Amanda and I are still in something of a state of shock after getting word on Thursday afternoon, four weeks before we were due to touch down in Heathrow, that our UK visitor visa submission for Sam was unsuccessful.
The official dealing with the case wrote extensive feedback as to the basis of the refusal. This was most helpful in essentially understanding what our submission had lacked in terms of evidence, but pretty galling too, as the information we had referred to in our initial submission on the UK's website had been vague to say the least. We believe we have more than enough evidence to back up our case, and we would have sent it in the first place if it had been asked of us.
In all of this, God has given us a real provision: namely, Danny, a former employee of the Spanish consulate in La Paz, who moved to Trinidad with his wife -- an employee at Fundación Totaí -- and baby son earlier this year. We were able to meet with Danny on Thursday evening to assess the situation. He was a little taken aback by the refusal, but suggested we re-submit, and gave us a little more insight into what consular staff are looking for. Thanks to Danny, we have a new strategy, which will hopefully make the application a lot more watertight; I guess you could call him our Esther (Esther 4:14), though he's a big lad, so probably not to his face.
We immediately set about looking for a new appointment in La Paz, hoping to get one for Monday morning, which would allow us time to get our evidence together, while being early enough to hopefully have the visa arrive before our departure date from Bolivia (if not, we could at least make a date-change to the outbound flight at no cost). We were indeed able to source this, and so, we'll be making another 24 hour visit to that great city.
And as you can imagine, the last 36 hours, but for about four hours' sleep on Thursday evening, have been taken up almost exclusively with assembling this new case; we're now armed to the teeth with letters that seem to touch all the bases.
And yet, in those rare moments when our minds are otherwise unoccupied, we do wonder to ourselves why this is happened, and what on earth is going to happen next. Particularly if, as we can no longer rule out, this re-submission is similarly unsuccessful.
Maybe we were too presumptuous, but in our minds, this was all pretty straightforward: Scotland in January and February, Canada till mid-May (with our flights already booked for that), with a visit to friends and relatives in the US while in North America. About 20 speaking engagements with churches were already in place. In other words, we were mentally and emotionally prepared for this home assignment period.
But above all, we were mentally and emotionally prepared -- nay, ecstatic! -- regarding the prospect of time away from our life and ministry in Trinidad. As has probably been evident reading between the lines here these past few weeks, we are close to burn-out, if not there already. We have had several searching conversations as a couple in recent weeks, about the general direction of our work here, and particularly a need for establishing more robust boundaries between our professional and personal lives. Just last week, we resolved to re-prioritise prayer while away from here, in order to better seek and understand God's will for our lives and ministry -- we would be particularly helped in this regard by the low-cost childcare services on offer from Grandparents Inc. So, if the resubmission doesn't cut the mustard, where do we go from here?
This, and many more questions, are now at the forefront of our thinking. But, in reality, we are powerless, and paralysed by the fact that this is not in our hands, and all in God's. Correction: for 'paralysed', read 'liberated'.
Like so many others, we have known setbacks over the years. Or, as we increasingly prefer to call them, 'setbacks'. Chief among these, undoubtedly, was our infertility diagnosis a few years back. Yet if not for that, we almost certainly would never have met our intrepid, cheeky, and beautiful son, who has been a source of joy beyond comprehension.
I am reminded, at this point, of a nugget of a sermon illustration (as it would happen, one that also touches on visa problems) of Romans 8:28 from Tim Keller:
I remember one day getting up, trying to explain this passage, and saying to them, “Listen, friends, do you know why I’m here? I’m glad I’m here. You’re glad I’m here. I’m glad I’m here. It has worked out beautifully. It’s because at the very end of my seminary career I decided to become a Presbyterian. That’s why I could go to a Presbyterian church. Do you know why I decided to be Presbyterian?
Because I fell under the influence of a particular teacher my last semester at seminary. Do you know why I fell under that man’s influence? He came from England after having tremendous visa problems (and probably wasn’t going to get there until the following year). At the last minute somebody cut through the red tape. He came, and I fell under his influence. Do you know why the red tape was cut? The dean of my seminary was on his knees praying about how we were going to get this guy over here when Mike Ford, Gerald Ford’s son, walked in and asked him what he was praying for. Mike Ford was a student at the seminary at that time.
Do you know why Mike Ford was able to cut the red tape? Because his father was the president. Do you know why his father was the president? Because Nixon had resigned. Do you know why Nixon resigned? Because of the Watergate scandal. Do you know why there was a Watergate scandal? Because one day a guard noticed in the Watergate building a particular door ajar that should have been closed.
We have no idea what is happening right now. I have reluctantly just had to wake up my wife, in order to lend a hand with said offspring so I can finish this; like me, she is struggling with sleep right now, perplexed as to exactly what is going on. What more can we do? What about Canada? Will Sam ever meet his relatives? How do we avoid burn-out now?
Yet, with apologies to Donald Rumsfeld, this is a known unknown. We have been here before, and we now have the perspective to see the purpose of past 'setbacks'. There is a purpose in this, for God's glory, and for our good. We are nowhere near understanding, but we strive with every fibre of our being to trust. It is the safest place; it is the scariest place; it is exactly where God wants us, and all who have been called according to his purpose.
- I think I've already made myself perfectly clear as to the main issue!
- For a straightforward visit to La Paz, a city that isn't nearly as much fun as it used to be.
- We must continue to work on the assumption that we are leaving Trinidad for five months at the end of December, so we appreciate your continued prayers for God's help in tackling the mountain of tasks before us.
- We prayed for an answer, and now we have it. We give thanks for it, and for future answers to this question, which, in ways we cannot now understand, are the best ones.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!
Craig & Amanda