Stopped and Stranded at the Border

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Being blocked on the way to living out a plan you are excited about and are convinced God is part of can knock one's spiritual equilibrium for a good spin.

Elsewhere on the Network I've shared the account of being turned back at the US border because my R-1 Visa application process was not complete enough to allow me into the country. I'm concerned to help prevent anyone else from having it happen to them. So I tell the details of the story.



The turn-back I tell about left me homeless and unemployed when I thought I was moving from two years of serious underemployment to full value employment serving the Kingdom of God in a CRC congregation. Just as my loaded U-Haul truck was hard to stop on the downhill side of steep Rockies, this development from God in my life felt like it should be unstoppable. But it ran into a sheet of missing paper and stopped dead.



Surprisingly, except for the occasional wobbly despairing day, God seems to have my spiritual gyroscopes well spun, so that my trust and faith -- that God has purpose in this and that it will work out for greater good that I cannot see immediately -- remains surprisingly stable. Some of this stability comes from having struggled before and survived despite my flaws and because God saw me/us through.



I'm also finding comfort from angles of scripture stories that had escaped my notice before. I'm especially consoled by the story of Joseph, who's journey to the fullest service to Israel and God had numerous downs in dry wells and dungeons but which culminated in being in a position to save much of the world from famine, to make restitution with his brothers, and ultimately to save his family and nation. If anything even one thousandth as grand results from my delay, I will be grateful for it having happened.



What I'm realizing is that though I don't wish this experience on anyone else, nor myself, I am finding value in it. I am seeing God at work in and throughout it. And that keeps my equilibrium steadier than if I had to talk myself into pushing through this.



Here's one example of not only sensing God as being aware of my need and providing for me, but doing so with a gentle chuckle. This strandedness came about just before a Federal Election in Canada. I was walking my dog in downtown Calgary, and saw an Elections Canada office. It was the Saturday before the Monday election. I went in to ask if it was possible somehow for a displaced British Columbian to somehow vote still. But the first three people I met each were enthusiastically — clearly with hope and expectation of a postitive response — asking me if I was there for “the training.” By the third one I asked “Training for what?”



“To work a polling station” was the response.



I had seen employment ads in the paper, but the ads insisted you had to live in the riding you were applying to work in, so I hadn't followed up. But these people, seeing I was a sentient being, were happy to enlist me on the spot no matter where I was from or where I was bound. So, ten minutes later, I'm in the 3 hour training course with my dog sleeping at my feet. Then I get assigned my polling station. Out of all of Calgary, I get assigned to work a station in a CRC, namely River Park church, which I had attended the last two Sundays. Can you hear the chuckle? Can you see providence at work?



My work partner at my table that election day was a Ukrainain immigrant who had a fascinating story to tell (with some prodding). She and her husband were former professors of Economics, but moved because doctors suspected their son's health issues were related to proximity to Chernobyl. And there was more. They were now Christians. I thoroughly enjoy hearing stories like that, so the long day shortened up considerably.

A person can't strategize or pre-plan these things. Without the strict structure and order of a day-planner, God gave me a great day, simply because I followed an opportunity as it opened up before me. Had I been ensconced in despair and victimhood, I sincerely doubt I would have noticed that open door.



Also in Calgary, being technically homeless, I found a new affinity for the homeless I was seeing all around. I began observing their patterns in the neigbourhood as I went for walks with my canine companion. I began to notice that the 'binners' had routes and territories of alleys they visited at the same time each morning. They must have seen that I was very close to being one of them, because they were friendly and chatty, without asking for quarters. I also saw that they had a sense of helping others. When a binner searched a garbage bin for valuables, they would also pull out things they themselves were not necessarily interested in, but which they seemed to know others might find useful. So it was not unusual to find near full tubes of toothpaste, gloves, combs, books, apples and other items in a neat pile beside a bin, for later bypassers to benefit from. I felt I was gaining understanding for such a day as maybe I would be living that way of necessity myself.

When it became clear that my wait would be extensive, I emailed the clerk of the Classis I was in, asking if there might be a pastorless church I could be useful at. Within hours I had arranged a stint of preaching in Saskatoon – filling in until the congregation's new pastor arrived in mid-June. And out of that same email I have a good chance of continuing such service in Southern Alberta. God providing again, through his people.



There are some more personally beneficial experiences I've had with family as well, things made possible only by my being stranded. They don't belong in detailed print, but they have happened.



Reflecting on how this came about, I also realized that a possible mistake I made was likely “running ahead of God.” I was so eager and convinced that I stopped slowing down and paying attention to important details.



But with all that good stuff coming as a side effect of the problem, I do still say to God pretty well daily “have I learned what I needed to, and can I get on with the job soon please?”

Posted in: Pastors; Blog Photo courtesy Micheal J - http://www.flickr.com/photos/chealion/5374413903 Image: See Credit

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A late-coming update: I did make it across the border R-1 Visa in hand very early in August 2011 after approval came through in late July. At the time of writing I'm in  my 8th month of serving the church in Iowa, and an application has been filed for an extension of my R-1 Visa for a year. We're curious to see if that takes as long as the original application, which is why the church has started on it early.

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