Our adjustment to living in a foreign capital city has been the biggest life transition I've ever consciously faced.
It's true. The "before/after" contrast has been more radical for me than moving from "single" to "married" or even from "married" to "new parent"! Getting married was exciting and I remember having pre-wedding jitters, but it was a natural, normal progression. And I entered motherhood, another normal progression in life, with a healthy amount of confidence to see me through the late night crying jags.
But a radical life style change from quiet, conservative, small town USA to large, noisy, foreign "ciudad" has been a test of how flexible I really am. The challenges here in Uruguay are unceasing, daily, and drive me to prayer like never before.
"Do you like living here?" my friends ask me. That's a loaded question. God uses trials like a refining fire, to test and transform us, to grow us. I'm very thankful for that. But do we have to "like" the fire?
Two years ago, in the classroom at MTI, the professor told us something about cultural transition that I didn't believe would ever happen to me. He said, "You will think you're doing just fine, adapting, learning the language, making adjustments. You'll like living there. And then something will happen that seems so contrary to everything you know and believe is "normal" and "right," that you'll just snap."
This charismatic, friendly, sensitive, Godly missionary then related a personal story of how he had been stuck in a ridiculous, completely unnecessary traffic jam at an intersection in an African city. He actually got out of his car and unabashedly yelled at one of the police officers "directing" traffic. "Huh!" I thought, "I would never do anything like that," I just wouldn't.
In language school in Costa Rica we had a classmate who regularly constructed Spanish sentences about poisoning the sick dogs who, penned up outside the vet's office across the street from our apartment complex, barked, yapped, and whined, sometimes squealing in pain like pigs, all night, and all day long. We had been dealing with the stress, too, and I understood that he had intentionally put the words "dog" and "blender" in the same sentence, even thought the teacher gently tried to correct him.
Another classmate reacted to the incessant cultural stress he was experiencing by ripping out a small tree growing in front of the apartments. I was too good at cultural transition, I thought, to ever do anything that crazy.
It just took a little longer for me. Because on Tuesday, after living in Uruguay for a year, I got desperate. We were trying to follow all the rules and procedures, we even hired someone who knows the immigration system to make sure we submitted our paperwork properly, but we were denied permission to renew our Uruguayan Cedulas that expire tomorrow.
The process I tried to follow correctly:
First, pay at a bank for the appointment to get new cedulas. People have to pay in advance for the new cedulas - that way they are motivated to show up for the appointment for photos and fingerprints! We were also warned by everyone not to let the cedulas expire, because getting new ones would be nearly impossible. I made the appointment for Wednesday morning.
Second, get documents from Migrations to show that your paperwork is being processed. That should be easy, I thought, because they've been processing the paperwork since June.
So we went to Migrations. After waiting three hours in line for the appointment, the woman behind the desk told us we could not renew our cedulas because our paperwork was not submitted correctly. I asked her what we were missing. She told us we needed "Constancias de domicilio" (an item on the list that our lawyer had specifically told us we didn't need). She said to bring the Constancias that afternoon and take another number.
So, we asked two of our neighbors to go with us to the police station (when? Right now, please!), and be our two witnesses that we did indeed live next to them. They were so kind to go with us even though they were in the middle of a home improvement project with workers going in and out of their house. They reminded us that we should bring a water bill with Mark's name on it to help prove where we live.
After running to the police station with our nice neighbors, we called the high school and elementary school and arranged for Sabrina to pick up the younger kids and bring them home on the bus.
Then we went back to Migrations and picked another number and waited. I prayed that God would work everything out smoothly, and not choose that moment to teach me humility. That morning I had read, "Del mismo modo, ustedes hombres más jóvenes tienen que aceptar la autoridad de los ancianos. Y todos sírvanse unos a otros con humilidad, porque Dios se opone a los orgullosos pero muestra su favor a los humildes." I Pedro 5:5
I had been convicted that here in Uruguay, I probably appear as if my ways are superior instead of humbly serving others and graciously accepting new ways of doing things. I know that at times I have a "my American way is better, but I'll do it your way if I must" kind of attitude.
Reflecting on humility made me think about Abraham. He was rich and powerful, and yet he risked his own life and the life of his faithful servants to go and rescue Lot who had been kidnapped and robbed by a thieving group of kings. "That was a humble and kind thing to do," I thought. He didn't have to do it, but graciously he did.
After an hour of waiting, our number "75" showed up on the screen, and Mark and I went up to the desk with the Constancias, but she told us it was the wrong "75". She explained: All the numbers for her department had been used up. I had mistakenly pulled the number for another line in another department.
In that moment we learned that they only give out 100 numbers a day, and there weren't any left. They had been used up that morning. I said, "But, you told me to come back with the papers this afternoon....."
That's when I got upset. I wasn't gracious or humble at that moment. I talked to a lady at the front desk. She talked with the people in the department to ask what was going on. Nothing changed. Then the nice front desk lady told me I could knock on a door and see if anyone in there would help me.
So, boldly and desperately, I knocked. But the lady behind the door said, "No, you have to talk to the same person you talked with this morning." I said, "But we have an appointment to renew our cedulas tomorrow morning. I need the paperwork." "No." "Sorry." "No more numbers."
"I guess God chose today to teach me more about humility" I quietly fumed. My desperation was internal, and the stress tightened my back and shoulders and stole my appetite. I made the easiest thing possible for dinner, pizza bread, and went to bed without eating.
I don't remember where I read it, but a quote I had read in Spanish that week came to my mind, "El éxito es aprender a ir de fracaso en fracaso sin desesperarse." Winston Churchill. (Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm).
Early the next morning I waited outside, in the wind, in line for over an hour, to pick another number when the doors opened. I got there early, but the line had started to form even earlier, and I knew we weren't going to get a low number. Many of the people waiting are just holding a spot to get a number for someone else, or they're immigration lawyers who get paid to wait for their clients. Mark met me outside after dropping off the kids and finding parking for the car. We got "23" and "24."
The appointment to make the new cedulas (that we had paid in advance for) was at 10:10, so we hoped that we could turn in the Constancias, get the documents to say that they were processing everything, and then renew our cedulas. But, the numbers passed slowly and it was 10:20 when we finally spoke to someone. After taking the Constancias, the woman told us that since we are here for "religious purposes" we are only eligible for temporary residency, and we would have to wait another month while they worked on the paperwork.
She refused to give us any documents to show that our paperwork was in process so that we could renew our cedulas. We would be left without any Uruguayan ID or visas or permits. We can stay here legally while they're working on it, but we will have to resort to using our passport numbers again. This really shocked me. And disappointed me.
I never thought it would happen to me, but I snapped internally. In that moment, I felt my love for Uruguay turn into a momentary but livid disgust. I disliked everything Spanish. The crowd of people in the room and all the cubicles went to gray, and tunnel vision forced me to grab Mark's hand.
Thankfully, God had been preparing me for the moment, and my trust in His providence kept me from trying to regain control of the situation in a disrespectful way. I just choked back the tears as we walked toward the door. Our lawyer, who I had emailed a week ago, said she would try to find out what happened, but there's little she can do to change the situation.
Being a foreign missionary is knowing how to go from one failure to another, trusting that God is in control of every situation, and will bless her faithfulness and humility in His time and in His way.
Today, I will head back downtown to handle more paperwork for Sabrina's education. I have to finish it before the cedulas expire. Please, God, no more lessons on humility. I need some time for the last lesson to sink in.
UPDATE: I waited in line for an hour, but once I got to the desk, the woman had Sabrina's paperwork stamped and ready to go! Regarding Visas, we are only eligible for 2 year residency with one possible renewal for another 2 years. After that we will have to reapply for a longer stay and I may need to show income. We are praying for God's direction, and trust that He will provide solutions.