Two O'Clock at Entebbe

At about 6,000 feet we were crossing into Ugandan airspace heading for Entebbe. The azure sky was punctuated with cottony puffs of cumulus. The earth below was deep, rich green. The rains had started. But everything was not as peaceful as the scenery. President Idi Amin had ordered the expulsion of all Asians, limiting them to one suitcase of personal belongings. Only three days before we had heard on the radio that any foreign aircraft flying into Ugandan airspace would be shot down.

We couldn’t raise a signal from Entebbe. The radio silence was ominous and we scanned the horizon continuously for any speck that might suggest an approaching aircraft.

At last, from only forty miles away, we got a response on the radio. It was a curt, “Permission to land.” With a sigh of relief, we concentrated on the landing.

It was a small aircraft, carrying only the pilot, a lady missionary with a sick baby, and me. The missionary was going to be met by friends from Kampala. The pilot was to pick up some missionaries’ children returning to Zaire from school. I was to connect with a South African Airlines flight that night for London.

We carried our baggage into the immigration office and fished out our papers. The warmth of our welcome was soon evident on the official’s face. “Don’t you know,” he said angrily, “that President Amin has forbidden any white persons to enter Uganda?” We didn’t know that only the day before this new edict had been passed. “Get out of the country!” he shouted. It was more than anger. There was fear there.

“That is exactly what I want to do—on the first flight to London tonight,” I replied.

“Get out . . . now . . . the way you came in,” and with that the official turned to his desk. As I tried to explain how that was impossible because the plane was now loading with children, he added one more complication, “Get out of the country by two o’clock, or you’ll be arrested.” I could easily believe him as I looked at the armed police and soldiers moving around.

From a child I had been taught to pray. To pray for little things and for big things. This was a big thing and for sure it was time to pray. As we stood there—the pilot, the missionary with her baby and I—we looked hopelessly at one another. I felt we should pray all right. A verse from the Bible had come to my mind. No doubt it was from God. It is 1 Peter 3:22—“Jesus Christ: who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him.” So, standing there, we claimed the truth of that Scripture as I asked the Lord to deal with these authorities.

The pilot made plans to return to Zaire with his load. The missionary was met by her friends and was taken off under their protection. I sat waiting, occasionally going to the gate to look for something that might be the answer to my dilemma.

Just after 1:00 p.m. a jet landed. As it taxied in, I could read a British airline insignia on its side. Going to the counter, I inquired where that flight was going. “Non-stop to London,” the agent replied.

“Wonderful! Put me on it, please.” My relief was momentary.

“Sorry, sir, but that is an unscheduled flight stopping for fuel only because of strong headwinds between here and London.” Then to blow out any candle of hope, he added, “In any case, sir, I have the passenger list from Nairobi. Every seat is full.”

“Well,” I compromised, “would you put my luggage on?”

“Yes,” the agent nodded, “we can do that.” It was a relief to get rid of the stuff. I felt at least more mobile for whatever might happen.

Some of the passengers alighted for a few minutes, going into the terminal through another door. I decided that perhaps this was God’s provision for me, so I took up a position near the gate. When I heard the call to board and, as the passengers stepped out onto the tarmac, I moved in behind them. I could feel eyes boring into the back of my neck and I waited for a shout. But none came! Climbing up the steps, I expected a flight attendant to be there to check for a pass and I had none, nor did I even possess a ticket for that flight. No one was there. Walking slowly up the aisle, I looked for that one important seat, the empty one! Every seat was full, and many children were being carried on the knees of adults. All were Asians fleeing for their lives.

The First Class section was separated by a curtain. I went through. Just then a crew member came from the flight deck and, seeing my uncertainty, asked, “Where is your seat, sir?”

“Oh,” I faltered, “I don’t have a seat. I just boarded here.”

“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to leave the aircraft. We are not permitted to pick up passengers here. This is an unscheduled stop for fuel only.” By now I had taken a quick look around. There were one or two empty seats, but all with “Occupied” tickets. Except one.

“How about that one?” I asked, and explained the dilemma of my impending arrest.

“I’ll check,” said the officer and walked down the aisle. Time dragged on. Then I heard what seemed to be the thump of the door closing. The officer reappeared. “I don’t understand it, sir. We are supposed to be full, but we have to go. That seat is yours!”

What a sweet sound to an old pilot to feel the surge of the engines on takeoff and the “clunk” of the undercarriage that signals we had broken with gravity. But they were never more sweet as I leaned back in my First Class lounging chair to thank God who hears and answers prayer, and who still controls the winds for His timely help. I looked at my watch. It was two o’clock.

Preparation for just such a day, however, had been made many years before. As a teenager, I had discovered my deep need of the Lord Jesus Christ to be my personal Saviour. In an upstairs bedroom in the outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland, I bowed over my bed and cried on Him to save me from my sins and the judgment to come. He heard my cry then and by His grace He saved me.

How wonderful to know this Saviour. Do you know Him? If not, receive Him now. Turn from your sin, your idols and transgressions to the loving, living God. He will keep His Word: “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). It does not mean you will never have a problem nor a sorrow, but in every circumstance He will always keep His promise, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” ( Heb. 13:5 ), and in His hand lies all authority and power.

Perhaps it was the release of the tension, but I could not help but laugh on the inside at the sequel to this incident. About an hour after takeoff, dinner was served. I had not eaten since Zaire in the early morning so I was ready. My mouth watered in anticipation as I watched the flight attendant pass out a delicious-looking steak dinner. Then it was my turn.

“Excuse me, sir,” the flight attendant apologized, “I’m sorry, but we seem to be short one steak dinner. Would you mind taking an economy lunch?” Ah well, I thought, we can’t have everything. After all, I am on board and safe. Just then a turbaned gentleman across the aisle caught the attendant by the arm.

“Please, I don’t eat meat,” he said, and handed the dinner back. With a smile, the attendant turned to me.

“Do you mind helping us out, sir, and eating up this steak dinner?”

“Not at all,” I replied. I thought I could oblige without too much effort!

I struck up conversation with my fellow traveler in the next seat, who informed me he was an airline executive, traveling back to London. He had been responsible in Nairobi for organizing this airlift of Ugandans who had made it into Kenya. This was the last of these flights and he was returning to home base. He discovered I was en route to Canada, with a stopover in Scotland for a brief visit with loved ones there. I had been booked through Heathrow to Glasgow, but of course my schedule was a bit upset now. Pulling out his timetable, he told me that his company had a flight out of Gatwick for Glasgow about thirty minutes after our arrival there. Of course my tickets would all have to be rewritten, baggage transferred, etc.

“Why not stay in London overnight and get a good night’s sleep; then catch our seven o’clock flight in the morning?” he suggested. I hadn’t planned on that added expense in London, but by now there were a few things I hadn’t planned. “Look, just leave it to me. Follow me to the counter when we arrive,” he said. That sounded just fine to me and soon the hypnotic vibrations of flight wafted us both into a comfortable sleep.

The tires squealed as we touched down in London. It was about 11:00 p.m. and soon I was following my Good Samaritan friend upstairs, along hallways and at last out into the terminal and over to the ticket counter.

“Please give this gentleman a voucher for the hotel tonight, breakfast in the morning and a taxi both ways,” he requested of the agent. The young lady looked at the various tickets and schedules.

“I’m sorry, sir, I can’t do that since your friend can still catch a flight tonight to Glasgow.” Passing his identification to the young lady, he persisted gently.

“Just take care of it, Miss.” Soon I held in my hand my tickets, duly rewritten, and my voucher for transport, food, and a bed in the beautiful Gatwick-Shelby Hotel.

Does the Lord at times smile down upon us, I wonder? Well, that evening, after a luxurious shower and contemplating the comforts of a good night’s sleep in a king-size bed, I could not help but smile as I bowed to give thanks to the One who ”. . . is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him.”