Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Visa Travel - 2011 - Part 2

Continuing from my last blog post, Visa Travel - 2011 - Part 1...

Having already been in Moldova for a week, we continued waiting.  Tuesday we were told that the documents would be ready on Thursday.  So we continued doing what we had been doing.  Fellow missionaries came to Moldova and it took three days to get their visas, so now we expected another three days once we got our documents.  More school for the girls.  More studying.  More cooking.  More shopping.  More fellowship with other missionaries.

Still no documents.  On Saturday, we were told that the documents would be ready on Monday.  On Sunday, after we had been there for two weeks, I told the same person, "I hope not to see you next week."  She returned the salutation.  One of my friends in Moldova thought that was the funniest thing he had ever heard.

More waiting.  Amazingly enough, we are not getting anxious yet, but are getting ready to go home.  We have a team arriving from our church on November 26th, so we are beginning to wonder how close to that date we will be arriving in Ukraine.  Our original plans were to go from Chisinau to Odessa, and then back to Krivoy Rog.  Because we had plans to be in Kiev for Thanksgiving, we were also wondering whether we would make it or not and decided that it would be best to go straight to Kiev instead of going home first.

On Wednesday, we heard that the documents were ready (finally!).  I expected to go to the train station to get them on Thursday, but the government office did not release them until late Thursday.  Once they were released, they were put on the train that leaves Kiev at 4:40 AM and arrives in Chisinau about 5:50 PM. Friday afternoon.  I left about 4:30 PM to take public transportation to get to the train station.  Unfortunately, the train station is about one block off the main road and not very well marked, so I missed it.  When I realized that, I got off at the next stop and looked for an available taxi.  The first one I found was busy, but the second one, waiting at a stoplight, was not.  We arrived just 3 minutes before the train arrived.  I was really starting to sweat before we got there.  I got my documents without any problem and headed back to Buck's place.  There was now visible light at the end of this tunnel.  We enjoyed the weekend.  On Sunday, after we had been there for three weeks, I told the same person, "I hope not to see you next week."

On Monday morning, I arrived at the Ukrainian embassy just before 9 AM.  Someone came to get us about 10 minutes later, and we all filed in to a small office where we told a lady at a desk why we were there and she wrote down our passport information.  Because I was an American applying for a visa, the lady at the desk got up (had not done that for any of the 20 people ahead of me) and told me to follow her.   She went to one window and told those people to move because I was next.  That was just a bit uncomfortable, but I was glad for my turn at the window.  The man working there was actually nice and very helpful.  He processed our visa applications (a tedious and manual process) and sent me to the bank to pay for the visas.

When I arrived at the bank (which was 3 or 4 blocks away), there were no less than 12 people in the small lobby waiting.  I did not realize that I needed a specific window (which was a different line from the others).  The man that helped facilitate the lines was not doing his job at the time.  When he got me over to the right line, it seemed several people who arrived after me were going first, but I finally had my turn. I paid about $8 for the bank to handle my payment of nearly $1600 to the embassy. Then I had to get some additional copies, so I entered the building next door. One of the small shops in there had a Xerox machine. I paid about 50 cents for six copies and headed back to the embassy.

Upon arrival, I rang the buzzer to announce my return. A lady came to let me in just a few minutes later. When I got to the area where the processing window was, the man working gave the stuff he was working on back to the person there and told them he needed to help me. I gave him the copies, the receipts from the bank, and our passports. He told me to return at 3 PM with my family. I had no idea why they needed to come, but we would be there.

All of us arrived a few minutes before 3 PM and we waited for at least 10 minutes. The group of people waiting there were all let in and led to the small office where I had started that morning. We were told to go into a larger room and to wait while the lady there helped other people. After about 20 minutes, she called our name and gave me our four passports back - with our visas in them. I honestly expected Wednesday would be the earliest we would get them, so I was in shock (but very glad!) that we had them already. We left the embassy rejoicing and thanking God for His faithfulness and goodness.

About 8:30 AM Tuesday, I headed to the train station to buy tickets to go to Kiev that night. With Thanksgiving on Thursday, we wanted to get to Kiev on Wednesday, if possible. I told Denise as I left that I was forgetting something, but had no idea what it could be. When I arrived at the train station about 45 minutes later, I got to the ticket window and learned that I had forgotten our passports. Because I do not need them for the train travel we do within Ukraine, I did not give them a second thought. When I returned home, my family asked if I had tickets. They were concerned when I told them "no" - at least until I told them why.

When I arrived back at the train station again, this time with the passports, I was able to buy the tickets we needed. We would leave just after 8:30 PM and would arrive in Kiev about 1:40 PM Wednesday. It was after 11:30 AM before I arrived back home again. It had taken all morning just to buy four train tickets. We had made plans to go out to eat with a group of our friends for supper that evening before we left, so we were packed and ready to go by 5:30 PM. We enjoyed our farewell meal and headed to the train station.

We settled into our coupe and started our journey back to Kiev. We were tired and wanted to sleep, but it was quite warm in the wagon. About 5 AM, we arrived at the Moldovan border check, which seemed to be a fairly smooth process. About 6 AM, we made it to the Ukrainian border check, which was more thorough. They had two dogs on our wagon sniffing things. The customs officer looked at my passport for a long time, asked a few questions, and finally stamped my passport. One of his cohorts wanted to know if we had any American coins (it seems he wanted a "gift"). We appeared to be the last ones to be processed, because moments after they left us, the train took off.

I met a cute little boy that was two doors down from us. He was five years old and from Russia. He and his mother had also been visiting in Moldova. At first he wasn't sure what to think of me, but eventually he warmed up was talking with me and giggling. He told me the English names for some animals, counted to 8 in English, and showed me how to make something by folding paper. He explained to me how, then unfolded it and had me do it myself. He was quite the natural teacher. Then we played between our doors and in the hallway. When we left, he said "goodbye" in English.

We finally arrived in Kiev about 1:40 PM on Tuesday, where we were met by a friend. We stayed in Kiev for Thanksgiving and really enjoyed celebrating with our missionary family. While I have many things to be thankful for, I am very thankful for our new visas and for being back in Ukraine. We had planned on being in Moldova for 8 days, not 24 days. One of our fellow missionaries commented about the resiliency we had demonstrated through the events we had been through. Thank God for His help and strength when things to not got as planned.

We met the team from our church at the airport on Saturday afternoon and headed back to Krivoy Rog, arriving home about 10 PM on Saturday November 26th. We had been gone for about 90 minutes shy of four weeks and it was so good to be home. Through all that time, God continued to be faithful. While we did not know what God's timing would be, we knew that he would take care of us. That is just what He did. There were moments of frustration and some doubts, but I can raise that experience up as an Ebenezer because "Up to this point the Lord has helped us!" (see 1 Samuel 7, specifically verse 12 as well as the second verse of the hymn "Come, Thou Fount").

How about you? Do you recognize and thank God for his help even when things do not go as planned? Do you look back to that experience as a reminder of God's faithfulness? We must not forget the things that God has done for us! Let us continue to regularly count our many blessings!

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