Getting Unstuck In Thailand

Debbie and I were avid travelers and had joined the London-based World Expeditionary Association (WEXAS), an ostentatious name for a travel agency for the adventurous. In 1977 our third six-month trip took us to Thailand via England and Germany.

We had barely arrived in Bangkok when we learned that Air Siam, the carrier that was to take us to Los Angeles three months hence, was on the verge of bankruptcy. The government of Thailand was squeezing it out of competition with its own airline, Thai International Airways – or so rumor had it.

Naturally, that bit of information was not reassuring. But what should we do? Call off the rest of our trip and jump on the next plane? Follow our plans and pray that Air Siam will hang on long enough to carry us back after we had completed our tour of Southeast Asia? We had bought our tickets through WEXAS, and it was our hope that if Air Siam failed, WEXAS would come to the rescue. But we decided to save enough money should we have to pay for our return ourselves. Thailand is a beautiful country and a prime vacation spot for foreigners, but like they, we had only come to visit, not to resettle. Yet we never considered scratching our tour for an early return. Always playing it safe can make life boring, while taking calculated chances can be exhilarating.
When I was a boy, my father told me to “leave thinking up to horses. They have a bigger head than you.” I should have listened. After traipsing through several more countries we learned that Air Siam had indeed folded. Our tickets now seemed worthless as no airline would accept them.

The headquarters of defunct Air Siam occupied the whole floor of a Bangkok high-rise. The electricity was still on, the air-conditioners were still humming, and the telex machines were still operating when Debbie and I walked in. In addition to the manager, only two or three staff were still around. The place resembled more the office equivalent of a ghost town than the nerve center of an international airline.

The manager was both friendly and helpless. He told us that, to the best of his knowledge, none of thousands of booked passengers had had their tickets replaced. We also learned that some Japanese ticket-holders had been so angry they had come close to practicing their jujitsu on the innocent staff. That would have been, of course, a misplaced use of energy. The employees had nothing to do with the airline’s demise, nor with the misfortune of the frustrated would-be passengers.

The drama of stranded Air-Siam customers must have played out much earlier; we were likely the last stragglers. In recognition of Air Siam’s indebtedness to us, the manager agreed to do the only thing left in his power: to send telexes for us to any place in the world at no charge. Mike Skinner, a Canadian who was celebrating his acceptance into a highly competitive law school with a round-the-world trip, had already been wired money by his father to buy tickets with Korean Airlines for his final leg home. Having already discussed spiritual issues with him, we divulged to him that we were talking to “our Father who art in heaven” about getting us back. We felt that WEXAS owed us replacement tickets but, given the failures of others, believed that only God could persuade them. Mike, as one might expect, was skeptical and told us that, if He did, he would submit his life to God.

Dependence on the Almighty was easy to claim—after all, we had set aside enough money to buy new tickets. But after a week in “The Atlanta,” air-conditioned but cheap and nicknamed the Hippy Hilton, and two rejections by WEXAS, our reserves dropped below the lowest airfare. Now we were stuck and home seemed even farther away. We had clung to our conviction that God would step in. Now our faith was confronted by a new reality. And, going by thousands of rejections, our situation looked bleak.

Mike’s commitment was equally easy to make – why should Eb and Debbie beat such odds? Well, we couldn’t. This was out of our hands. Today, forty-one years later, I look back and think that we had allowed ourselves to be put into a more vulnerable position than ever before. Our dependence on God had remained undaunted even after WEXAS had rejected our two telexes. When does faith become presumption? We did not want to be presumptuous. We only entrusted ourselves to a loving Father, who delights to reciprocate our dependence in faith on Him within the parameters of His sovereign will.

A third telex from us resulted in a third telex from WEXAS: “New tickets in post today.” Hallelujah! Our friend Mike was profoundly affected and, with whatever else might have been transpiring for him, his life changed course. He eventually became a leader in the Christian Fellowship of Law Students at the University of British Columbia. And in our home is the framed telex communication as a testimony to God’s abundant grace. Soli Deo Gloria!

But there is a “rest-of-the-story” story, as Paul Harvey was wont to say. About six months after our return we received a letter from the president of WEXAS. He stated that the replacement tickets had been issued in error, and would we kindly agree to refund half their cost. We did. Since WEXAS had met our needs when it counted, then approached us with a request rather than a demand and we were now in the financial position to be generous, we were happy to acquiesce.

Photo by Eb Roell