The immigration officer turned to me and said in Spanish, “I’m sorry, the child cannot leave the country.” I stood there dumbfounded trying to translate the words from Spanish to English in my head making sure that I understood what she was saying. She must have seen my confusion and she spoke again, “He needs a certified letter from his father, do you have it? He cannot leave without it.” My mind raced; heat began to creep up my cheeks. I looked over at my team, still trying to process the words. In a split second I ran through all the internet medical visa checklists and requirements that we completed in the last nine months…. what did I miss? There were six people in our traveling party; four were North Americans returning home – Art, Theresa, Chris, and I. On one side of the imaginary line I drew in my head, three of us had already left Honduras clearing immigration and three of us were stuck unable to cross. I stood standing with Mario, a child with a complex pediatric cardiac condition, and his mom, Marta, as part of the group still in the country. Trying to stay calm, I helplessly responded to the immigration officer “I didn’t know another letter was required.” We had already paid for a notarized certified letter from the father granting permission for the child to get a passport. We also paid for the father to make two separate trips to the US Embassy in the capital of Honduras to give his verbal consent for his child applying for the medical visa….and yet, they needed a third letter? I thought how the child would have never even gotten this far without the father already giving consent as required by their law. I quietly explained each of these previous consents, and that he was expected Monday in the US to be evaluated for his heart condition. I handed over my entire binder with letters and screenshots and photocopies…. but with no third letter. The immigration officer stood firm. When I pleaded for help, she said there was nothing that could be done. So, I just stood there for a moment staring at the wall and trying to think of what we could do.
I looked over to the others who had crossed the imaginary line and saw them bow their heads and begin to pray. My husband crossed back over and was beside me asking what was going on. I tried to explain but as words came out, everyone began to take action. It was fluid, it was organic, it was an unknown plan set in motion. Theresa was contacting the women of our home church to pray and pray NOW. Chris was getting the phone number to our local attorney who guides us through the laws of the country where our ministry is based. My husband was calling Hector, our local Sports Mentor, to ask if he could help. And I began talking to the second immigration officer who was called in to assist. Chris handed me the phone and it was our lawyer on the other line who has helped us with unrelated matters in the past. She began to explain that indeed a third letter from the father was needed. But here was the catch – you first needed a certificate that is purchased at a bank in one town on the island, then you needed a stamp which was purchased in another town on the island, then you needed to go to the notary’s house with the father to sign the form. We had two hours and a father who was working and not answering his phone. Two very short hours on Saturday afternoon and no one was sure if any of those places were even open. Our lawyer said, “It’s going to be almost ‘impossible’ to get it done.” Those were the words I needed to hear because immediately a smile flickered across my face as these words sprang from my soul “but with God all things are possible.” She suggested I call the wife of the notary to ask her husband to go into his office for the sake of the child and this would save us some time.
After consulting higher-ups, the second immigration officer said she would work with us if we could get the father to come to the airport. The first officer handed her my binder of documents and I could visibly see her wash her hands of us and this situation. She asked us to please step away from her workstation so that she could address the next set of passengers. Now the race was on to try and reach the father. Hector called, my husband called, the immigration officer called – no answer. Somehow the immigration officer determined that the father’s phone was off. Now what would we do? We called Hector again, who somehow made contact with the brother of the father, who drove to where the father worked and got him into a taxi to head to the airport. You would think that this would not take much time on a small island…. but it does, it takes so much time. Art and the child’s mom went out to the road to meet the father. Chris joined them, leaving Theresa, Mario and me in immigration. I stood there quietly using the time to get my emotions to line up with my faith and trying to keep my figurative professional-nurse-hat securely in place. Theresa had her sunglasses on hiding her tears as she continued to pray. She tried to talk to me but all I said was “I can’t right now,” I had to keep it together. Mario stared past the security line looking at the airplanes, and we all waited. Waited for the father to arrive in the taxi and waited for our Heavenly Father to make straight the path before us.
My phone dinged. It was a message from my husband outside. All it said was “he is here.” My eyes darted to the entrance of the immigration area scanning each face, waiting with anticipation to see my husband walking in with the father….waiting, waiting, waiting. And then, they were in the room, Mario jumped into his father’s arms and I think I took my first breath since we walked into immigration.
The immigration officer took the father aside and they talked privately. I could hear some of the words – letter…promise…notary. She asked him, “Do I have your word?” They exchanged phone numbers to stay in contact. She called us over, scanned the remaining three passports and said we could proceed. Art, Theresa, Chris and I put Mario and his mom in front of as if we were a human shield and hurried them through security. No thinking, no talking, just getting them through to the other side.
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“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.” 1 Timothy 1:12