The following is from Vets4ChildRescue.org
My son, Charlie, spent almost 2 weeks in Ecuador with the Global Health Program at the U of A College of Medicine. He went with 5 other students to learn Spanish linguistics and serve in a foreign land to get Spanish certified when he graduates from medical school.
Our family loves foreign missions and feel a call to serve wherever God leads us. In fact, Charlie had spent two summers in Mexico City after graduating high school working with Operation Serve International and leading US medical teams in and out of Mexico City. He and his twin brother served in the optometry clinic doing eye exams for up to 100 patients a day. He returned from his first summer there and said he felt a call on his life to go to medical school.
I had just landed in the US from Israel, and I got a call from Charlie that every mother dreads. He shared that without warning, the whole country of Ecuador was in civil unrest. He and the other 5 students were stranded in Riobamba, a small town in Ecuador, with their host family. He shared that thousands of people in Ecuador started protesting against the government and were kidnapping people, bombing, attacking people in their cars, starting fires, etc.
I could hear the concern in his voice and was super worried for him. Charlie and the other students had decided they were going to change their plane tickets to leave early, but at that point, the uproar had gotten so bad that all the roads were blocked off to the airport and they were advised by the locals to absolutely not go out for any reason.
As I listened to Charlie’s situation that he shared with me on the phone, I had an immediate thought – I need to call Craig Sawyer. When I got off the phone with Charlie, I sent a message to Craig’s wife and within minutes, Craig was on the phone with me directing me on what to do. By the next morning, we were in a secure chat with several other military experts who were planning and directing their next move.
Bless their hearts. These first year medical students stayed up all night and put their heads together to make plans to get out of Ecuador. At the direction of Craig and his team, the group of students contacted the U of A Global Health, and they hired a private helicopter to evacuate them out of the city.
In the messaging, Charlie quickly told me that they had to take them out in two groups because they didn’t have enough room to take them all at once. Without him even telling me, I started to wrap my head around the fact that Charlie wouldn’t be going with the first group. He would make sure everyone got out safe and then he’d be with the second group. I know Charlie and I knew that’s how it would go down.
In December, my family was in a serious car accident. We hit a stopped car on the freeway going 75 miles per hour. My daughter was in very serious condition with a spinal fracture and multiple facial fractures. There is one thing I learned through the series of months that we had been treated medically. There was a big difference between a mediocre surgeon and one that was excellent. The mediocre surgeon did his job and then discharged us with no recommendation.
The excellent surgeon, however, never worked alone. In fact, he had a team of other people of excellence that he respected, and when it was time to move on to the next phase of healing, he had names of specific people he referred us to. He called them his “A” team.
That’s what I knew about Craig. I knew Craig was doing excellent work. and those who are doing excellent work know other excellent people. I was absolutely right in that assessment.
As soon as we shared with Craig about Charlie’s situation, he moved into action contacting his “A” team. This was a group of amazing military guys who were full of wisdom and had intel like I couldn’t believe. They were highly connected in all these countries. Not only that, but they also gave intel as it was being told to them so the students knew exactly what to expect.
The private helicopter came for the students, and little did they know that it was an old, tiny helicopter, and it would be picking them up from a small landing zone that had previously been closed for the past 10 years. They were only opening it up again so that the students and the other tourists in Riobamba could leave. Charlie said there was one little tower and one person in the tower, and they were the only ones flying out!
The helicopter dropped them off in a field in the middle of nowhere. This presented them with another problem on how to get to the international airport, which was 30 minutes away.
At the direction of the US Embassy, they had sent a representative from the Ministry of Travel to meet Charlie and the other students at the helicopter pad before they took off. He said when they got to the landing zone, he saw a guy coming toward them on a bike! He kind of got concerned like, “Who is this guy?” This gentleman had taken a bike because he couldn’t drive a car there, as he would have been attacked and kidnapped.
The man from the Ministry of Travel said he was there to stay with them until they got to the airport. Charlie told him the problem was they didn’t have a ride to the airport once they landed, so this guy got on his cell phone and contacted all his connections. He got cars to come and pick up the group of students to get them to the airport, which was super dangerous. They picked them up and drove them to the airport to safety.
It was so amazing to see God parted the Red Sea. Every place they went, God opened doors for them, and then rapidly closed the doors behind them. Within minutes of getting to the Quito Airport, Craig’s team learned that 5,000 more people had come to protest, and they closed all of the roads to any airport in the country. They would have been stuck there in the country if they hadn’t left when they did. The host family had shut off some of the gas and water because they had a gas shortage and a food shortage. God’s timing is so amazing!
I want to give a big shout-out to Craig “Sawman” Sawyer, Ben Owen, Jack Farmer, Stacy “Duke” Gentile, and all the others who shared information, advised them, and gave them the most practical advice I’d never have thought of – like get food and water because you could be stranded for a while, don’t leave the airport for any reason unless it’s burning, and make sure your phone is charged!
These guys helped them to safety and other than Craig, none of them had ever met us in person. We became family that day. Not only did they advise them, but they stayed up through the night checking in on them hourly until they had wheels off the ground and were out of the country. Not too many people like these great men!
I would find out later from Craig that they had a team in the country ready to evacuate them if they couldn’t get out. Such an amazing group of patriots who were willing to help.
We want to thank Craig and his “A” team, the U of A Global Health Dept for all their help, and our God who continues to deliver us out of every trouble. God brought so many amazing people to our rescue who we now consider family. Craig and his “A” team kept us calm, let us know what to expect, and encouraged us to believe they would get out safely. We are in debt to them for all their help and appreciate them beyond words.
Charlie’s dad always says, “Character isn’t built when things are good. It’s built in adversity.” I believe this will be a great character-building exercise for these future doctors. We are proud of you!
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