Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Visa Travel - 2010 - Part 2

Continuing from my last blog post, Visa Travel - 2010 - Part 1...

Because we needed our letter of invitation authorized in Kiev and we live so far from Kiev, we thought it would be easier to have someone in Kiev provide the letter for us rather than our local church this time around.  When the document was completed and authorized in Kiev, it was sent to us on the train (this is a fairly common and fast method of delivery here rather than sending things through the mail).

November Trip
Because we had a team from our home church in Minnesota arriving in Kiev on November 12th, we had just enough time to go to Moldova for a week before they came.  We headed to the train station in the late afternoon of Thursday November 4th.  That night it was very warm inside and the sleeper train was more like a "sleepless" train for some of us (as one of our missionary friends calls them). After 13 hours on the train, we arrived in Odessa about 6:30 AM.  Because we knew where we wanted to go, we caught a taxi to the main bus station, bought tickets, and left for Chisinau, Moldova at 7:20 AM.  The large van was very crowded and had very little leg room.  This was going to be a long 6 hours, but so far it had gone better than our first time in Odessa when we could not find the bus station!

We got to the Ukrainian border about an hour later.  Passport control came on the bus to get each of our passports, then took them inside to stamp them.  It was not very long until the bus driver came to get Denise and I.  It turns out that we had been in the country more than 90 days out of the last 180 days without a visa. We knew this, but did not think it would be much of a problem.  It did not matter that we tried and failed several months ago, we are now "illegal" and we were told several times that we needed to have a "protocol" written against us.  We never did figure out what that meant.

One scenario was that we would not be allowed back into Ukraine for 3 months. That was obviously not a good option.  A better scenario was to stay in Ukraine and pay a fine (that changes our "illegal" stay into a "legal" one, and then try to go to Moldova to get our visas at a future date).  That sounded like the best option to us, especially with the bus driver wanting to keep "on schedule" and us not wanting to have any issues getting back into the country.  In those situations you can second guess yourself, but it seemed best at the time to play it safe.  Needless to say, we did not get a refund of the unused portion of our bus fare.

After we got all of our things off the vehicle (we have to think the others were glad to have a little more space, though Ukrainians need much less personal space than Americans) and waited to catch a vehicle that had room for us going back to Odessa.  We called a friend in Ukraine to have her send an e-mail to our missionary friends in Moldova to let them know that we were not going to be coming this week.  Soon we were back in Odessa trying to determine options for getting home.  Rather than waiting for the 10:40 PM train (that would get us into Krivoy Rog about 11:30 AM the next day), we decided to take a six-hour bus ride (leaving Odessa at 2 PM).  In spite of our situation, we enjoyed the warm, beautiful November day while waiting outside the train station (because there was more room to wait than at the nearby bus station).  Laura and I walked to McDonald's to bring back lunch for everyone.

Waiting for our bus ride back to Krivoy Rog
The passenger bus we boarded for home had plenty of space, but no air conditioning and no windows to open.  It was so miserably hot, it almost felt like we were being further tormented after our failed border crossing earlier in the day.  When we got home that evening, we were "glad" to be home and out of the hot bus, but so very disappointed that we were not in Moldova getting our visas and visiting our missionary friends.

December Trip

After our documents that we needed (to prove that we had paid our fine for being in the country more than 90 days out of 180 days) were released by the courts and I picked them up on the train, we were ready for our next trip to get our visas.

Monday evening, December 6th, found us on board the train to Odessa once again.  When we arrived there at 6:30 the next morning, we walked to the bus station close to the train station, purchased bus tickets to Chisinau, Moldova, then waited for our departure time.  This part of the trip is getting to be so routine (thankfully - in some ways anyway).

This time our border crossing was smooth and we had no issues at all.  After reaching Chisinau, we looked for a taxi to take us to the where we would be staying (with Wesley and Donna Buck again).  None of the taxi drivers recognized their address, so a group of them got out a map and tried to figure it out.  I made a call to help them out (with my newly purchased Moldovan mobile phone card).  They finally figured it out and one of the drivers took us to their apartment.  This time, we knew we had arrived at the right place.

Taxi driver conference to determine where our friends live
On Wednesday morning, I headed to the Ukrainian embassy to apply for our religious visas. I was very disappointed to see the same lady who turned me away in August, sitting at my window.  Thank God, this time everything was in order and I was told to return later that afternoon, after going to a bank to pay for the visas.  When I picked up our passports, each of them had a new visa in them.  At last, we had what we came for!

We enjoyed a few more days visiting friends, then headed home on Monday evening.  This time we took a bus that left Chisinau, Moldova about 8:30 PM and arrived in Krivoy Rog, Ukraine about 6:30 AM Tuesday morning.  The drawback is that this goes through the region of Moldova run by the rebels.  At one border of theirs, one officer had a speech he gave at the front of the bus (where we were sitting).   Because it was in Russian, we mostly heard "blah blah dollars blah blah dollars blah blah."   Then he asked if I understood, knowing that I did not, and kept right on going (thankfully).  You have to fill out a document (except for kids) when you go into this region, then they "process" you before you get to the Ukrainian border.  I did get called to the office because I did not fill out a form for Laura.  It seems that 16-year olds are not kids.  I ended up paying a $5 fine and filling out the document for her.  The officer even asked if I wanted a receipt.  No, thanks.  I actually found the whole experience rather amusing.  Other than that, the ride home was long, mostly sleepless, and uneventful.  We probably will not be going that route in the future.

After three tries, we finally got the visas that we came for.  In some ways, the first two trips were failures and the third was the only successful one.  While the process was challenging, I do not believe that any of the trips were failures.  The first one I wrote about in my part 1 blog post.  The second one was an opportunity for us to trust God in the difficult times.  We got turned back at the border, it really is not the end of the world.

If it is God's will that you serve in Ukraine, should the process have been easy?  Not the way I read the Bible.  The Bible does not promise an easy life just because we are doing what God has called us to do.  In fact, God has promised that, while we will have trouble in this world, He will not leave us alone.  God is not afraid of our questions, but He has not promised to answer every question we have here on earth.  Why did we have to take the extra time and money to make three trips?  I do not know, but I am confident that whatever it was fit into God's plan for my life.  That is enough for me right now.

How about you?  Are you trusting God through the challenging times?  God will make a way where there seems to be no way, but in His time.


Jeff A said...

What an adventure! Way to persevere and then use it to encourage those of us reading your blog!

Darlene Joy Koop said...

Thanks for sharing, Phil! Good challenging and encouraging thoughts as I prepare to go to Ukraine.

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