Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Embassy, The Border, and Home

Thursday was the day of Vespera's appointment at the Embassy. The only trouble was that it wasn't until 1:45 in the afternoon. I don't know why it's easier to wait for something when it's still a month or a week or a day away, but the last hours feel like agony. That is the way it is, though. Vespera volunteered in the first grade classroom at the school until lunch time. Then Mr. & Mrs. Missionary invited us to have lunch in the school lunchroom. We sat with the phy. ed. teacher who comes from Texas once a week to teach at the school. He speaks very little Spanish and commented to me on how great Vespera's Spanish is. I had to chuckle.

After lunch we prayed together. Our car was already packed. There was nothing left to do. So, we drove to the Embassy. We arrived at 12:30pm. They don't let anyone in until half and hour before their appointment time, though. So, we waited in the car until we couldn't stand it any longer, and then we walked the half a block to the Embassy sloooowly. The security guards at the entrance said that one of us could go with Vespera. So, Mango went with her. At that point I was feeling like I wouldn't be good at keeping her spirits us, and, besides, Mango was the petitioner for her visa, and his name was on all the paperwork.

And my parents and I walked back to the car. We stopped to ask people how long we should expect to wait. The security person told us 4 to 6 hours. We asked how long the Embassy is open, and he said they'd be open until the last person left. It appeared from the crowds waiting outside and the people in the parking lot that 1:45pm was actually the last appointment time of the day. After that they just try to finish processing everyone who is already inside.

Waiting feels like agony when you can't even see what's going on. Mango & Vespera were not allowed to have cell phones inside the building. So, we had no way to contact them, and they had no way to let us know how everything was going. I was grateful we'd had lunch right before we left, but it looked like everyone was going to be pretty hungry by the time we finally left.

Novio called Vespera's phone while we were waiting, and I answered because I knew it was him. I told him that Vespera and Mango were in the Embassy and that we'd call when we had news. Then I said, "I'll sit here & bite my nails in Mexico and you bite your nails there in MN. Hopefully we'll have good news tonight." He said he didn't have any nails left to bite. He already bit them all off. When I told Vespera about it later she said, "He bit them all before we even left." He has a quiet anxiety, whereas I felt like I was talking all the time and spilling anxiety all over the place.

...except there in the car in the parking lot outside the Embassy in Mexico. Then I was quiet. There was nothing left to say. We'd done all we could do, and the rest was up to God. I read Isaiah 43. I prayed. I called Mango's parents and asked them to pray. Minutes ticked by ever so slowly.

After 2.5 hours we decided to go for a walk to stretch our legs and get out of the dusty parking lot. We walked back past the Embassy. Just as we were peering through the doors and noting that the crowd waiting outside had dwindled considerably, Vespera and Mango came walking out. They were wearing strained smiles.

They had fingerprinted Vespera and made her sign some documents about her identity and marital status. Then they rescheduled her interview for Friday morning at 9:15am.

Immediately I felt that we'd be having a long night. This last wait would be interminable. We called our missionary friends, and they told us to go on back to the school for the night. We stopped at Monchis for dinner. I called Tesha and Vespera called Novio. We hung out in the car while my parents and Mango put in our orders. I joked that I had wanted one of the hamburgers from Monchis and this was my chance.

Strangely, there were no tears. In fact, Vespera and I hit the dorm showers when we got back to the school. Clean and warm, we settled in to watch a movie with Mango on his little ipod screen. We watched "Love's Abiding Joy," a movie based on a Jeanette Oke novel I read back in high school. It was a sweet and simple story, something like what we needed at the moment. Then Vespera and I spent some time journaling, and she did some sketching. Mango was next to me praying while I wrote. Once we turned out the lights, Mango talked and talked with Vespera telling her about God's love and faithfulness and how he believed she would be approved in the morning.

Honestly, one of the biggest reasons we had for believing that God would send us back to Minnesota was Novio. It's strange and definitely a work of God that two children, born not far from each other in Mexico, had to come all the way to Minnesota to find each other. And even then, they would not have developed a relationship at all if Vespera hadn't been adopted into our family, where she had the time and space to nurture a relationship. We have watched them grow together, watched their hearts knit into each other, watched them work through tough misunderstandings and support each other through real difficulties. We have stood by as they have laughed and played and cried. They've camped and snowboarded and made dinner together. They are God's gift to each other. And that gift was enough to make us believe that God had enough reason to send us back to Minnesota. The miracle of this trip to Mexico would be a foundational miracle in their lives together, in their understanding God together, in their recognition that God has a plan for them.

Mango recited the 23rd Psalm to Vespera, and she fell asleep clutching his hand.

And we all slept peacefully for about 7 hours...probably the most peaceful and sound sleep any of us had had all week.

I was still worried in the morning, unsure what kind of experience they had at the Embassy, but Mango's confidence shored up my own emotions. I walked them to the door, kissed Vespera on the forehead and blessed her, and then I watched them walk into the Embassy together.

An hour and a half later Mango came running out, needing some of my cash money. He told me she was approved, but he needed to pay something or other. I sent him off with my purse and then sat down, weak-kneed in the car. I felt all the blood drain from my head and, for a moment, wondered if I would faint. So this is what it feels like to release all of one's anxiety at once.

They both came walking out to the car some little bit of time later, happy but somewhat subdued. They don't actually stamp visas at the Embassy. They sent the packet through a courier service (DHL) where we had to pick it up between 4 and 6 that evening OR, if it wasn't in then, we'd have to pick it up Saturday. Our hearts sank at the possibility of another night in Mexico. We were overjoyed that she was approved, but with that joy came an overwhelming desire to be back home.

We resigned ourselves to a lunch at Burger King because it was near the DHL office, and we settled in to stay a few hours since we didn't have anywhere else to go. Mango and Vespera told us the story of the interview. The woman who interviewed them was from our home state, here, Minnesota. She was actually from Duluth. AND she was a Christian. She told Mango & Vespera that she prays over her job every morning before she goes to work because she knows she's making important decisions that really affect people's lives. She expressed genuine interest in our story, and she kept a tissue box nearby for all those people overcome with emotion while they're telling their story. Vespera smiled while she told me that Mango cried and needed some tissues to get through the interview, and the interviewer got all teary while they talked.

Of all the things we prayed for on this journey, one thing we asked over and over was for God to send a compassionate interviewer. The answer was beyond our wildest hopes.

The whole DHL thing was a huge fiasco. We called every half hour, as instructed, to find out if her packet had arrived. At 6pm we lined up at the door with everyone else, knowing the last shipment came in from the Embassy at 6pm. The DHL workers told us that if the packet didn't come Friday, we actually wouldn't get it until Monday. Oh, the agony. So, once we were inside the doors of the DHL office, we stood in a circle and prayed. Vespera suggested that we pray. Then we stepped up to the counter, almost positive that her packet wouldn't be there. We did not dare to hope, and somehow, it just didn't seem possible. But, there it was. They needed ID to give her the packet, though, and her passport was in the packet. So, she couldn't use her passport. The people at the Embassy told her she could use her birth certificate, but DHL said no. Then she remembered that she had brought her Mexican ID card on the trip, at Novio's suggestion, though I'd told her she probably wouldn't need it. She asked if that card would work, and it did. Mango & Vespera ran back to the car to get it while I remained at the counter smiling myself silly and giving my parents a thumbs-up through the window.

I have to say that of all the experiences we had in Mexico, this one at the DHL seemed somehow the most extraordinary, and we all feel sure there's a miracle buried in there somewhere. I seemed almost as though the packet was not really there at the DHL office until we prayed. We felt a certain confidence that it wouldn't be. Then we prayed, and there it was. Mango said he almost felt like it had been forgotten in the truck, but when we prayed the driver brought it in. We will never know that part of the story, except through the impressions and feelings we had while we were there.

We thought the story would end here, but it didn't. My dad wanted to buy us a celebration dinner in El Paso. We figured we could cross the border and then eat somewhere. So, we headed for the border. Our packet said we had to cross the Cordova bridge. So, that's where we went. And the line was surprisingly short. We felt exhilarated by such a quick crossing, BUT then we had to go into the Immigration building to turn in Vespera's packet and have her passport stamped. This was the least expected part of the whole trip. We waited THREE hours, through 2 more fingerprintings and another picture-taking to get her passport/visa back in hand and stamped.

While we were waiting, we met a young boy & girl who were approved at the Embassy that day, but their mother was denied. We met a little girl whose grandmother was sponsoring her visa to bring her to the States. She'd had two heart surgeries in her little life already. They were still waiting when we left. The grandmother said the wait didn't seem too long, though. When she immigrated in 1995 it took her 9 hours at the border to get her visa stamped. We gave the little girl our snack of nuts and raisins, as we felt beyond hunger and that point, and she was so small and tired and bored. Then there was the woman we'd seen in the DHL office earlier that day. When she was handed her packet at DHL she broke into uncontrollable sobbing. Tears ran down her face when they handed her visa to her at the border.

Sometimes around 11pm we walked back through customs inside the immigration building. The security guy congratulated Vespera with the words, "Welcome to the United States...legally." We smiled and walked to the car.

By the time we got into El Paso the only restaurant left open was Denny's, but we had our celebration dinner anyway. At midnight we stared driving home. At 2:15am Sunday we pulled up to our house. Never has there been a sweeter sight.

We woke Vespera when we got to the house and said, "Here we are!" Her response? A very sleepy, "Where? Where are we?" Gotta laugh at that one.


  1. How amazing... and a little scary too...

  2. what a beautiful story, thanks for sharing this!


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