A few weeks ago we took Maggie to take her ACTs. Around noon we went to pick her up and the closer we got to the school where she was taking the exam, the more fog we encountered. We couldn’t see anything in front of us. We were talking to her on the phone, but we couldn’t see where she was and weren’t sure of which direction to go to find her. She was trying to explain where she was on the campus, but with the fog so thick, we weren’t even sure where we were to try and cross where she was. She said it felt like the middle of the set for a horror movie and, while I knew we would find her, for a few moments it felt scary for somewhere so familiar to be unrecognizable to the point of feeling lost because of the fog.
These last few weeks have been hard. I mean… hard. I love working in Colombia. I love the people. I love my “job” and all the highs and lows that come with it, but the last few weeks have felt somewhat out of order and uncomfortable – foggy. In the midst of it I have struggled with this question: are the difficulties an attempt to keep us from accomplishing what God has set out for us OR is it God himself showing us that it’s time to move in a new direction. I have wrestled with this question. I don’t think I’m the only one who goes through times of trying to figure this out. I hope I’m not.
Today we faced a test. Today, in a sense, I put God to the test. I was having a small conversation with God. Now, I know you’re not supposed to “test” God, but like I told you, I have had this question of obstacle vs. new path in my mind for a few weeks. So I walked into today thinking, “If God wants us here, he’ll make sure we get the extension we need.” I’ll put the full story below for those who enjoy reading, but the cliff’s notes version is this: today we almost had to leave Colombia. Visas and immigration are complicated things and even in the same office some will say yes and others say no. Today we needed a yes. We spent most of the day with a, “No problem, it will be a yes.” To a sudden, “no.”
While in the morning everything looked on track, by afternoon it seemed like an extension would be impossible. We were facing an incredibly short window of time to get big things accomplished and I couldn’t see how it would work out, but… I’m still in awe of being able to write “but”… amazingly a lot of people rallied for us and helped us accomplish the goal. We left with an extension and I left knowing that God was giving me clarity. Keep going. This is where you’re supposed to be, the people you’re supposed to be working with and exactly where I have placed you. The kicker is that I really needed that confirmation around 10am this morning so I could move on with my day and finish all the other things on my calendar, but the answer didn’t come on my time. It didn’t come in the block I had scheduled for it. The deadline was 4pm. The answer and resolution came at nearly 5pm – after the deadline, after I thought there was no hope. I don’t think God always works in the last minute or the “after-minute”, but I do think that sometimes we have to wait it out and learn to surrender and trust that He will take care of us.
I can see clearly now. While tonight I am absolutely exhausted from the stress of the day, I no longer have that doubt haunting my mind. I will sleep well tonight, maybe better than I have in weeks knowing that we are exactly where we’re supposed to be and there is much more work to be done. Today God used incredible people to make a miracle happen, to confirm in our hearts to keep going and to clear the way so we can. The fog has lifted.
THE LONG VERSION:
Usually every year or two we have to renew our visas to stay here in Colombia. We’ve racked up five consecutive years of holding a visa, which means we’re now eligible to apply for a residency visa. I am an overplanner, overorganizer and I like to get these things done well ahead of time and nice and tidy. So a couple of weeks ago we went to the immigration office to ask a bunch of question about our next steps. Without dragging this out, the bottom line is there is a 20 day gap between when our current visa expires and when we officially complete a full five years of holding a visa. So we weren’t sure what to do about that 20 day gap. We thought maybe we’d need to get one more one-year visa or request the residency visa early – we just didn’t know, so we headed down to immigration and talked to someone about the process. Let’s call him Bon. I don’t honestly know his name because he jokingly introduced himself and his colleagues as various breakfast cereals and never actually disclosed their real names. Bon gave us instructions which were basically that we couldn’t apply early for the visa, but rather we’d have to return a day or two before our visa would expire to request a special 30 day extension to give us time to make the full five years. It made me nervous to get things together so close to the deadline, but he assured me it would be okay.
Fast forward to this past weekend. You have to make an appointment to go through any process in immigration, so I logged on a few days early to book an appointment. However, all of the appointments were booked up until the day our visa was set to expire. We joked about how if we were denied we’d have to jump on a plane and go to the beach for a few days so we wouldn’t be in the country illegally. If I’d only known what this day would look like, I probably would have never joked about that.
We arrived at immigration at 8:45 this morning. Bon and the lady he introduced as Chocokrispies (Cocoa Krispies) looked through our documents. We were missing a couple of extra photocopies and Maggie’s last passport that held her previous visas. “No worries,” they said, “go grab copies and the passport, fill out these forms and you’ll be good to go.” Corey drove home to get the passport while Maggie and I filled out forms and waited for Corey to return to present our documents. The second time we presented our paperwork they said, “Oh no, it turns out you are missing a letter from Corey. No problem, go to X business. They will write the letter. Next door is a notary to authorize the letter. Get it done and come back.” They actually told us, “Take your time. We’re here till four and everything’s good.” I asked if by chance we had any trouble getting the letter done or if anything else would deny us if we’d have to leave the country today. Bon said, “No, don’t worry. Everything’s good. Get this letter and come back and we’ll get you processed and on your way.” Good deal. We set out to take care of all of that and when we finished it was almost noon. We decided not to stop for lunch thinking we just had an hour or maybe even less before this process would be over and we could get back to life.
We returned to immigration and Chocokrispies looked at our papers. “Everything is in order,” she said and put us in the queue to go to the next station where we would get our extension. We weren’t stressed. Everyone was confident. Everyone was happy. No problem.
Before I go on, I should mention, I was having a small conversation with God. Now, I know you’re not supposed to “test” God, but like I told you, I have had this question of obstacle vs. new path in my mind for a few weeks. So I walked into today thinking, “If God wants us here, he’ll make sure we get the extension we need.” I wasn’t, however, confident in what that outcome might be.
Corey was called first. The man who called him looked like a young George Lopez, minus the sense of humor. It started off on a bad foot. A form that we had printed from the internet changed some information we had entered. Chocokrispies had told us, “No problem. Just put that answer in parenthesis and write the correct answer next to it.” George Lopez said, “You have to refill out all of these forms.” We started filling out the forms when he asked for another document that was not in the packet the first stop had asked us for. I felt confident because fortunately we had brought a bazillion documents with us from previous visas and processes with immigration. I showed him the forms and he said, “No. You need letters from this week. I will not give you an extension. You can stay illegally and pay a fine or leave today and come back on a tourist visa. Either way, you will lose the five years you’ve saved up and will not be granted residency.” I fought hard not to break down crying. Suddenly there was a problem. A big problem. I asked a lot of questions for how we could resolve the issue to get an extension until we could get the letters he wanted here in a few days. His constant response was, “No.” At this point it was almost 2pm. He said, “If you can get at least an email letter and a copy of the ID of the person (who happens to be the top of the Assemblies of God in Colombia, who also happens to live in Bogotá, a very long drive away) by 4pm, I will consider giving you the extension.”
We left. I panicked. We had less two hours to find an answer. It seemed hopeless. Going back to that question in my head, my insides were going nuts thinking, “This is the answer. Not the one I want, but this is the answer. If we can’t get a visa, we can’t work here any more.” We didn’t know what to do. We started calling pastors to ask for help, but our phones – get this – our phones wouldn’t call anyone. I don’t know if there was a problem with the cell phone company today, but neither of our phones could complete a phone call and when our local pastor tried to call us back it wouldn’t go through, even though we had full bars of service. We decided to go straight to the church and ask for help calling the national office, but we didn’t even know if anyone was there.
I have to tell you, we work with some amazing pastors. Before the lead pastor arrived, one associate pastor was on the phone calling an immigration agent he knows to help us figure out a backup plan and understand what to do next. The church secretary was on the phone with the national office. Let me just throw in another sidenote here to tell you how awesome she is. When I entered the church, I was a mess. She took one look at me and had no idea what was happening, but jumped out of her seat and said, “You look worried. Let’s pray, right now.” When she called the national office, I began to speak with the secretary there who told me that because of some processes the office had to go through with immigration, they would not be writing any letters until next week. At this point, I was convinced we’d be on an airplane within the next hour or two.
Our lead pastor and his wife, associate pastor and his wife as well as some youth leaders showed up all together, asked what was going on and everyone jumped into action. People were making phone calls, emailing, constructing letters, praying for us, doing whatever they could to help. They told us to go back to immigration and try one more time while they tried to get a letter from the national office. It seemed impossible.
We went back and the letter arrived to my email as we got there. We printed it off and went in. George Lopez was the first to see us and called us over. My heart melted because I had a feeling, mostly by the look on his face, that he would not be accepting the letter. He looked it over, showed another lady and begrudgingly told us to go back to the front window and start the process over. I went to Bon’s window. He looked at me with sympathy and frustration asking what could possibly be missing. I showed him the letter to which he said should not even be necessary and he said, “No problem. I’m going to put you with someone else,” a guy he earlier had introduced us to as Azucaritas (Frosted Flakes) would receive us. Chocokrispies looked at us and said she couldn’t believe he denied us and that we had to be there all day working on this.
A few minutes later Azucaritas and one other man sitting near called for Maggie and Corey’s documents. I was so nervous. The man with Maggie’s papers was hard to understand and very intense. I felt good about Corey’s papers because Azucaritas seems to be a good friend of Bon. Bon had handed our paperwork personally to him and told him to give us the extension. At one point, George Lopez called my name. My heart sank. I stood up and started to take my documents to him when Azucaritas shouted out, “No, I’ll take care of her.” Knight in shining armor moment right there… a pure movie moment that made me feel like the princess being saved from the tower!
By 5pm we left immigration, extension in hand, instructions in hand to finish the visa process, but fully and legally staying in Colombia. That question I’d been mullling over came back to mind. I was convinced we were going to be booted out of here. I was sure that this was God saying, “Time for something different.” It turns out I jumped the gun. I wanted assurance at 10:00 this morning, a solid answer, confirmation of whether we were about to take a turn down a new road or if it was time to jump higher over the obstacles we’ve encountered. It wasn’t until AFTER the four o’clock deadline, at the very last possible moment, after I was sure it was impossible and there was no hope… then God made a way. Show off. Nothing is impossible for him. We walked away in awe of so many things that had happened – how many people in this nation rallied and jumped into action immediately to make this possible, how we were blessed with Bon who went above and beyond to make sure we ended the day with an extension in hand.
I’m going to bed my eyes heavy, but my heart renewed. While today was technically about the logistics of getting through immigration, God knew my heart needed a crystal clear, no fog confirmation and did not fail to give it.