Gander is a small, quiet town on the island of Newfoundland. All that changed on September 11, 2001. With planes used as weapons, the U.S., for the first time in its history, shut down the skies. All incoming flights from Europe were diverted to Canada.
The runway at the Gander airport shook as 747s began to make emergency landings. Within three hours, the airport was crammed with 38 jets and over 6,500 passengers. Instantly, the area swelled by 60% in population.
Pilots and crews filled the local hotels, but where do you put so many thousands of stranded passengers? The local residents mobilized for action.
All high schools, church basements, and meeting halls within an hour from the airport were opened to provide housing. Many residents opened up their homes.
Residents scrambled to find diapers, baby formula, and bedding. In perhaps the biggest "refrigerator raid" in history, the townspeople emptied their fridges and cupboards. They brought out their local delicacies: moose meat, cod filets, and wild partridgeberry jam. One of those stranded, a folk singer composed a song with the line: "Our plates are never empty, Lord, they're feeding us again."
The local businesses sprang to action. Fishermen donated their catch. Bakeries stayed open late baking fresh bread. A store owner donated $3,000 in bed sheets. Pharmacies filled prescriptions and provided medicine for free.
At a camp outside of town, Salvation Army members stood outside cabins all night long -- just in case someone needed to talk.
In those three anxious days, social barriers began to relax. Some of those marooned were dirt poor refugees. Sleeping on cots next to them might be a British member of Parliament, the mayor of Frankfort, Germany, or a king from the Middle East. Everyone began addressing each other by their first names.
One resident, Scott Cook, told of a local woman who drove those stranded on tours of the area. Afterward, she exchanged cards. She looked at one card, "So," she said, "you work with Best Western?" "No," he replied, "I own Best Western."
When the planes were finally cleared to depart, both passengers and residents hugged and wept. One resident said this time was the highlight of his life.
There is a ritual if you'd like to become an honorary Newfoundlander. You get on your knees, kiss a codfish on the lips, eat a piece of local hardbread, pound down some "screech" (a local rum), and speak a word in praise of Newfoundland. Many passengers took the pledge.
I sometimes dream of making more money and having more free time to do what I want. The Lord, however, gently reminds me that what I really want is to sacrifice my time, money, and wild grouseberry jam to serve others.
The people from Newfoundland remind the rest of us that we were made for this.
(text copyright 2013 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)