“Chegou semana passada.”
“It arrived last week”. Those words from the officer on the phone sent me out the door yesterday afternoon on my first bike ride since Tuesday, when my sister and I went riding together on a quiet, semi-rural road, her last morning before heading back to the States (you will hear more about her visit in my next Crossing Cultures e-mail update and upcoming posts here). What a surprise to hear that my visa had already arrived! Granted, I applied for it in December, but for my second-year religious visa extension, I applied in January and the card was not ready until September, so I was expecting it to take a few more months.
If you missed last year’s episode of my visa saga, you can read it here. And if you would like your own ten-year adventure in mishaps from first entry into Brasil until obtaining permanent residency, just try what I did, summarized in the dated bullet point list below. Feel free to skip the list and just read the story underneath, however.
- 2008: entered Brasil with tourist visa, valid for 30 days. After that, applied for another tourist visa, valid for 5 years, multiple entry, but only permitting me to spend 6 months in Brasil each year. I was there from October 2008 – April 2009.
- 2010: applied for and easily received a religious visa, went to Brasil for six months, then due to ministry changes, went back to the USA, where the religious visa expired.
- 2012: entered Brasil with my tourist visa from 2008, stayed for 2 months.
- 2013: entered Brasil under the tourist visa again, stayed for 5 weeks.
- 2014: planning to return as a full-time missionary to Brasil, attempted to apply for religious visa in NYC, was not allowed to do so, given tourist visa instead, and told to change it to a religious visa in Brasil. That proved to be impossible, which led to visits to various branches of the police in São Paulo and the nation’s capital, Brasilia, to begin a complicated legal process requesting the right to stay in the country longer than a tourist visa would allow.
- 2015: left Brasil, wondering what the results of the legal process had been (I was never contacted by the immigration department with information about my status, and did not have money or time to continue making trips to Brasilia to inquire), and whether I would be fined on my way out of the country because I had stayed a year and a half with only a tourist visa and a pending legal process. Nothing was said. At the end of the year, back in NYC, I applied for a new religious visa, which was granted.
- 2016: entered Brasil with one-year religious visa
- 2017: payed fees and did paperwork to extend visa for second year.
- 2018: applied for religious visa to be transformed into a permanent residence visa, which only has to be renewed every nine years, by a simple process and payment of taxes.
On a practical side, this process required lots of research, money, time and travel. Thankfully, I was not alone, but received help from parents, siblings, a cousin, uncle and aunt, a street evangelist, pastor and church members, coworkers, Brasilian parents and pastors, Brasilian friends of friends. These people drove me to bus stations or government buildings (everywhere from Utica to Montreal to SP to Brasilia), picked up approved visas and mailed them to me, housed me overnight, and more, graciously giving of their time and resources to be part of this crazy ten-year process.
On a spiritual side, obtaining permanent residency has involved many tears, fervent prayers, and hard-fought battles to surrender my desires to God’s perfect will, whatever that would turn out to be. There were moments where I wavered between trust and fear, and even wondered if the door to future ministry in Brasil would remain open, or if God would allow it to close, severing ties with a place and a people I already loved deeply. I was not alone spiritually either, as all the people mentioned above, and many other brothers and sisters in Christ (including some of you reading this) encouraged me and prayed for safety, direction, favor from government officials, and miracles.
On on occasion, at the consulate in NYC, I was coldly informed that the requirements for visa application had changed, and the website had not been updated; therefore, I did not have the correct documents. There were less than two hours left to obtain said documents, return to the consulate, and legalize the documents, although I could not apply for the visa that day. I needed to catch the bus late that afternoon to be back at work the next day, and hadn’t looked into any options for an overnight stay anyway. Exhausted from spending the night traveling and then waiting in a little shop for the consulate to open, I could barely hold back the tears as I walked past the Brasilian flag and the guard, who, thankfully, was friendlier than the lady behind the desk had been, and wished me good luck in Portuguese, probably noticing that I looked distraught.
How was I to navigate a huge, intimidating city alone, in search of a library, a post office and other locations for which I had no directions? I will never forget kneeling just outside the NYC Brasilian consulate, completely oblivious to the people milling past, alone with God. The cement was rough under my knees as tears of frustration, cooled by the chilly winter air, trickled down my cheeks. I pulled out my Bible, knowing that it would be foolish to race into the next two hours without the strength and assurance that can only be found in the Word of God.
The passage the Holy Spirit brought to mind was 2 Kings 19, where, after receiving disturbing news in a letter, King Hezekiah
…went up into the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said, O Lord God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth. Lord, bow down thine ear, and hear: open, Lord, thine eyes, and see: and hear the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent him to reproach the living God…Now therefore, O Lord our God, I beseech thee, save thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord God, even thou only.
If you know the story, you realize that the situation I faced that day was very different from Hezekiah’s. A cruel enemy nation was out to kill him and the country he ruled. He was told, “let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee,” implying that the situation was hopeless, and that God was either incapable or unwilling to save Israel, if their God even existed.
Compared to that, I admit that visa problems aren’t worth crying about. However, I had received very disheartening news, and was facing a challenge for which I was unprepared, an obstacle bigger than my limited knowledge and resources. The only logical reaction was to take it before the Lord and pray, acknowledging His power and sovereignty and pleading for His help. I asked God to hear and see my need, and open doors in miraculous ways, not just so that I could serve Him here in Brasil, but so that everyone who would hear the story would know that the Lord is God and give Him the glory.
After five minutes in the presence of the Lord, I stood up, not knowing what the outcome of the day would be, but with full confidence that the God in whom I trusted would not let me down. My panic was replaced by a calm determination that if it were possible to get the documents and return in time to legalize them that day, I would somehow succeed, with Jesus.
That “somehow” included friendly New Yorkers who gave me directions, lines that moved quickly, breathless jogs down bustling streets with a backpack and ankle-length coat (I must have looked ridiculous, but that didn’t matter), and an indescribable peace that kept my mind focused on doing the next thing instead of worrying. As you might have already guessed, God worked it all out for me to submit the new documents just before the consulate closed. Isn’t our God awesome?
That is only a small glimpse into the story that ended yesterday afternoon, with permanent residency in this country I fell in love with nearly a decade ago.
If my visa process had been predictable and quick, as it is for so many other missionaries, so much time and money would have been saved. But would the qualities of perseverance and determination have been developed in my life to the same degree without the obstacles that had to be overcome just to live here? Maybe not. Would my conviction of God’s calling be as strong as it is today? Probably not. Would my faith and relationship with the God of the Impossible have grown as much? No. Would friends and family and I have prayed as much about this visa if every trip to the consulate had gone smoothly? Of course not. Would the thin piece of plastic I hold tightly in my hands bring such grateful tears to my eyes and such a thrill to my heart? Never.
Not only do I now finally have the legal right to live in Brasil, I also have one more tangible proof of the faithfulness of the God of the Impossible, in the form of a simple plastic card which represents so much more than anything a government agency could ever print or give.