Flight for home: Stuck overseas during COVID-19

Estrella found herself in the Philippines when the COVID-19 lockdowns hit and had quite a journey returning to Australia. Through it all, she felt close to God.

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(Credit: Unsplash)

As my annual Philippines visit came to an end, unexpected rumours began to circulate that I was an ill foreigner and may be carrying COVID-19.

I was at church while this false news spread quickly around the town.

During the night, flashing torches and the sound of loud noises came through the windows. It sounded like someone was knocking and pushing at the main house door.

“Lord, you must really want me to leave tomorrow!”

So Sunday afternoon we hired a tricycle bound for the Seventh-day Adventist radio station, but the tricycle motor kept stalling on the highway.

“What now Lord? We don’t want to get stuck on the road and it is getting late.” Luckily we found the fuel filter had blocked!

On Monday morning, during my devotion, I got the strong urge to “leave”. At the highway intersection there were lots of people queueing up at a check point, with all kinds of vehicles stopped and no one sure why. Luckily, on arriving at a bus terminal, there was one bus ready to depart, bound for the big city where my other family live—and closer to the airport to return to Australia.

The next morning, on March 14, the news said “lockdown”. We had only just got through. God was in control of everything.

Flights were cancelled so I decided I needed to find a place to stay, to isolate as best I could. Eventually, after lots of searching, an apartment belonging to my brother-in-law’s nephew was offered to me. The previous tenants had just moved out two days before.

After three weeks at the apartment, I received good news. The Australian Government was calling all citizens to come home, and Australian passport holders could register with the Philippines embassy via email (my husband did all this on my behalf). After a few days my husband received the wonderful news that Philippine Airlines had put on special flights for Sydney and Melbourne.

The next email announced that Philippine Airlines had decided to add a third flight, for Brisbane (in my home state), scheduled for April 18 and I was re-registered on that flight.

I needed a travel pass and health certificate to get out of the country, but the city was in lockdown. Somehow, some of the buildings re-opened on April 15 (a miracle!).

At the city office I discovered long queues of people like me needing travel papers. A council member said to me, “You can’t travel as you’re 60”.

“I’m not 60 years old yet!” I replied.

Patiently I waited until I got the Overseas Travel Pass certificate.

Again the city health centre was crowded. People were everywhere almost blocking the road—no social distancing at all. Avoiding the crowds, we took a taxi and went to the city hospital instead, but the hospital was no better—filled with sick people.

After not getting in to see a doctor for five hours and having no lunch, by the time it reached 3pm my poor old sister and I decided to go back to the city health centre, hoping there would be less people there. After waiting almost an hour to get an x-ray done, I must have been looking so weary, the receptionist asked my name then she put her fingers through the file of patient receipts and found mine halfway through. “Come back tomorrow early and pick up your x-ray results,” she said quietly.

I picked up the x-ray the next day and was again confronted with large crowds at the main office. I wanted to see a doctor to sign my x-ray, but while standing in the crowds, I was told that no doctor’s signature was required; I had all I needed to travel.

My evacuation flight was leaving in three days.

Then my phone rang. I was told I must be at the Philippine Airlines ticket office on Friday morning to pay for my ticket. Arriving outside the ticket office lots of people were already waiting. A lady asked: “Are you Australian? Go in first.”

I handed over my passport and they found my name listed on the second page. I was so excited!

The ticketing officer asked for my reference number, but I didn’t have one. She got up and went to the other room, coming out with an A4 piece of paper.

I glanced at it and there was my name for the Brisbane flight the next day on the Sabbath. I silently thanked my Lord.

I was told I must be at the hotel by 6 am the next morning in order to travel in the convoy bound for the airport, to avoid hold-ups at check points.

At Manila International Airport I was more than excited to see the departure lounge for Brisbane. Before taking off I prayed, “Jesus please be with us—we all want to go home safely—and for you to be our Pilot. Amen.”

I fell asleep after take off, waking up to hearing the pilot say “Welcome to Brisbane”. The plane landed so smoothly. I had been told beforehand that I must be in quarantine for 14 days after going through customs.

The buses were ready to take us to the hotel for isolation. In my room, a message on the TV said “Welcome Estrella”. In the hotel I requested a Bible which was speedily delivered to my door and I spent quality time reading God’s Word.

After 14 days of quarantine, I got on the only flight for Cairns.

“Oh yes Jesus does care!”

Jesus is all the world to me, what more I cannot deny it.

Acts 4:12 says: “Neither is there salvation in any other for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

Earnestly and tenderly, Jesus is calling for you and me to come home.

Jesus promised to prepare a place for us. John 14:1-4 says: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

That’s our true citizenship. Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”