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I was in the terminal at the Fort Lauderdale airport Friday when a gunman killed five people and wounded eight. Some would say I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, but I'm not so sure. To be honest, I wasn't even scheduled to be there at that time. I was only there that day because I had missed my earlier flight.
If I'd had my way, I would have been long gone on the noon flight to JFK then to London that night. I would have gone my merry way and later told stories about how my flight took off an hour before tragedy struck and isn't God good to have spared me the trauma of not one, but two terminal evacuations, and the drama of spending all day on lockdown in terminal two with hundreds of other stranded passengers. If it was up to me, I would have gladly missed all that for a safe, uneventful travel experience back to the UK for the start of school.
Instead I arrived an hour before my flight but due to a miscalculation on my part my luggage was way overweight. Before they would check my bag I had to extract 15 pounds and redistribute it to my backpack and carry-on. This took some doing and it also took precious time. When I finished I was informed it was now too late to get my bag on the plane and they would have to re-route me on another flight. Ugh! The fee for my new flight through Detroit was $300+. I was kicking myself for not asking how much to just pay an overweight bag fee. Surely it would have been cheaper and I still could have made my original flight. I texted a friend and shared my frustration over the additional fee. She replied, "So sorry. God must have some divine appointment for you."
With that I changed my perspective and became open to a God-assignment. I asked Him, "Why am I here? Is there something you want me to do, someone you want me to meet? If so, please show me."
The answer wasn't long in coming. Soon after I got to my gate the shooting took place in baggage claim and mayhem broke out in the terminal with everyone running and screaming as they fled onto the tarmac. An hour went by and calm was restored in the terminal. Reports were the gunman was apprehended so we assumed the danger had passed. Everyone came back from the tarmac into the terminal, found their abandoned luggage and sat back down to wait for new flight times.
Our newfound peace was short lived. Within the hour the same scene occurred all over again with everyone yelling and running down the jetways out onto the tarmac. This time it was scarier because we all knew the first scene had resulted in fatalities. Was another killer lose in the airport? We didn't know.
I found refuge under the gate agent counter, crouched inside next to a garbage can as I could hear people yelling, "Go, go, go, go!" to usher people outside. I was frozen still inside the cabinet, praying for God's peace to fill the building. After the second stampede evacuation we were all shell-shocked, not sure what caused it or what would happen next.
Rumors circulated there was a second gunman in the parking garage. Thankfully, this turned out to be false. After some time, a few dozen passengers from outside came back into our side of terminal two but the rest were bussed off-site while their carry-on bags remained scattered throughout the terminal. We all just sat and waited, wondering what's next. Meanwhile we were getting updates on our cell phones of our new flight times. I wondered if any planes would be taking off at all that night. I hoped I could get to Detroit so I could make my connection to London.
After a couple hours we realized no one was going anywhere on a plane and, worse yet, we couldn't even leave the building. After the first incident only my terminal was closed but now the entire airport was on lockdown. Planes full of passengers were stranded on the runway. Nobody was allowed in or out of any terminal for who knows how long.
The food court had closed after the first incident and never reopened so as the day wore on we all got hungrier. A Delta pilot came by and gave out pretzels and peanuts and someone else brought a few bottles of water to distribute. That's when I remembered I had a couple boxes of protein bars! I had moved them from my checked bag to my backpack. I pulled them out and went from passenger to passenger offering what I could, asking, "Are you hungry? Would you like lemon or chocolate?"
The chocolate bars went first of course. Some wondered if the lemon was any good—and I told them it was my favorite. Some didn't care. A protein bar was a protein bar! I soon ran out of protein bars, but I felt bad there was still so many more passengers who didn't get any. I walked through the rest of the terminal to see if any shops were open and I could buy food. That's when I noticed the other side of terminal two was jam-packed with hundreds passengers. My side of the terminal was only thirty percent full but this was worse than I thought. The food court stayed closed, but the Hudson News store was open and many were buying Pringles and other snacks.
I looked for something affordable and decided belVita breakfast bars were my best bet. I asked Ana, the store manager, for a bulk discount on snacks and bottled water. When she found out my plan was to buy them to give away, she gave me a basket and let me fill it up at no charge! She then assigned an employee to accompany me and carry the bottled water. I kept running out of snacks and bottled water and going back to her for more. Each time I went back to refill the baskets, I wondered when Ana's generosity would end. I must have given out ten baskets of snacks. Over the next couple hours I cleaned the store out of all the belVitas, then moved on to Nutrigrain bars.
This is how I became known as the "snack lady." People thought I worked at the airport. They were shocked when I told them I was just a passenger. I joked, "I thought I would be flying somewhere today , but that hasn't worked out so well." Then I told them it was happy hour and handed them a free water and a pack of crackers. Some didn't know what belVita was, so I turned company spokeswoman, explaining, "It's like a graham cracker, only better!" Some didn't care. When you've been sitting around for six or seven hours, food was food.
I shared smiles and laughter with lots of beautiful people throughout the terminal, and I knew in my heart this was my God-assignment.
The Bible says in Prov. 16:9 "A man's heart devises his way, but the Lord directs his steps." My plan that day was to get home as quickly as possible for the start of my new semester abroad in England, but God had other ideas. He needed someone on the ground to be His hands and feet in the terminal that day, and I'm honored He chose me. I'm just an ordinary traveler who serves and extraordinary God.
Christine Sneeringer is currently a student at the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics, where she is learning how to answer people's most difficult questions. Her favorite quote is from St Francis of Asisi, "Preach the gospel always and, if necessary, use words." She is also a speaker, comedian, and freelance writer. She is a native Floridian and a Broward County resident. She finally made it back to London on Monday morning--two days later than planned but right on time! Read more about her at ChristineSneeringer.com and WorthyCreations.org or follow her on Instagram @christinesneeringer, Facebook Christine Sneeringer Comedy. Twitter @C_Sneeringer.
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