No one tells you when you get the call to overseas missions or go through orientation about PAPERWORK! What does that even mean for people living in the computer age?
It’s a great mystery that can only be understood by living through it.
Of course, I started my paperwork journey pre-computer era, but by the time I left the field twenty-two years later, it didn’t matter. We may be sending emails, using social media, living in a digital world, but most government offices are not.
That’s why there is paperwork.
It starts with a stamp in your passport that you need to be able to even enter a foreign country. Sometimes you can get that before you travel, sometimes not. Some countries will give you a stamp upon entering, but it won’t let you stay long.
That’s why you need a residency permit.
You can’t stay in a foreign country if you’re not born there or a legal citizen. Sorry, but it’s true. You have to get permission. For our first long-term assignment, it took three weeks of living in a convent/hotel until my husband received his residency permit. As his wife, I was just along for the ride (that’s another story about overseas life).
Until then, we couldn’t rent a flat and settle, because the landlord required three months’ rent in advance, and we didn’t want to waste it, if we couldn’t get the paperwork approved. What did it take for a permit then?
- An AIDS test.
- A physical.
- A visit to more than one government office for the blessed “stamp” of approval.
In the meantime, I was overwhelmed by it all and feeling terribly homesick and isolated from the world.
But residency permits aren’t forever either.
The length of stay depends on the country. You may have to physically leave before you can reapply. Those who are able to stay in countries on extended visas, do have to leave every few months in order to come back in and live. It’s taxing on you finances, time and ability to feel settled.
Then again, it’s a way the Lord uses to remind us we’re not to settle on this earth.
Abraham certainly wasn’t, nor Paul, and certainly not Jesus. Even with a perfectly legal two-year residency permit, we were kicked out of a country. We had ten days to pack and leave.
Lesson here: Don’t put your faith in a piece of paper.
Having lived in five different countries over our twenty-year career, I’ve done my share of paperwork. It’s just a reality of life on mission. It’s no fun and even scary sometimes, but it is a good way for us to start our time off on our knees, asking God for favor in the eyes of authorities and discernment about what to say and not to say on forms. It’s also a time to closely mingle with the people in packed government offices, seeking out people of peace and opportunities to be salt and light.
When you next struggle with paperwork or international travel, ask God to open your eyes to reminders of his grace while looking forward to the final home, where no paperwork is required! That passport has already been stamped in blood.
Grace and Peace