Thursday, June 13, 2013

Visa-dventures!

This week it was time to renew my visa for Mozambique which meant I’d have to leave the country for a day. But instead of getting another tourist visa, I was going to attempt to get a long-term missionary visa.

This required a lot more work... and expense. But it had to be at least attempted.

--Why do I keep using the word ‘attempt’?

Good question. Very good question. Let me explain.

Within days of arriving last month, I learned that my American police clearance had expired.

Yes. Expired.

Since it was the first one to come through in my police clearance furkunckle last year, it was naturally the first to expire. (To read more about these furkunckles check out these previous posts. Police Clearance: Part One and Police Clearance: Part Two.)

But silly me... it never occurred to me that it would expire.

--Why?

Because there was no place on the blasted document that said it did!

Nevertheless our government liaison and master diplomat, Manuel, had the unhappy task of informing me this might be a problem.

As he explained, I twisted my mouth in disappointment while my heart sank.

Sigh.

Only time would tell if I had to return to the States... or make a special trip to Maputo (Mozambique’s capital) to sort it out.

When tempted to worry, I turned it over to God and prayed. Each time He lifted my heart assuring me everything would be fine.

So I stopped worrying but kept on praying --and praying hard!

As you might remember, I also asked you to pray!

Our first answer to prayer was when the office in Chimoio said they’d overlook the expiration date. They too thought it unnecessary to have my fly back to the States.

But what would the consulate in Matare think? We’d have to wait and pray.

Matare is in Zimbabwe, the nearest border to Maforga, and is where the local consulate is located.

So naturally when it came time to get my long-term missionary visa worked out, I had to come to Zimbabwe.

Again... I kept covering it in prayer.

Tuesday morning started early since we had a few hours drive and a questionably long wait at the border.

We arrived by 10:30 am and got stamped out of Mozambique. Then stood in line to buy a visa into Zimbabwe.

The line wasn’t a problem... but getting change back from the government official was. Since when did government offices stop breaking hundreds? I mean, come on!

Frankly, he seemed offended I would use such a large bill. And I was offended he’d not break it.

Lessons in Africa: Travel with small bills in Africa. They NEVER like giving change. Ha!

Once we were through, Roy dropped me off at the consulate directly.

Intimidated that no one was going to come with me (as they had to drop visitors off at an airport) I hummed and hawed a bit before saying goodbye.

-- “Where do I go,” I asked sheepishly. “What do I do?”

Roy pointed to a guarded metal gate then explained how to get home by myself. They were in a hurry so they only told me once and got back in the truck to leave.

Confused and intimidated, I lingered longer than I should have to say my goodbyes.

Almost as an afterthought Trish interjected, “Oh yeah... remember to ask for Senor ____. He is our friend here. It might help you.

-- “Senor ____?” I repeated a few times to myself, then quickly wrote it on my hand. I needed all the help I could get.

-- “Yes. He knows us well. Tell him you work with us,” she said in a hurry. And then they were off.

Roy was all business that morning... and understandably so. Their friends had a flight to catch!

I sheepishly walked through the metal gate to find two official looking guards and a round faced woman with a clip board.

She greeted me warmly but with a flicker of surprise at my accent.

-- “How are you doing today?” I asked.
-- “Oh.. well. So well. But it’s cold,” she responded. “And how are you?
I responded with a large smile and some quip about doing fabulous, and she reply quite openly. “Yes. You are. I can see that.”

It surprised me to hear and I smiled deeper as I handed her my passport and signed in.

Once at the consulate counter, I was please to see there were no lines. I unpacked my papers and again greeted the sir behind the inch-thick, tinted window with my sincerest smile.

I could barely see him but surmised he was smiling back. I explained who I was and what I was there for, handing him my translated documents. Then I remembered to ask... “Is Senor ___ here today?”

-- “You know Senor ___?” he asked with surprise.
-- “No. But I work with Roy and Trish Perkins at Maforga. And they wanted me to say hello,” I explained. “Is he in?”
-- “Yes. yes. He is in. Let me call him.”
Surprised, I smiled again feeling a bit guilty to be name dropping but all the while remembering that this is how it is done in Africa.

The official looked over my expired papers and asked me to fill out a form while we waited for Senor ___ to arrive.

I filled it out wrong and he was helping me correct it when Senor __ arrived. He too was hard to see because of the tinted glass, but I greeted him warmly on the part of Maforga and we talked briefly.

I cannot remember what was said... only that the official was pleased to know my bosses knew his boss and that my papers looked great.

He had me pay the fees, but again couldn’t give me change. In the end, the change was  so slight I didn’t fuss and encouraged him to keep it. (See previous note on Lessons in Africa. Ha ha!)

Roy had warned me that it might take a few days to get my visa, so I asked him when I should return to pick it up.

--- “So,” I asked the official behind the glass, “Should I come tomorrow or the next day.”
-- “No. Just wait here,” he said. “Oh...  and give me your passport.”

I waited in the lobby not sure what would happen next. There was a couple sitting next to me speaking in broken English. He was most definitely Muslim and was teaching her about Islam. She on the other hand was feigning interest almost to the point of flattery. I tried not to listen.

Instead I prayed for an opportunity to share Christ and started reading my Bible.

An hour went by.

I think I might have drifted off to sleep at one point; all the early traveling cut into my coffee time. I seriously needed a pick me up.

As lunch time drew near, my tummy grumbled as if on cue and I wondered if I’d have to wait through lunch.

Fortunately a well dressed man in a shiny red tie came in the room and broke up the monotony.

First he spoke to the Arab and his Zimbabwean friend, asking them the nature of their business. They were traders working with import and export stuff. The conversation was brief and stilted as the Arabic man seemed closed-mouthed.

So instead he turned to me. When I explained that I was a missionary here to open a clinic, he peppered me with questions.

He was pleased to tell me of all the places he had visited in America as the Mozambican ambassador and it dawned on me that this was not a low-level office worker... his shoes and tie was evidence enough... but still.

Each question he asked led to more questions and soon we were well engrossed in a discussion on how to help orphans and possible project that could be done to raise funds for them.

Within no time, he was giving me contact numbers for various pastors and government officials and taking my information. He was pleased to learn that Maforga had been around for so long and ensured I got his email and business card.

It was a strange conversation (for me at least) but one that felt so natural.

Years ago, one of my friends explained why Africans tend to exchange information so quickly. I can still remember the words he shared. He said, “In Africa, a person’s most valuable asset is his connections. It is more important than money, talent, or intelligence.”

“Without connections,” he added “nothing lasting can be accomplished here.”

His words surprised me at the time (because of the worldview shift). But since then, they have opened my mind to another way of seeing things... and doing things.

So now when someone wants to connect with me, I do not hesitate. I enjoy the encounter and pray for an opportunity to share Christ.

This encounter felt very providential... and I did not hesitate to enjoy it.

With time, the ambassador left for lunch and I sat down again. The couple sitting on the other side of the room looked at me curiously but didn’t say a word.

Not long after, we both got our visas back and we left together.

Thank you so so much for praying! Not only did God blind them to the expired documents, but I was able to get my visa in a matter of hours --not days!

Plus, I’m even more encouraged by the enthusiasm of the ambassador I met.

Praise the Lord!

Just know... your prayers are heard. Please continue to lift up this work.

Next please pray for
-- my DIRI (or long-term resident paperwork) to be quickly processed.
-- my language classes to go smoothly. I start on Monday.
-- a trustworthy vehicle to purchase.
-- favor at my upcoming meeting with the Ministry of Health in the next week or so.

Also... I’ve learned that the hospitals in Mozambique are in complete disarray right now. The staff is on strike for higher wages.  Some are asking for a 300% increase in pay! As a result many are suffering longer waits and deaths.

Thank you for praying!