Another anniversary day! An anniversary of ‘proving’ that God’s grace is always enough. An anniversary proving that God is in control, no matter what happens to us. An anniversary proving God’s faithfulness, provision, and blessing. An anniversary celebrating that what the enemy meant for harm, God meant for good. An anniversary of God changing the way I saw people, ministry, possessions, friendships… so a GOOD day that, six years ago, seemed soooo bad…!
Six years ago, I returned, from a month-long preaching trip (I think, to Sweden, Romania, and Australia) to what I then called ‘home’ (it was more a stopping off point for r&r to be honest, as I was travelling so much then) – in Virginia, USA. I landed in Philadelphia, en route to Norfolk, Virginia, to run the ‘gauntlet’ of the American Immigration service (!). As a long-time traveller, who has also talked to many other long-time travellers, I think it’d be fair to say that US Immigration is probably the most ‘unpleasant’ of all, worldwide, for arriving passengers!
I’d been upgraded (a real joy!) on the flight, was first into the immigration hall, so no waiting in line, and plenty of time to get to my connection: and that was where my journey ended! Five hours or so later, I was ‘marched’ to the door of the same plane I’d got off, by two armed guards, they had my passport (which was handed to the Captain, to be given back to me in London) – with absolutely NO reason given to me why I was being ‘returned’. I was sat in the ‘secondary screening tank’ along with two Chechens, two Iranians, a Romanian with no papers other than a scrap of paper with a phone number on it written in pencil…and a few others coming from (possible) ‘questionable’ countries… I’d been through US immigration goodness knows how many times before (at least 150, I’d reckon). I sat and watched as all of those guys were given permission to land…
I think that the official who ‘dealt’ with me that night had probably arrived at work for the late shift, having had a big row with his missus! To say he was in a bad mood would be to compliment him waaaay beyond the mood he was in! (Don’t worry, I’ve forgiven him!!). I won’t bore you with the whole 5+ hours, but by about halfway through, once the decision had been made to return me to the UK, he clearly realised that they’d made a mistake in pulling me in, but he was committed to his decision, because he’d been told to stick with it by his even more unpleasant boss. My immigration lawyer could work out from the multi-page questionnaire almost the exact point where he knew the immigration officer’s attitude changed, and where he knew that they’d done me damage.
What followed was a 4½-5 year nightmare of trying to get back to the States: I’d been offered a ‘job’ with a church, led by ‘friends’, as Foreign Missions Director, so was applying for permanent residency. As the whole event unravelled, it seems, from the final refusal by US Immigration, that there were massive question marks about who – and where – I was going to, concerning finance, current and historic, and it seems I was the unfortunate victim of the situation. The final ‘denial’ of my application had nothing about me in it: just two others who had raised the warning antennae of officials.
So, it’s 6 years and one month since I last set foot on US soil! Those six years cost a fortune, in legal/personal costs, and I ended up, for the third time, in effectively losing my home and possessions. Many years ago, I read a Max Lucado quote that went something like this: ‘Christians are little different to the unsaved, as they don’t possess their possessions, their possessions possess them’. It had a significant impact on me then – probably the early eighties: and it’s stood me in good stead since then as I’ve waved goodbye to most of what I ‘owned’ three times (at least) since then (two burglaries, a massive home ‘down-size’, a fire, and then the USA).
But, you know what? Through it all, God has been faithful. His grace has always been sufficient, even in the times when I thought of who had damaged me, in times when I wondered (I still OFTEN wonder!) where the next penny is coming from to pay the costs, the bills, the travelling expenses, and, out the other end of it, six years on, looking back and seeing a marked acceleration in what God has done IN me, WITH me, and THROUGH me…. Often, in times of ‘trial’, you can feel that the trial’s going to crush you: there were times, I’ll be honest, where I thought I was going to have a breakdown – physical and mental. The first 6 months or so after my enforced return, I ‘begged’ beds from friends, and, not wanting to be a ‘long-term’ burden on anyone, often just a night at a time. I slept in 127 different beds in 6-7 months, which does nothing for you in terms of rest, comfort etc., but God’s grace has always been sufficient, and his provision always there, if not when I thought I needed it, it was there when he KNEW I needed it…
I’ve changed so much since May 2009. I know it. And as far as I can tell, it’s been for good! The enemy lost again…. as he always does if we’re determined!