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On woman's travels amid beginning of COVID-19 outbreak: 'We were clueless'

Becky Campbell • Apr 5, 2020 at 8:15 AM

It started out as a 10-day excursion to Spain and Portugal for a local woman and a friend.

But it turned into a battle to get back home with a travel ban in place.

Amelia Brown, however, never once faltered in her faith, and said as she looked back over the trip she saw sign after sign that God was one step ahead of them the whole way. She called those signs “God Things,” where things that could have gone wrong didn’t.

Instead, the women’s trip, although cut short as a vacation, was nonetheless full of adventure.

Brown chronicled her trip and gave credit where credit was due for the fortunate encounters they had.

“Beth Oldham, my friend from Chattanooga, and I left on a planned trip to Spain/Portugal on March 6... we flew into Madrid for two nights, then on to Barcelona, three days of riding the metro with thousands of Spaniards, and on Wednesday, March 11 flew to Lisbon, Portugal for a supposedly three night stay before flying back to Madrid on Saturday, March 14 and home to U.S. on Sunday, March 15.

“Beth had prayed at the trip’s beginning, ‘Lord, help us to see God’s hand in our trip’. That’s what I call God Things.”

Here’s an edited timeline of the events and those God Things she credits for getting home safely.

1:30 a.m., Thursday, March 12: Up at 1:30 a.m. Checked to see that phone had charged; saw a WhatsApp text from (a friend.) I read this: Will (you) be able to get home with Trump’s 30-day travel ban of all flights from Europe (except UK) he just announced effective Friday?”

I’m like ‘What???’ No TV since our arrival. No idea what she was talking about. Beth said, “I don’t hear a lot of people talking about it.” Laughed later and said, “Maybe they were. We don’t speak Spanish.” Should I wake Beth? “Yes!!” Beth is going, “Can we wait till in the morning?”

• 1:30-3:30 a.m., Thursday, March 12: Told Beth, “We have to go to the lobby.” We did, in our pjs, and were there for two hours. My first thought was to get to the Lisbon airport. But Luis Mendes, the front desk clerk, said, “No, airport (is) closed, lots of people there, and no one will help you there.” He immediately — and remember he could have easily have said, “I am just the desk clerk here, not your travel agent” —  opened the hotel computer to a travel site. Found us a flight from Lisbon to Casablanca, Morocco.

The God Thing here is that Beth had wanted to go to Morocco when we planned our trip. Then started looking for flights to U.S. Nothing on the East Coast … LA, San Francisco… and then Boston popped up. We hopped on it.

And we paid $380 for the new flight home (GT). Later learned that same flight had tripled in price in three hours. And as we watched, prices on other carriers were $1,000, $1,500, $2,000!!! Luis also got us a hotel in Casablanca near airport with free shuttle. God is good!

• 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Thursday, March 12: I thought the Lisbon Airport would be a zoo!! But no surprise that Royal Air Maroc was not in the same terminal as Delta, etc. Quiet.

Found the desk, which did not open until 2-3 hours prior to departure. I told Beth that we were standing right here (because) we were first in line!! Beth had prayed that God would put the right people in our path. Lots of Americans lining up behind us, including the family of Cedric and Suzannah with 1 yr. old Sky and Cedric’s mother, Vivienne.

Cedric is an infectious disease doctor!!! Made Beth and me feel so much better to know he had had his family in Europe and that they were coming home. By now we had heard the ban was only for foreign nationals, It’s a God Thing that we didn’t decide to stay and carry on with vacationing.

Also, Suzannah and Juliette, a U.S. Naval Academy senior who was taking one last fling with her dad. Both had lived in Morocco and studied the language. They helped us navigate the airport in Casablanca, another God Thing.

• 3:40-6 p.m., Thursday, March 12: In the air to Casablanca. Prior to our arrival, we were handed a questionnaire … “Have you had an acute respiratory infection with fever?” “Have you had contact with a person infected or suspected of having the coronavirus?” That was our screening. Hotel upgraded us to suite … living room, bedroom and two baths!!

• 4:50-7:40 p.m., Friday, March 13: In the air from Casablanca to Boston. First God Thing there was our seat at the bulkhead, so we could stretch our legs and walk a bit. Roy was our seatmate. He had been in Morocco for five days. His stories convinced us that two 70-year-old women did not need to be vacationing there by themselves!!

• 7:40 p.m.-1 a.m., Saturday, March 14: We beat the midnight curfew — another God Thing.  Meanwhile, back at home, Beth’s son-in-law, Justin, was working on flights from Boston to Atlanta. Found one on Jet Blue, leaving Boston at 10 p.m. 3/13. We didn’t think we would make it but had him book it anyway.

Came into Boston, there was no health screening. I reminded Beth that we had flown into U.S. from Africa, not from Europe!! See how God ‘had this’ from the very start? Our health screening was going into Morocco. So we made Jet Blue 10 p.m. flight with 30 minutes to spare.

• 1-5:15 a.m., Saturday, March 14: Relieved when my suitcase was on the last bunch to arrive at Atlanta baggage claim. Suitcase in front of legs, head rest blown up and on suitcase, leaned over from waist and actually slept in Atlanta airport (GT).

• 5:15 a.m.-7 a.m.:  Made 5:15 a.m. shuttle from Atlanta to Chattanooga.

• The day on Saturday, March 14: Showered, slept, talked on phone … As we heard more and more about what was happening here at home, I decided that I should “get home.” Arrived in Johnson City at 5 p.m.

“So from 1:30 a.m. Thursday, March 12, till 5 p.m., Saturday, March 14, we were planning, packing, flying, sitting, etc. trying to get home. Somewhere in there, I said to Beth, ‘Do you realize how many people are praying for us?’”

During her 14 day self-isolation, Brown said she relied on scripture and prayer.

“We are so incredibly grateful to God and all those ‘God hands and feet’ people  who helped us make this journey. It was all a GOD THING!!”

Brown said if she could sum up her whirlwind trip in one word it would be, “blessed,” and of course, “God.”