Press-Republican

February 19, 2014

Mission of Hope surmounts obstacles

SUZANNE MOORE, News Editor
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — The bus plowed through the pothole at about about 1:10 a.m., lurching to a stop that jolted North Country Mission of Hope travelers who had thought they would reach Newark Liberty International Airport in just minutes.

“It made a really loud noise,” first-time missioner Becky Columbe, a social worker at Meadowbrook Health Care in Plattsburgh, said via cellphone from Houston.

Anna Fisher, a SUNY Plattsburgh student from West Chazy, kind of shrugged off the incident even as it happened.

“Oh, great,” she told herself. “Here we go again.”

A few years ago, traveling to Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life, her bus broke down, and she spent a few hours standing by the road until alternate transportation was arranged.

This time, at least she and her companions weren’t waiting on the street, something to be avoided in downtown Newark in the dark of night.

The bus driver eased the vehicle, which had also struck a large tire in the road, into the parking lot of a gas station/convenience store. And everyone waited inside, a group of 35 crowded into the shopping aisles.

For a couple of hours, said Amy LoTemplio, 17, of Morrisonville, “we were looking at the granola bars and cookies and stuff.”

ONE FELL ILL

The Mission of Hope group had left Plattsburgh at 6:30 p.m. Monday, about 12 hours ahead of schedule, with their final destination Nicaragua.

There, they will help the poor with a variety of projects that include building a kitchen at one school and replacing toilets at another one where none are functioning now. 

Mission Executive Director Sister Debbie Blow had been advised that their Monday morning flight from Burlington to Newark had been canceled, and so they headed out on a bus from Ground Force 1.

They had expected to arrive in Newark no later than midnight, hours ahead of their 8:15 a.m. flight to Houston.

On the New York Thruway, they lost one of their group, who fell ill and opted to wait for a relative at a hotel.

LAST 10 MILES

Another worry arose when Blow got a text from United Airlines saying five seats on the flight out of Newark had been canceled.

But that had to wait, as they first needed to get everyone to the airport.

That happened in seven trips of four or five missioners each in Rob Bashaw’s extended-cab pickup truck, which he had driven to Newark with some of the luggage for the trip.

It was 4 a.m. before all had traveled that last 10 miles, Blow said.

“I didn’t sleep at all,” said Fisher, who was in a biology lab at SUNY Plattsburgh when she learned the trip would start early.

“I think it’s pretty exciting.”

Blow had to agree, but in a different way.

“Good thing no one’s checking my blood pressure today,” she said.

REALLY QUICK BOND

At the airport, Blow fought for and won back the five canceled seats — in fact, the airline upgraded them to first class.

After the plane was de-iced, it took off for Houston at 9:15 a.m., an hour late. It landed at 1:50 p.m. Eastern time, with the departure for Managua at 5 p.m. and arrival there at 8:30.

“As much as they were challenges,” Blow said of the travel roadblocks, “they were blessings.”

The missioners formed a really quick bond, which will serve them well as they work with the poor in the third-world country over the next week.

“And what I saw was incredible cooperation from the adults and students,” Blow said.

Even so, she added, thinking of the frantic effort that began Monday morning, “it’s been a very long day — and night — and day.”

Email Suzanne Moore: smoore@pressrepublican.comTwitter: @EditorSuzanne