Monday, November 28, 2011

Visa Travel - 2011 - Part 1

When I started writing this blog post, I decided to first take a detour and share about our experience last year (Part 1 and Part 2).  Even as I wrote those blog posts, I did not expect most of the events that made up this years visa travel.  Because this is mostly about the visa process, the November post of our update blog will have more information about what we did while we were in Moldova.

In September of this year, the laws in Ukraine regarding visas changed completely, which results in a process that is very different.  That also means there is a greater potential for more confusion with those administering the different parts of the process.  The visas are more than twice as expensive than last year and we need to register within 45 days after we return to Ukraine.  We are the first within our missions organization to leave Ukraine to get the new visas.

Some of the best advice we have received in the last year is, "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not break."

With our visas expiring on November 1, 2011, we needed to leave the country before then and apply for new visas.  To receive a religious visa, you need documents (letter of invitation) from an appropriate organization.  Our documents were finished in Kiev and were sent to us on the train, where I picked them up early Saturday morning (the 29th).  I had already checked on train tickets and learned that we could not take the train to Odessa, but would need to take the bus.  After getting our documents, I headed to the bus station to buy tickets for that night, which is also the night we moved our clocks back an hour.  (Just a side note about that - the time change had been cancelled earlier this year, but two weeks earlier, on October 17th, the parliament decided to cancel the cancellation of the time change.)

We finished packing for our trip, I watched the Nebraska Cornhuskers beat Michigan State soundly, and then we left home about 11:45 PM.  We waited inside the bus station for about 20 minutes, but were on the bus and headed towards Odessa by 12:40 am Sunday.  The roads improved as we progressed farther from Krivoy Rog.  There was some really thick fog and we seemed to be driving along quite slowly.  We made one stop after about 3 hours that was supposed to be a 15 minute stop, but because of the time change (falling back one hour), we waited a little more than 45 minutes instead.

During the trip, Hope slept most of the time, Denise and Laura slept part of the time, and I slept very little (which is quite normal).  We arrived in Odessa about 6:45 AM (after the time change).  That means we spent a total of over six hours on a bus trip to go 350 km or about 220 miles.  Even on highways in Minnesota (not the freeway), I would expect to be able to do that in a little more than four hours.

After I purchased bus tickets for the 8:20 AM bus, we waited inside the bus station (which was not much warmer than the outside temperature) and ate some of the food we brought with us for breakfast.  We loaded onto a smaller passenger bus that was less than half full and started our journey to Chisinau, Moldova.  It only takes about an hour to get to the border.  It was a cloudy day and just above freezing outside, and the bus quickly became cold with the door open the whole time we sat and waited.  Our bodies were warm enough, but our feet were cold.

At the Ukrainian border, one man from the bus was called to the office, but returned after just a few minutes.  We got our passports back and we were on our way again.  The same drill was repeated on the Moldova side where things went quite smoothly.  Moments later we had a quick pit stop, where we paid less than 20 cents each to use a squatty potty, and we were on our way again.

Before long the sun was shining brightly.  I kept trying to sleep on the bus, but could never get more than a couple minutes at a time.  Whether it was the man in back who kept coughing, or the movement of the bus as we followed the curves of the road or tried to miss potholes, I finally decided to give up.  We completed our nearly 200 km (about 125 miles) journey about 12:30 PM.  In Chisinau, it was about 50 degrees and quite nice.  Laura and I got off the bus before Denise and Hope.  A man behind us saw my wallet, which had somehow fallen on my seat, and gave it to Denise.  I am so grateful to God for his protection!!

Because I wanted to save the hour long round trip marshrutka ride to get tickets at the bus station, I bought return bus tickets for November 7th.  That should give us plenty of time to get our visas - or so I thought!

We once again stayed with our friends, Wesley and Donna Buck.  When we called to let them know we had arrived, Wesley came to pick us up.  We always enjoy being with them, so it was fun to visit and catch up.  However, I was so tired it was hard to be very good company and I finally excused myself and went to bed at 8:30 PM (which felt hours later to me).  I did not even hear Denise come to bed later.  I woke up one time during the night and saw she was there, and then got up about 7:30 AM feeling much better.

My plan was to go to the Ukrainian embassy right away in the morning, so I got up and took a shower.  When I checked my computer before I ate breakfast, I learned that my plans had changed.  The documents we had with us were incorrect and we would need to get new ones sent to us.  Honestly, my first response was "Oh, OK.  No big deal."  That, my friends, is not normal for me, but something that God has done in me.  It was impossible to predict when the new documents will be ready, but that was not a concern.  At that time, I wrote, "My job is to trust God and that is what I plan to do."  So we waited.

Our hosts are both teachers and they left 7:30 AM every day.  Most days they returned home after 6 PM, so we had the place to ourselves most of the time.  On Wednesday, we spent the day with our friends, the Stitt's.  We enjoyed some delicious Moldovan food, visited a museum, and then watched a movie together.  We left there and loaded on to a very crowded marshrutka to get back to the Buck's place.  After we got off, Denise realized that her purse was unzipped.  When we got inside the house, we discovered (as we had feared) that her wallet had been stolen (not her camera or iPod nano).  They got about $50 worth of money, her driver's license, a credit card, a store card, medical insurance cards, and some photos.  Not a big deal, just a hassle.  We stopped her credit card immediately and will have friends bring a new one when they come later this month.  It made me even more grateful that we still had mine and my wallet!

On Friday, I went to the bus station to return the tickets, since we obviously would not be leaving on Monday.  We also were told that the documents could be ready today or Monday.  We lived a somewhat normal life while we waited.  Denise cooked meals and baked (which the Buck's - and I - really appreciated).  The girls did school.  I studied Russian.  We bought groceries.  God really blessed me with a peace during the waiting.  Normally, I would have been anxious and ready to move on.  I do like being home, but I was real relaxed about all of this.  It is just part of the process.  On Sunday, after we had been there for one week, I said to a person I met, "I hope not to see you next week."  And I honestly thought we would not.

How about you?  I am no one special, but I serve an extraordinary God.  He has helped us so far and will not let us down.  How do you respond when things do not go as planned?  Keep trusting Him.  He will never fail you.

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