Kenya served as my home for life and ministry for four years. After a decade of short-term trips to Kenya and years of hoping to live there, I never expected to move away.
However, my husband opened my eyes to see my life could be more than I imagined possible. We could have meaningful ministry in more than one nation. In 2019 the Lord softened my heart to serve a church in the United States. I could exercise my gifts and learn and grow in a new environment and so the search began. Applying for positions and attempting interviews over my poor data service filled my early days of 2020. As the pandemic grew in our consciousness, my husband and I decided to finish the year in Kenya and then look again in 2021.
However, a particular position piqued my interest. I reached out to the church, had an interview, and was offered the position in a matter of days. Mid 2020 and now we need to make an international move. We researched, booked flights, packed up our quaint city apartment and moved in with my husband’s parents in the village, believing we would spend time with them for a couple weeks before leaving our beloved Kenya. Weeks turned into months as we faced flight cancellations galore.
Finally, after tearful and joyful farewells from our city church and village community, the day came. Flights on schedule and no cancellations. Standing in line to drop off our luggage we compassionately watched countless families face issues with their check-in. Your name is not in the system. You do not have a ticket. We cannot accept a photocopy of your visa. Your luggage is too heavy. You are not permitted to transit through Europe. Little did we know, in the end, the others we helped would get on the flight and we would be the ones left behind.
I have flown internationally out of Nairobi a dozen times. Never had I seen such chaos, confusion, stress, and insurmountable tension. Even reflecting on the scene now causes my stomach to turn, my fingers to freeze, and my heart to thump disconcertingly.
After months of thorough research and full certainty that we had every single necessary document to travel, the airline said that my Kenyan husband could not enter the US on a tourist visa, which is a rule the airline seemingly invented.
Boarding denied us, we were forced to leave the Nairobi airport at 1am with all our luggage and no compensation offered for the unplanned hotel, taxi, and food. The next days included chasing down answers from the airline and desperately trying to determine if we would be allowed on the next flight or would face barriers again. After receiving a triple guarantee from the airline that we would indeed be able to board our new flights, we still were moved out of the check-in line to verify more details. While waiting at the gate with boarding passes ready to scan, the declaration of our names on the intercom interrupted the stuffy, tired murmur of passengers. Back at security again, brand new issues were introduced. Then a supervisor apologized to us and said there was no issue. His words pressed the power button on my sobs. Going through security a third time, I cried to my husband, “this is too much!” as airport employees and passengers stared on.
Finally we made it on our flight out of Nairobi on what I believe was our 6th booking. Hallelujah, glory to Jesus! Our feet landed on American soil. Exhausted, thrilled, and in shock, our hearts rejoiced in the God who protected us all the way home.
Thanks to technology, I was able to begin my new ministry position right away before finishing our quarantine. Fulfilling a new ministry role has been worth the waiting, the chaos, and the trauma. No matter what challenges you have faced in this pandemic year, I am so proud of you. Relying on Jesus for each moment’s strength, we see the fulfillment of his plans and our dreams. That does not mean there won’t be moments where you burst into tears and yell, “This is just too much!” And that’s okay. Indeed, sister, it is too much. But our Father holds us all in his hands and it is not too much for him.
Rachel Tate Yattor is Family Life Resident at The Vine Church in Temple, Texas.