When you lose your sense of humor, you are dangerously close to losing all control and being placed in a XXXL sleeved white coat. All our physiological and psychological senses by which external stimuli exercise the soul were recently tested …again. “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” (James 1:3 KJB). Did we pass the test? Well, you will have to read all the story to find out. Picture this….

You have just arrived at the majestic Air Terminal 2 in Hong Kong. This is the terminal where all the cheapie airlines with names like ‘Wong Wei’ and ‘Yawing Yellow’ airlines rent the cheapest gate/ramp. You are at the Philippine Airline check-in counter at 7 PM ( the required 3 hours before an international flight) with wife and two grown daughters, five pieces of luggage, after a one hour bus ride from Lantou, Hong Kong.

We are on our way to the southern Philippines, sweat and swipe, sea level, General Santos City. You don’t relish the upcoming 12:10 AM midnight arrival in Manila, sleeping on the floor of the domestic area (no chairs) and waiting until the flight departure at 7 AM. The upcoming 2 1/2 hour bouncing ride through the Muslim terrorist infiltrated Philippines, punctuated by several military checkpoints along the way, when several soldiers peer in the window looking for veils and headwear, are not really major issues. We will be on our way from General Santos to the EOTEM mission headquarters in the small town of Surallah. Starting another church, teaching converts and keeping our mission work moving forward; that makes it worth it all. At least, that’s what you try to convince yourself.

The HK check-in counter conversation goes something like this: Polite young lady who almost speaks English: “Sorry. Your passport expires May 1, 2015. You do not fly today.” Me: “But this is November 11, 2014.” She: “Oh, but 6 months before your passport expires in order to fly to the Philippines.” Me: “Is that a new rule? We are only going for 10 days!” She: “Sorry.” (This is the Chinese word that means-“You are out of help, luck, no further talk.”) She: “Got another passport?” To myself: “Yeah. Sure. I carry 10 or 15 with me from Yemen, Macedonia, Russia, etc., just for situations like this, or getting picked up by the China Public Security Bureau on charges of being an agent of the CIA.”

My daughter, Sandra, pastor’s wife, has never been to the PI. She is an excellent pianist and vocalist. All our Filipino church members have been praying for her since she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer 3 years ago. As far as we know now, the cancer is not advancing and she feels well enough to travel after several months of chemotherapy. We were going to be at our main church anniversary services in Surallah, Mindanao to preach and let her sing and give a testimony as well as meet the hundreds of folks who prayed for her. This trip was a special trip, not only for Sandra but to them as well. Where we work in the villages, no one lives much longer than a few months with cancer. There are no adequate medical facilities, and even if there were, they couldn’t afford it. (We live and Filipinos die simply because we live where the best medical help in the world is available and they don’t). Along with my wife who has fought and beat cancer herself, our daughters, Sandra and Catherine (missionary in HK) are going to see some old friends. Catherine was in the Philippines with us years ago as a teenager. Her husband, Jonathan, volunteered to stay home in HK and care for their three children (the real hard work) so she could go.

And so we learn that a passport expiration date is not an expiration date–even though it plainly says it is. Why 6 months? Is it because a die has only space for 6 spots? Is it because a Texas Sheriff’s badge has 6 points? Is it because man was created on the 6th day and is buried 6 feet under? Why not set 12 months requirement before you can use your passport? After all, there are 12 months in the year and 12 tribes of Israel. Why not set 10 years (the biblical number of Gentile government) and just make the whole thing a worthless piece of bureaucratic bumph ?!!! (I find out later we had flown into HK –that has a similar rule–from Portland, Oregon via Vancouver, Canada with my passport “expired” for 2 days–without a hiccup).

I’ve flown to the Philippines several times a year over the past 24 years, worn out 4 passports with additional pages added in all of them, and never heard of such a Philippine rule. That is until I was in China trying to fly into the Philippines on this memorable date of November 11, 2014. I know, I know. It’s been hidden in the fine print somewhere. But before I could buy a ticket, the airline had to have my passport information. Wonder why, oh, I wonder why, Philippine Airlines would sell me a ticket knowing that it was no good when sold, and eventually would be rejected at the check-in counter? May I venture a guess? Someone says, “It was God’s will.” If that flight had crashed, I most likely would add ‘Amen’ since no man hates his own flesh. Was it a combo of my ignorance, airline Mickey Mouse rules, or lack of common sense somewhere in the chain of events? Most likely one or all. Surely it would not be to collect a “no show” penalty on my ticket fare! PAL (what an acronym!) has a weird customer history, like airport security checks where 2 girls look at collected crap on passenger shoe soles and sniff inside for any strange explosive smells, and guys poke your carry on with the 6″ ‘magic’ wooden piece of broom stick that discover half-used toothpaste and deodorant. But PAL would absolutely not stoop so low as this….since then, Philippine Airlines has tried every trick in the book to collect almost $3,000 from me for four people flying on a flight that we were not allowed to fly. And, 2 months later, they are still trying to get into my pocket.

We’ve had our share of wonderment on airlines. Sue and I have flown almost every USA, Mongolian, Japanese, Chinese, Philippine airline there is. In early days, everybody lit up at wheels up and fogged the plane with carcinogenic smoke so thick you couldn’t read the lavatory sign. Flight attendants (called “stewardesses” then–there were no males) wore gas masks. Domestic Japan airlines were notorious for it, even long after others figured out it might be as dangerous as Hiroshima in 1945.  In fact, We’ve flown on Philippine and China Airlines so long that when we began, PAL was the only airline flying in the Philippines and China was renting Russian military planes for domestic flights. One of my first memories in 1987 aboard PAL from Manila to Iloilo (“love love city”) was a snack biscuit with meat inside. Actually, I enjoyed it until I bit down on a bone. Not chicken! Not pork! It was a small 3″ curved rib, and while Sue was gagging, I looked at a bone that fit perfectly in the rib cage of a small puppy, cat, or possibly rat.

We have stood in the USA, Philippines, China baggage claims and watched the carousel picked clean with neither hide nor hair of luggage. In Harbin China, a ticket agent for China Northern asked as I checked my luggage, “Do you want insurance?” I asked, “Why?” Smiling, he said “So it will arrive.” We have flown in China on ex-military Russian planes rented by China with a crew included that looked like a pack of mangy, wire hair hounds. Throughout the flight they ran back and forth from cockpit to tail with a wrench and pair of pliers. Along with this careful aircraft maintenance, they spared no expense: bare metal seats and in-flight meal of 4 crackers and a stick of sausage.

One cold and rainy night we circled a China city for 2 hours and finally, in a nose dive landing that rivaled a Navy aircraft carrier landing, we diverted to an airport 200 miles away. After a 3 hour terminal wait, I was informed the flight would leave next day at noon. The airline graciously boarded the passengers on a standing room only bus to a government hotel where (since rooms were few) I was offered the comfort of sharing a bed with another man I didn’t know from Adam’s house cat. I walked out at 2 AM to another ‘luxurious’ hotel down the street where I got a room and only roaches for bed partners at $27.

On Mongolian Air out of Ulaanbator we climbed aboard a two-engine troop transport prop that Russia didn’t think would make it back to Moscow, so they gave it to Mongolia in 1991. We climbed aboard via a cargo net and took our assigned seats on wood benches painted with very appropriate red seat numbers. The parka coated flight attendant gave out a wrapped mint for a snack as we lumbered down the runway on a half flat tire with our breath fogging in the 20 degree air. Our luggage was where we could keep an eye on it at all times: piled at the cockpit door in front of us. By the grace and mercy of God alone we arrived at the dusty, cold airport over 1,000 miles from all civilization. When we went back a few days later from the Siberian border to the one shack “air terminal” at Moron (an appropriate name) to return to Ulaanbatar (UB) we were informed “Mongolian Airlines” had gone out of business. We were concerned because there was only one airline in Mongolia up to the day we left and we were miles from UB. “But don’t worry, we have another airline.” I asked, “When did that airline begin?” The proud answer, “Today!” We flew back to UB at the “safe” altitude of 100 ft on a similar plane, sucking the chimney smoke out of the gers below and causing yaks, sheep and camels to stampede.

One time, a pastor friend’s baggage didn’t arrive for over a week in the Philippines. His underwear was getting thin from double duty and scrubbing. All the local markets had were Asian dwarf sizes–he couldn’t get one leg in. He was about to leave threadbare. We were in Iloilo, 500 miles south of Manila. I had to go check on a visa and in the Manila airport, I went by the lost baggage cage. There it was, on a shelf. The attendant came to the half gate that separated us and producing the tag, pointed: “That’s my bag!” He walked over and said, “No.” “Yes it is.” “No it’s not!” I raised enough Cain that finally, he pulled it down and brought it over to show me it was not. But there on the ticket was the number and on the other side was the name. All the tags were right, name and arrival address in Iloilo right. Misconnect luggage delivery doesn’t work in the PI. Come to find out, that bag had crossed the Pacific Ocean from North Carolina to Manila 3 times with PAL trying to lose it all along the way.

Frequent USA air travel is enough to gray you before your time, but Asia travel by air, bus, train, taxi, sanlu, motorcycle, horse, carabo and foot is a real thriller that will try man’s very soul. Will we continue to go? Sure. How can we do anything else? In 1991, I looked up and down Main Street and counted 13 churches from the front porch of the church I pastored for 17 years. I had already flown over jungle villages in the Amazon and been to PI jungle villages and cities in China of over 6 million, where there had never been a gospel witness, and many places where no one in this generation had heard the Name, JESUS. Sue and I determined then to do what we could in following the rule: “to preach Christ where He has not been named.”

Go to the PI and China again? Keep stirring Christians here to the work? If God leaves us here a while longer, we will. Ignorance, the flesh, world and minions of the devil, can not dissuade it. In fact, God has kept us from harm in so many situations, I cannot number them. Ever scared? Sure. But the safest place in the world is doing what God wants you to do. On a military flight in 1960, I threw up a prayer, “Dear God, get me out of this and I’ll serve you.” My part took 3 more years to fulfill when I was saved in January 1963. He gave me an abiding joy and peace that is as fresh today as then. God is always there. He died and ever lives that I might live. Can I do less than burn out in this brief time for Him? While we are doing that, we will try to keep a sense of humor along with the commitment to “Go”. —Dave Reese January, 2015