left on Friday, a truckers’ strike broke out protesting climbing fuel prices in Brazil. Hundreds of trucks blocked highways, halting the transport of produce and fuel. Dozens of flights were canceled, schools were dismissed, and millions of chickens were slaughtered because of lack of feed.
I learned about the strike Thursday morning, but was preoccupied with last minute details and didn’t think much about it. I texted a contact and asked what was going on with the strike.
Meanwhile, negotiations broke down between the truckers and government officials and the strike intensified Friday. We boarded in Atlanta and flew to Ft. Lauderdale. When we got off the plane, we discovered our travel agent had been calling us.
His news? Azul Airlines strongly advised us not to continue our trip into Brazil because our first airport (Campinas) would run out of fuel at 9 p.m., and they had no idea when fuel would arrive. We could get to Campinas, but no one knew when we could proceed to Curitiba. And, they had no idea if they could get us home.
So what to do? We gathered the group and prayed for wisdom. Our desire was to continue to Brazil. We didn’t want to let our Brazilian friends down, and we wanted to be on the frontlines of seeing God work in ways we don’t see at home.
Yet, we had the group’s welfare to think about. I asked the travel agent point blank, “If you were in charge of this group, what would you do?”
He replied, “I wouldn’t go.”
So we didn’t. The Brazilians were disappointed, but the project continued in Canoinhas and Tres Berras without us. We spent the night in Ft. Lauderdale and flew back to Atlanta the next morning.
We learned several lessons from this experience.
First, don’t depend on our media to keep you updated. The press can’t cover everything, but I never heard a word about this strike. In hindsight, I should have searched the internet as soon as I first learned about the strike. The internet had plenty of news articles.
However, no one could predict how fast the strike would intensify between Thursday afternoon and Friday.
Second, I should have called people I know who have ties to Brazil and asked them to check on the situation. As soon as you pick up on something possibly amiss, pursue it.
Third, for international journeys, use a travel agent. Our guy, Tony Liscio of Sports Travel, Inc. in Dallas, Texas, really went to bat for us. He helped us work through our decision, then scrambled to find hotel rooms for 22 people and a return flight with 22 seats. Then he helped us after our return.
Fourth, purchase travel insurance. We’re still waiting on some documentation before we file, but because we prepaid, it appears we will get back much of our cost.
Fifth, register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to record your travel plans (https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/before-you-go/step.html). Also, use the new Mobile Passport App or check the state department website for any last-minute info that may impact your trip.
Thankfully, the strike ended, and other American groups are making their trips with no problems. We just hit a perfect storm on that Friday.