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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Drake's VISA

Have you ever noticed that God seems to enjoy reminding us from time to time that He is in control, and that even our best-laid plans are completely subject to His power? We had just such an experience this past week.

I did one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done in my life. And I’m not talking about dropping an air conditioner on Amber’s head. Drake was born just over 1 year ago. We received some faulty information from various government agencies/employees, and we ignorantly took their word for it without researching it further. We had been told that we must apply for a new VISA (permission to be in a foreign country, not the credit card) in the USA, not in South Africa. Unfortunately, we learned this information is incorrect.

Normally, when Amber & I overlook things, they cause pretty minor problems. Not the types of problems for which we and our 12 month old son could be jailed. Being as we thought we would try to stay on top of things, Amber phoned the SA Consulate in Chicago 2 days before we were scheduled to fly out. She requested a list of the exact requirements and paperwork we would need to apply for a VISA. The lady at the consulate informed her that since Drake was over 3 months old, he had been in the country illegally for 9 months and we would be subject to significant fines – as in well over $1,000.

Amber proceeds to call the consulate in Johannesburg to see what we would need to do to rectify the situation. She was told by the nice gentleman that not only could we be subject to serious fineage, but they may choose to prevent us from leaving the country and if they wanted they could even retain us in the brig. Not a pleasant experience by any definition.

If you know anything about most governments, specifically governments on this continent, things don’t tend to move quickly, nor efficiently. Brian & Lois recently had to obtain some paperwork through the very same office. It took several weeks after initial application, and then they had to call and remind them the work needed to be done. So our prospects were looking bleak.

We wondered what the best option would be. We considered driving to Lesotho – about 3 hours away – to obtain a 90 day visitors visa for Drake. That was quickly ruled out when we learned they no longer do that. We considered driving to Pretoria – about 4 hours away – to attempt an emergency VISA application. We finally settled on trying to apply through our local office of the Dept of Home Affairs.

Early Tuesday morning (we leave on Wednesday) I had to take a load of boxes to a friend’s house. On Sunday we had lunch with these friends and noticed that anytime we go anywhere with them he runs into somebody he knows. So at Amber’s suggestion we mentioned our problem to him, not thinking that he would know anything about what we would need to do, since he is a South African by birth. We learned quickly that we were wrong; his son’s sister-in-law works in the Home Affairs office in Welkom. He sent us to her and told us to mention his name.

When we arrived at her office we learned she wasn’t the correct person to handle the process, but she did us a huge favor and called ahead and explained everything to the lady who would be in charge of the procedure. Let me explain that this lady is notorious for her sometimes harsh personality. Brian describes her as “the lady who makes people cry”. This is probably an apt description, normally. In fact, I met her for about 15 minutes before Amber, and for those 15 minutes I received a chewing-out the likes of which I haven’t received since my days playing basketball. Unfortunately, I knew I was completely to blame so there was nothing to do but take it.

We acknowledged that it was our mistake and oversight that caused the problem, and that we were simply asking for mercy and assistance. This seemed to soften her up, but she continued to jokingly (we think jokingly anyway) that she was going to take Drake and keep him at her house. The two gentlemen in the office gave us the necessary forms to complete, and after about an hour of filling out paperwork, getting a doctor’s evaluation, bank statements, and a letter of recommendation, we were back in the office. They quickly approved our application and provided Drake with his VISA stamp. I am happy to report that Drake is no longer an illegal alien in the country of South Africa. And I am typing this in the Jo-burg airport, having passed through customs and obtaining the stamp of approval for him to board the flight along with us.

Isn’t it amazing how God was able to work in the hearts of people you would never expect it from, and while giving us a significant scare, continually provided for our needs every step of the application process.

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