Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sleepless in Stockholm

On April 14th I left Chicago bound for Barcelona with a layover in, of all places, Stockholm, Sweden. I was bound for a meeting of the executive committee of the International Federation of Free Evangelical Churches—a big name for a rather small organization. I am the chair of the theology committee and had a report to make. We were late arriving in Stockholm and only as we approached the city were we told the reason. A volcano had erupted in Iceland and forced our plane south to avoid the ash. A few hours later my fight to Barcelona was cancelled along with every other flight out of Arlanda Airport. Across Europe airports fell like dominoes. The skies above Stockholm were eerily silent and no one knew how long they would remain that way. I was able to find a hotel room and let my friends Doug and Jodi Fondell know that I would be around for awhile.

As many of my friends reminded me, one could be stuck in worse places than Stockholm—a fact I readily acknowledge. I have been to Stockholm every year for the last fourteen years. I have many friends and colleagues in the city and have spent many pleasant hours wandering its streets. No, it was not hard to be stuck in Stockholm. But I had no idea when I could be able to go home. As every traveler knows, when your flight is cancelled you go to the end of the line, not the beginning. When my second flight home was cancelled SAS told me the next open seat for a return to Chicago was a full week away. Europeans were enduring long train rides and miserable bus rides to get home. But for the thousands of North Americans in Europe there was no option but to wait and worry.

Over the course of my stay several things became apparent to me. First, our dependence on airplanes to deliver people and materials makes us more vulnerable than we may be willing to acknowledge. Getting people from Europe to America is one thing. Delivering perishable foods, medical material, military personnel, and sick people are another. Fruit and vegetables meant for markets in Europe rotted in Africa waiting for transport. Both the Africans and the Europeans have made themselves vulnerable to a fragile transportation system that can be crippled for long periods of time by entirely natural forces. In the United States we depend on long distance transport of foods from within and without the country. We have not developed the capacity to feed ourselves from locally grown produce. We are foolish if we imagine we are not also vulnerable.

The second thing that became apparent to me was that I was very frustrated at not being in control of the situation. It is an American trait to go out of the window if the door is closed. We love to work the angles. We are confident we can “figure things out.” In this case, however, there were no angles to work. Not only could I not control the volcano or the policies of the regulatory agencies, I was helpless to get over the ocean without a plane. I had to wait, with growing impatience, for a solution to an intractable problem. A trip home on the Queen Mary was not an option! And I didn’t know how long the volcano would erupt and how much ash would clog the skies. It was sobering to be helpless and dependent. But it was also sobering to confront my assumptions and limitations!

The third lesson was a much more positive one. I was reminded again of the importance of the generosity of friends and the kindness of strangers. Doug and Jodi took me in and allowed me to disrupt their schedule for several days. They opened their home and made me feel welcomed and cared for. Friends in the Swedish Mission Church offered encouragement and logistical support both in Stockholm and in Jonkoping. Friends in the US prayed, offered help, and gave encouragement. I found myself very thankful for Facebook! I was reminded of the value of the community called Church.

Finally, I discovered the value of slowing down and paying attention to God. More than one person remarked that being forced to wait in Stockholm with a stack of books sounded appealing. And I was able to get a good deal of reading, writing, and praying done. I had meals with colleagues and long conversations with my hosts. My pace at home is so frenetic that I don’t even notice it. Being forced by circumstances to slow down, be patient and wait, was a good thing. I am very glad to be home. But I am also glad for the experience and blessed by the memory of those days. However, the next time I am getting ready to board a plane for Europe I will check on volcanic activity in Iceland!


  1. Thanks for the report here and on Facebook. We can make our plans, but they are always in His hands. Tack, O Gud.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. What struck me most about the situation with the volcano ash was that worldwide people were stuck at their places. no planes from anywhere in the world were able to get tourists back to any european destination and no one in whole of europe was able to fly anywhere. doesn't it show us how small we human beings actually are compared to nature? our so much vaunted technology is worthless and shows us our limitations quite plainly. in all of that i am glad, jay, you found peace and ease in God.