Monday, June 15, 2020

Recounting Our Repatriation During a Pandemic





Taking a repatriation flight to the U.S. on short notice was not how we planned to finish our second term on the mission field! But our story has been an incredible reminder of how God has walked beside us, been with us and gone before us. God is faithful!

 

As some of you know, after the borders of Cote d’Ivoire closed on March 22, we had not taken a previous repatriation flight to the U.S. on March 31. We felt led to stay in Cote d’Ivoire, and we were waiting to see if we'd be able to return to the U.S. for our home assignment set to start in June.

 

On Friday, April 17, we received an email from the U.S. Embassy that a final repatriation flight would be organized for Tuesday, April 21. It stated this would be the last flight to the U.S. until commercial air travel resumed. After prayer and processing again, we felt led to take the flight. It was to travel to Togo and then on to Washington D.C. We would need to pay by promissory note to the U.S. government. We would then need to organize our own travel on to Indianapolis.

 

We signed up on Friday to take the flight, but did not know if there would be space for us. It seems a number of the embassy staff were also taking the flight. We applied online for a “laissez-passer” which is a permit to travel on the closed road to Abidjan. (This is the road we had to take to get to the airport. It had been closed several weeks in an effort to contain the spread of Covid-19.)We started to get things closed up around the house, packed, and worked on getting pressing ministry items completed in a hurry – transferring COP funds, connecting with pastors and IBAO students, working out details with our guards, etc. On Saturday (April 18) in the morning, we got an email that said the flight was full, and if we had seats, we’d receive a confirmation email soon. Saturday in the late afternoon, we found out there would be space for us on the flight, so we continued to prepare to depart. We started letting church leaders, pastors, and local friends know of our plans to depart. It was really hard to say “goodbye” in such a quick and abrupt way. We’re still processing this part of the experience.

 

Although our seats on the flight were confirmed, we had not yet received the permit to travel on the closed road to Abidjan. We heard nothing, and were told we could apply in person on Monday morning at the prefecture office.  We got word that we needed to be at the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan Monday morning between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. to complete the promissory note and paperwork, and to confirm our identities in person.  (Among the paperwork, was a letter stating that we should not travel on the flight if we had any of the following in the past 72 hours: a fever of 100.4F or above, a cough, or trouble breathing.) Since we were in Yamoussoukro about 2.5 hours away from the Embassy and didn’t have the permit to travel to Abidjan (and the prefecture’s office wouldn’t open until 8 or 9 a.m. on Monday morning to apply in-person for the travel permit), we wouldn’t be able to be at the Embassy Monday morning. Thankfully, the vice consul gave us permission to complete, scan, and email the documents, and because we’d met her once before and “knew” her through the Fulbright scholars, she was fine to confirm our identity when we arrived Tuesday at the airport.

 

We would still need to arrive in Abidjan by Monday before dark to depart on Tuesday, so Bobby went Monday morning to apply in-person for the travel permit, but the prefecture’s office said that the process could only be completed online. We emailed the U.S. Embassy to let them know our problem, Bobby waited at the prefecture’s office, and Jenny applied again online from home. The embassy staff really stepped up! Within a few minutes of sending an email to the embassy, they called us. The consul put one of his staff members on the case, called us and told us this person’s job that day was to see that we arrived in Abidjan. A couple hours later, the permit came through! The security advisor of the U.S. Embassy then got put on the case, and he started calling Bobby about every 30 minutes to get an update on our progress to be sure we would be admitted by police through the health checkpoint (using the permit) and into Abidjan. 

 

We finished packing our car, did a final COP funds transfer, stopped by Moore’s school to say “goodbye” to his teacher and his best friend (the teacher had been working one-on-one with a different student each day at the school), dropped off an item at a friend’s house, and we drove to Abidjan. Just outside the city limits, our travel permit and our temperatures were all checked at the health checkpoint, and we entered Abidjan without any trouble! The embassy’s security advisor kept in close contact with us until we arrived at the hotel near the airport where we would spend Monday night.

 

The hotel was empty except for a cargo flight crew from Europe. We ate dinner at the hotel, called and texted some more church people to let them know we were departing, the kids enjoyed the big hotel bathtub, and we went to sleep for the night. 

 

On Tuesday morning, we took the hotel shuttle to the airport where a special area was set up by the U.S. Embassy to check our passports. The very first person to greet us was the U.S. ambassador, and then we met the security advisor while waiting in line. The vice consul checked our passports and confirmed us on the flight, then the airport staff took our temperatures. (This was the second and final time our temperatures would be taken throughout this whole journey.) We got in line at the check-in counter to check our bags and get our boarding passes. 

 

We then went through airport passport control and security. Rease announced that she had to use the bathroom, but there was no place. Gladly, she had a diaper on, but she was frustrated that we couldn’t take her to the potty! While I (Jenny) was taking my electronics out of my carry-on bag to go through the security scanner, I found that Rease had somehow dropped the hotel TV remote in my carry-on bag! 

 

At this point, it was about 1:15 p.m. and the flight was scheduled to depart at 2:55 p.m. About 10 minutes later, as Bob was buying some snacks, they started boarding the plane! We didn’t have time to change Rease’s diaper. We were close to the last people to board the plane, which was open seating (as was the following flight). This relatively small plane (6 seats across) from Abidjan to Togo was nearly full. There were people on it who had come from Mali as well. Pretty much everyone on this flight (as well as the next flight) wore masks.

 

As we landed in Togo, we had some turbulence, and this is when Moore got motion sickness. Rease, not having had her diaper changed, had leaked all over her pants! When we exited the plane in Togo, we changed Rease’s diaper and pants in the line waiting to have our boarding passes for the next flight issued. Our flight was the only one there at the airport in Togo, so this was a fairly quick process – boarding passes, security, passport check, boarding the next plane. 

 

The next flight from Togo to Washington D.C. was not full. There were many middle seats open. The plane had 9 seats across (3-3-3), so the kids and I (Jenny) sat in 3 middle seats with Bobby sitting across the aisle. The middle seat next to Bobby was empty, but there was a gentleman in the window seat in Bobby’s row. 

 

The aircraft and crew were Ethiopian Airlines, but there was no electronic service on the flight (TV screens were not on, reading lights didn’t work, etc.). This was ok, but a bit of a challenge when the lights were dimmed and Rease wanted a snack – it was really dark! We used our cell phone lights for a bit. This flight had some pretty rough turbulence. Thankfully, Moore was asleep, but Rease was awake at the beginning of the turbulence, and she had motion sickness. This was unexpected as she’s never had motion sickness before. Soon after that, she went to sleep, and both kids were asleep for the worst of the turbulence, thank the Lord! The air got pretty choppy for a while about 2 hours before we landed. ( I would rate this the 3rd worst flight I’ve been on for bad turbulence.) Thankfully, we landed safe and sound around 1 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, April 22 in Washington, D.C. We were given health forms to complete for each person in addition to the usual customs declaration form. The health forms asked if we’d been to China, specifically Hubei province, Iran or Shengen country in the last 14 days, if we’d had symptoms of Covid19, if we’d been in contact with anyone who had it, and where we’d be staying the U.S. (There was a place at the bottom for a health official to fill in our temperature and whether we appeared physically ill warranting a health evaluation; this portion remained blank.)

 

We exited the plane and followed the “social distancing” stickers on the floor as we waited in line to go through passport control. It was at passport control that the security agent took our health forms. The only question he asked regarding our health was which countries we’d visited in the last 14 days. We said Cote d’Ivoire had been the only country we’d been in, and he gave us our passports and sent us on to baggage claim. (No one took our temperatures, gave directions about quarantine, what route we’d take to get to Anderson, symptoms to watch for, or any other information.) 

 

We got our bags, and went to wait for the baggage counter to open for our flight to Indianapolis. It was cold!! We shared a sandwich and a muffin, and the kids watched the iPad while we waited. After checking our bags, we went to our gate. It was then that the sole came loose and fell off of Rease’s shoe! So the rest of the trip, she had only one shoe! 

 

We were so glad to find that our flight to Indy was going on as scheduled. More than half the flights on the “Departures” board in Washington D.C. had been canceled, presumably due to no or few passengers. The gates were almost all empty. We overheard two airline workers say that this flight to Indy had a handful of passengers, so it was going! We boarded the 50-passenger plane. We were half the passengers! There were 9 total passengers on the plane. Being on a small plane, we were a little concerned about feeling every bump and facing motion sickness with the kids again, but thankfully, it was a smooth and vomit-free flight! 

 

We arrived at Indy airport, which was practically empty, got our bags, rented a mini-van from Enterprise, and drove to Anderson! We were so warmly greeted at the guesthouse with so many who helped prepare it for us prior to our arrival. 

 

We then had an 18-day self-quarantine. Many friends dropped off groceries, toilet paper, and more!  Many offered to help and checked in on us. 

 

We’ve had quite a bit of contact by phone and WhatsApp messages with those in Cote d’Ivoire as well as with partners here in the U.S. We’ve kept busy going through storage items, communicating with partners, friends and colleagues, as well as re-starting Moore’s French curriculum studies and preparing virtual and in-person visits for our home assignment time .

 

We are so grateful to the Lord for walking with us, making a way, and sustaining us. God is good and He is faithful!

 

 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

47 Simple Steps on How to Get a Visa for South Africa When You Are an Indian Citizen with an American Permanent Resident Card Living in Côte d'Ivoire

After Bobby’s adventure with the South African Embassy here in Côte d’Ivoire, we were inspired to write this attempt at a humorous recounting of his visa saga. Please know that we write this tongue-in-cheek, knowing that God had this under control the whole time! So here it is…

47 Simple Steps on How to Get a visa for South Africa When You Are an Indian Citizen with an American Permanent Resident Card Living in Cote d’Ivoire

1.     Like anyone would, google the embassy website and download the visa application.

2.     Become confused by the application’s directions on the embassy website and attempt to locate the embassy the next time you are in the big city (Abidjan).

[Next time you are in the big city where the embassy is reportedly located…]

3.     Before going out, look up the street address of the embassy listed on the website.

4.     Find that the street name on which the embassy is located (according to the website), does not actually exist on any city maps.

5.     Call your Congolese friend who is a pastor and lives in Abidjan to find out if he knows where the South African embassy is. When he refers you to your Nigerian pastor friend, call him next to see if he knows where it is.

6.     When your Nigerian pastor friend gives you directions that the embassy is near the Ivorian president’s residence, drive around the residence while trying to look out for the embassy, but trying not to look suspicious to onlookers.

7.     When you can’t find the embassy near the president’s residence, ask random people on the side of the road, using the street name which you found on the embassy website but which you cannot find on any maps.

8.     When no one in that area has heard of that street, drive to the U.S. Embassy because embassies are sometimes in the same area, right?

9.     Ask more random people on the side of the road while trying not to look suspicious in front of the U.S. Embassy.

10. When the random people from the side of the road give you directions to a completely different part of the city, decide to take a break and attempt to look the embassy phone number up on their website using your phone.

11. Call both numbers listed on the South African Embassy website.  Repeat. Wait patiently while no one answers.

12. Drive across town to do another errand while waiting for someone at the embassy to pick up the phone. (Wait some more while no one picks up.)

13. While your spouse is inside a place of business running the errand, use your phone to google the embassy website again. Use your sleuthing skills to realize that the street name on the embassy website is missing one letter and that is why you cannot find it on any maps and why none of the random people on the street had any idea what street you were asking for.

14. Laugh in a half-mentally-unstable-half-this-is-ridiculous manner in order to maintain the sanity you have remaining and to avoid yelling and being a bad example to your three-year-old kid in the back seat.

15. Take a brief moment to relish in the fact that it was because of the typo on the website, and not your poor French pronunciation, that caused people on the street to look at you as if you were a few crayons short of a full box.

16. When finishing the errand, realize that the consular’s office of the embassy where you can inquire and drop off applications will close in 15 minutes and even if you knew where it was located, you wouldn’t get there in time.

17. Try not to lose your religion.

18. Give up for the day and decide to do it the next time you are in the big city.

[A few days later…]

19. When your Nigerian pastor friend asks if you found the embassy, say no and have him realize that where you went was the president’s offices and not the president’s home residence.

20. Say “yes, please” when your Nigerian pastor friend offers to go with you to search for the embassy on your next trip to the big city.

[On next trip to big city…]

21. Make arrangements to meet your Nigerian pastor friend.

22. Get stuck in traffic and be 45 minutes late to pick up your Nigerian pastor friend.

23. Pick him up and get stuck in more traffic.

24. Arrive at the South African Embassy (YES…FOUND IT!) four minutes after the consular office closes and try to be patient while the front desk worker tells you the office closed four minutes ago while simultaneously chasing your 3-year-old who is running and screaming on the lawn of the embassy because he is so glad to be out of the car he just sat in for 3+ hours.

25. Ask the front office worker if you at least have the correct application.

26. Find out that the visa application you downloaded from the South African Embassy website is not the application the South African Embassy requests for visas.

27. Get the correct application from the front office worker.

28. Decide to complete the application on your next visit to the big city.

[On your next (now third) trip to the big city…]

29. Collect what you believe is all the paperwork you need according the list given to you by the front office worker at the embassy.

30. Arrive at the embassy and find out they will not accept your application because you have the wrong size of passport photos, your Ivorian residence card (which you have translated into English yourself even though everyone working at the South African Embassy speaks both French and English) has to be translated by a certified translator from the list provided by the embassy (although the embassy never provided said list prior to this visit and your card has approximately 3 words on it: Bobby, male, and Indian), you don’t have a letter from your employer saying you are allowed to leave the country (uh, why would you need this?) and you don’t have an invitation letter from a resident of South Africa inviting you to come visit.

31. Ask the woman at the embassy how you can get an invitation letter from a resident of South Africa when you do not actually know any South African residents.

32. Try to remain calm when the woman at the embassy tells you to get an invitation letter from the owner of the retreat center where you will be staying in South Africa although the owner does not know you from Adam.

33. Leave the embassy and track down a certified translator to translate your Ivorian residence card.

34. Find the translator and have her translate that “genre”=”gender” and “Indien”=”Idian” on your residence card.

35. Correct said translator by telling her she left the “n” out of “Indian” when she translated it.

36. Receive blank stare from translator because she writes in English but does not understand much spoken English.

37. Listen to sigh of relief from translator when you explain her misspelling in French because she finds you speak French. Continue the conversation in French at her request.

38. Pay 15.000 francs ($30 U.S.) for “certified” translation by the non-English-speaking English translator.

39.  Go home to collect other three items you need before another attempt to submit your application.

[At Home…]

40. Request and receive needed invitation letter (profusely thanking the South African resident who wrote it who has never met you) and letter from employer. Take a passport photo of the correct size.

[On your next (fourth) trip to the big city…]

41. Go to the embassy and have this conversation with the embassy worker:
Embassy Worker: “How did you get this letter from your employer?”
Bobby: “They sent it from the U.S. Our colleagues brought it with them
when they came from the U.S.”
Embassy worker: “How come your employer did not specify in the
letter that you are a missionary living in Yamoussoukro?”
Bobby: “I was told I needed permission to leave the country but not
that specific information.”
Embassy Worker: “Hmmm…Okay. Come next Tuesday.”

42.  SUBMIT APPLICATION AT LAST! Do happy dance.

43. Pray for the visa to be granted.

[On your fifth trip to embassy…]

44. Return to embassy three days before your scheduled departure to South Africa and find that you HAVE BEEN GRANTED THE VISA!

45. Praise God.

46. Call your wife to tell her the good news.

47. Start packing!


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Simple Gesture

Sammy and Yao sharing toys

Our 3-year-old, while trying to learn three languages, has gotten really good at gesturing. When he can’t communicate in French, he points and makes noises. (He also pretends to be a train, running and whistling while he pulls his “tender,” but that’s another story.) So, a couple of months ago when we visited a village about 45 minutes away from our home and he met a young boy who is deaf, they connected immediately. Neither of them needed words to communicate. They could use gestures and noises and got along great.

We’ve been going to this village often because it’s one of two sites of the start of the Children of Promise sponsorship program and each time, Sammy loves playing with Yao. Some other kids find it strange that Yao can’t speak French or Baoulé, an African language common in this village, but Sammy can’t communicate well in either of those languages, either, so he finds gesturing and noise-making a normal means of communication with his new-found friend.

We found out that deaf children can’t attend regular schools here and there’s only one deaf school in the whole country, meaning education is inaccessible to most deaf children who live in villages.

We’ve been praying for Yao during Sammy’s nighttime prayers. The first night we prayed for him, Sammy stopped the prayer and said, “Yao. He can’t hear. Mom….he’s my best friend.” Now, Sammy’s 3 years old, so his best friend changes weekly, if not daily. But his words still touched my heart. More than that, his gestures touched this mama’s heart.

Monday, June 29, 2015

To Every Thing There is a Season


Winter. How does one explain this concept to a room full of Ivorian teenagers who have likely never experienced temperatures below 65 degrees Fahrenheit? And snow? Well, some of them have heard of it, but that’s as far as it goes.

Two students in our
English class
During one of our English classes, we were faced with explaining the concept of winter because the word appeared in an article we were reading as a class. So, armed with my 10 years of teaching English as a second (or foreign) language, I knew just what to do: I asked what the four seasons were in preparation to explain the idea of winter and what it entails. Blank stares. Silence. “Uh, rainy and not rainy?” a student attempted. Well, he wasn’t wrong. That pretty much sums up the weather throughout the year here in Côte d’Ivoire: rainy or not rainy. Oh, and hot. Really hot when it’s not rainy.

We’re in the rainy season now in this part of West Africa, but the days, weeks and even months are not specifically designated as “rainy” or “not rainy” – it varies. How does one refer to time, then? Multiple times, we’ve caught ourselves just before explaining a time period as “autumn” or “spring.” How can one keep track of the months, elusive time?

In Ecclesiastes chapter three, we read about the seasons of life. No season of life looks exactly the same for any one person. There are times of change, and times of consistency. Times of laughter and mourning – sometimes during the same season.  Various seasons, so many chapters. When God brings up the next adventure in life, we sometimes re-evaluate our seasons. Maybe that season we thought was a season to soar was really preparation for this next season. Are we always in a season of preparation for the next season?

We are, and hope to always be, still in a season of learning here in Côte d’Ivoire. But this month has marked a bit of a change in the season. This month, our teammates, the Sellers, returned to the U.S. for their home assignment until next year – a different season for them as well.

One thing transcends these seasons: prayer. We need it in every season. So in our varying seasons, will you pray for us? Pray for Bobby, Jenny & Moore as they continue to adapt and learn how to minister in the Ivorian culture. Pray for Larry and LeAnn as they travel and share throughout the U.S.


Oh – and how does one explain time periods throughout the year in Côte d’Ivoire without using the seasons as a point of reference? We asked our French tutor and he explained the concept of trimesters. The first trimester: January through March. The second: April through June, and so on. So, we learned something new. And the season of learning continues.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Water of Life

On June 7th, Bobby and fellow missionary Larry Sellers travelled five hours one-way to visit the village of Sokoura, where a new permanent well had been drilled for this village. Bobby put together a video of the worship dedication service. To view the video, click below:
https://vimeo.com/131276609

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Driving Saga

A page from the driver's
manual warning one to watch for animals
and some blobs to represent said animals
The saga started seven weeks ago, at the beginning of April, when we went in to find out the best way to get Ivorian drivers’ licenses. We signed up, paid a fee and received the “rules of the road” book to study. The book was informative, although some of the signs in the book appeared to have blobs representing different things. Would we be able to recognize the blobs on the signs? We would try.


Graffiti on the door to the exam room reads "le terrible"
Four weeks later, at the end of April, we went to take the oral exam to get the licenses. We arrived at 9 a.m. & as we waited, the anxiety mounted...15 minutes...30 minutes...an hour. At 10:10, we were told to wait in front of the exam room, where a single piece of graffiti had been written on the door: "le terrible." Not encouraging. Other people keep jumping in line in front of us, then it's finally our turn. We sit. The man behind the desk asks me twice if I speak French, but he doesn’t ask Bobby. Bob gives his info & goes across the room to wait for the oral questions. I look across the desk to see that the employee has already signed his signature stating that Bobby has passed the test.

Another man currently taking his test (as Bobby waits) is getting questions wrong & his examiner is yelling "ZERO!" (Again, not encouraging.) The man behind the desk asks me an incomprehensible question (while yelling at others that there is too much noise in the room). I attempt an answer that does not satisfy him & he tells me to go across the room to identify road signs. But Bob is still waiting, so he orders Bob (who has yet to be asked a single question) out of the room, they ask me a few questions (including, "Which signs do you know?"), tell me I'm done & tell both me & Bobby to go home. Good news: We passed this portion! Bad news: At this point, I'm a bit concerned about the thoroughness of this process...
Bobby's view from the back of the truck during the exam

Fast forward two weeks later. Since I have never driven a manual transmission car, I decide to practice and Bobby goes in for the driving portion of the test. When he arrives, he is discreetly shown a stamped piece of paper, but doesn’t know what it means. He sits down and waits. And waits. And waits. Finally, an employee tells him that he will accompany Bobby to the site where the driving portion will take place. Apparently, the others taking the exam are already there. Bobby drives the employee, who questions how Bobby can be driving without a license (he answers that he has an international license), and they arrive at the testing site. Although Bobby is getting a license to drive a car or a moto, the testing vehicle is a truck…with about 20 people piled into the back. Bob piles in the back, too, and with the examiner in the passenger’s seat in the cab, each examinee jumps out of the bed of the truck to take turns driving…for half a block each! There’s jolting and lurching and finally, as each examinee finishes, he leaves to walk home and the number of men in the back of the truck gets less and less until no one is left in the back except Bobby. It’s his turn. He gets in the driver’s seat and drives the examiner back to the motor vehicles building. He has passed part two!

Time to get his license, right? Wrong. He retrieves his paper with the stamp on it, goes to the office to get the license and finds that the state where he was born in India, the state of Meghalaya, does not exist in the computer system. One’s place of birth must be stated on the license and since his state is not in the system, no license.

But the employee assures him that they will call their main office in Abidjan and have the state of Meghalaya added to their database in order for it to be printed on his license. They will call him next week when the system has been updated.

He receives a call on Monday afternoon: Meghalaya now exists in their system. He has all he needs for his license. He goes to the motor vehicles office and when he arrives, he is asked for a copy of his passport, which he had produced six weeks ago at the start of the saga but he does not have with him now. Another trip back home. He finds his passport and, voila! He finally gets his Ivorian driver’s license…which never expires.


We were thankful to finally have the saga come to a positive conclusion and now we ask you to join us in praying for safety on the road!

UPDATE: Two weeks after Bobby received his license, Jenny took her driving test. She may or may not have attempted to drive with the emergency break on, killed the car twice and heard "Doucement!" (French for "Gently!") from passengers in the backseat, but she passed and also received her license! 

Recounting Our Repatriation During a Pandemic

Taking a repatriation flight to the U.S. on short notice was not how we planned to finish our second term on the mission field! But our stor...