(By Rykauna Parent)
It was Saturday evening when I began to get worried, really worried. French President Emmanuel Macron had just announced the closure of all restaurants, bakeries, and boutiques in France. I figured it was only a matter of time before public transportation was hit, too. I had a train ride booked for Monday morning and was eager to travel to Paris where I would catch a plane to Iceland and then eventually home to Toronto. I knew borders were closing soon, and the thought of being trapped alone in a capsule-sized apartment in a foreign country for an indefinite period of time terrified me.
My name is Rykauna and I’m a third year university student hoping to become a French teacher one day. In January, I moved to a small French town for a semester abroad. I was planning on staying in Angers until the end of May to improve my French.
I hadn’t planned on cutting my trip short, but given the increasingly difficult circumstances, I felt like I had no choice. My mom took to Facebook to ask for prayers, and the response overwhelmed me. I felt incredibly humbled and grateful for every person who lovingly agreed to go before the feet of Jesus and pray on my behalf.
Getting home was going to be a process, and there were a few steps that I was particularly concerned about. How on earth was I going to get two suitcases (one with a broken wheel) all the way to the train station by myself? It was usually a twenty minute walk, but dragging two suitcases behind me, who knew how long it’d take? I looked down at my phone and there was a text from Frederique. She was a sweet friend that I’d met at church, and she had texted wanting to know whether or not I was going to return home; she then proceeded to ask if there was anything she could do to help. Well, if you wouldn’t mind helping me bring my suitcases to the station tomorrow, I’d really appreciate it. “Oui, bien sûr!” [Yes, of course!] she replied. The gratitude I felt was a small shadow of the joy Abraham must have felt upon spotting the ram in the thicket. God had provided.
Another step I was scared about was my apartment inspection. I’d spent all day Sunday cleaning and sweeping and disinfecting but my residence had lots of rules and I was scared that I’d accidentally forgotten something. Policy dictated that since I was leaving the dorm early, I would have to pay an additional month’s rent and that I couldn’t get my deposit back--definitely not ideal, but they were “acceptable losses” given the situation. Much to my surprise, the receptionist informed me that the policy had changed over the weekend and I no longer had to pay April’s rent. And in addition, due to the extenuating circumstances, international students would now be getting their deposits back. I had thought that I would have to spend five hundred euros in order to leave my residence, but I ended up making twenty euros instead.
My trip to the train station was uneventful, and I arrived at the Charles de Gaulle airport right on schedule. I spent the night at the airport and slept on a makeshift “bed” of suitcases covered in blankets.
I awoke to a text from a friend, informing me that she was on her way to the airport. She hadn’t been planning on leaving France, but upon hearing of future border closures, she’d changed her mind. We met up and she offered me a mask--liquid gold. Masks had been sold out all over France for the past week so her gift was very precious.
I had packed my suitcase in a rush and hadn’t had access to a scale of any kind so I had no clue how much it weighed. When it came time to check-in, I lifted my large pink suitcase onto the scale and groaned. Twenty-eight kilograms. The weight limit for checked baggage was twenty-three kilograms. I was told the fee for overweight baggage was seventy-three euros. I wasn’t about to spend one hundred dollars on getting some school books home so I asked if I could open up the suitcase and start taking things out. Not wanting me to make a scene or slow down the already long line, the women told me it was fine and slid my suitcase through, the additional five kilograms and all.
The plane was set to fly out at one pm, and by eleven pm I was absolutely starving. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, everything had been closed but a convenient store. I’d been living off of Pringles and Skittles, and my stomach was not having it. I prayed to God asking Him to provide food for me to eat, and lo and behold at my gate there was a coffee shop and it sold tomato and goat cheese sandwiches, my favorite. It felt amazing to eat something warm and nutritional.
On my flight from Paris to Iceland, I was able to get an entire row to myself.
It was such a privilege to be able to lie across the seats and sleep especially given my previous night’s sleep on the ground of the airport. Before leaving France, Rachel prayed with me and asked God for opportunities to bless those around me during my trip home. This opportunity arrived when my plane landed in Toronto. Due to overcrowding at customs, our plane had to be held on the tarmac for thirty minutes before we were allowed to disembark. Two young women sitting near me became flustered, expressing that they had no way to contact their parents informing them of the delay. I offered them my cell phone to use, and was glad to be able to serve them in this small way. We were all so thankful to be safely home once again!
Events like the coronavirus outbreak can shake our world. They strip away the facade that we’re in control, and remind us that God is still on the throne. I didn’t want my semester abroad to end this way, but God knew and He allowed it to happen. He redeemed my loss by showing me of His ability to provide. This experience taught me of the truth of the words of Ephesians three and twenty: “Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”