Volcanic Action Delays Covenanters’ Return to States

BARCELONA, SPAIN (April 20, 2010) – Evangelical Covenant Church leaders who traveled to Europe for an International Federation of Free Evangelical Churches (IFFEC) meeting last week either never arrived or now cannot get home due to volcano ash that has closed airports throughout Europe.

North Park Theological Seminary President Jay Phelan had stopped in Stockholm on the way to the meeting and was never able to fly to the meeting in Barcelona because the airports closed. SAS Scandinavian Airlines has told him they may not be able to fly him back until April 27, says his administrative assistant Guylla Brown.

He posted on his Facebook account this morning that he may be able to fly out on a different airline Friday.

Curt Peterson, executive minister of the Department of World Mission, was supposed to return from Barcelona on Sunday, but emailed staff this morning stating he will not be able to return to the United States until at least Thursday. Barcelona’s airport is one of the few in Europe to reopen, but United Airlines had not planned to resume flights until today.

Despite the several-day delay, Peterson is able to stay in the guest room of the Free Church of Spain offices. Peterson says he will continue to work out of the offices in Spain.

Steven David, moderator of the Hindustani Covenant Church, remains with Peterson. David hopes to leave today.

The airport closures have disrupted the travel of other Covenant leaders. Executive Vice President Donn Engebretson was in Spain with Peterson. He was able to return Monday.

Other Covenant pastors traveling throughout Europe and even a missionary in the Democratic Republic of Congo have had to cancel or alter trips.

A visioning trip, during which several pastors and a layperson were supposed to visit sites where denomination missionaries are working, also has been disrupted. Participants were to visit Belgium, Prague, Paris, La Coruna and Barcelona, Spain.

Two pastors already were in Europe and will be able to visit some of the sites, says Karen Hallberg, world mission director of mobilization and connection. Other participants have not been able to leave the United States.

Missionary Keith Gustafson has been working in Congo and had hoped to return home, but his travel plans required connections in Europe. He does not know yet when he will be able to fly.

Baxter and Margie Swenson, co-directors of missionary personnel, still hope to participate in a retreat for missionaries in Europe that begins next week.

Dan Whitmarsh, pastor of Lakebay Covenant Church in Lakebay, Washington, and his wife, Karina, had a two-week vacation planned in Europe. The first leg of the trip was supposed to be in Stockholm, but the plane never got to leave from its stop in Reykjavik, Iceland.

“We still decided to wait a few days and see if things cleared up, and then the Seattle flights were all booked so we couldn’t get home if we wanted to,” said Monday night.
On Monday, they were able to fly to Stockholm on the last seats of the first flight to Stockholm.

They were supposed to travel on to Germany, “but I think that’s out,” he said. He added that the family is supposed to travel to England next week but those plans remain uncertain.

“In all, it was an adventure, and we made some friends from all over the world,” Whitmarsh said. “Everybody seemed to be patient and enduring it with good humor. The Icelanders were friendly and helpful, so it wasn’t too much hardship.”

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