Our family is adopting two brothers from S Africa. We’ve been sharing brief updates in a small section of our church bulletin from time to time. Today, we have an important update to share that warrants a full blog post.
Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Originally, he was talking about the French Revolution. But he might has well have been talking about last Wednesday for me and my family emotionally.
Wednesday started out on a high note. And not just any high note, probably one of the highest notes so far in our adoption process. Recently, we’ve been caught up in a paperwork snafu with US Immigration. In short, we were waiting on some papers to be processed and returned. We’ve called, emailed, and bugged Officer York, our government liaison. We’ve prayed. Many of you have too. And, out of the blue, on Monday, they finally came! We were elated! Thrilled! Excited!
Next, that paperwork had to go to Richmond and, from Richmond to Michigan. (And from Michigan to South Africa.) But that’s it. That’s all that stood in our way to travel. Normally, mailing it, with the processing and turnaround time – even just to Richmond – is an agonizingly weeklong or more ordeal. However, in the providence of God, I had a meeting that had been rescheduled, nearly two months ago, for – guess when? Tuesday. At 11:00am. In Richmond. Wow!
I drove, early that morning, to the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office in downtown Richmond. I had planned to drop of the paperwork and come back later to get it. Instead, the black-haired secretary quickly thumbed through the papers and said, “Have a seat.” Five minutes later she called my name and handed me the finished papers. I said, “That’s it? I’m done?” She smiled, “You’re done.” Wow!
I rushed out of the big, stone government building to find the first Fedex in sight. Moments later our paperwork was on its way to Michigan, scheduled to arrive by 10:30AM on Wednesday.
We instantly emailed our agency the good news. They sent back word that they would contact South Africa immediately and hoped to hear back about a court date soon. Our agency apparently fostered the same optimism that we had. They had even shared with us the information about another family who was at the same stage we are in. We were told, “You will likely be in-country with them and even going to court together. So, go ahead and get to know them now.” Rebecca emailed them.
At this point, the good news kept coming. The family told us that they already had a court date and were leaving in less than 2 weeks. Given that our agency said, “you’ll likely be in-country at the same time,” we started plotting out a rapidly approaching timeline for our departure. It seemed like everything was about to finally happen. Then, we got a message.
Grant it, as I’ll explain, it wasn’t the worst possible message that an adopting family can receive– but it was still emotionally gut-wrenching. Our agency had called South Africa to tell them the good news. South Africa responded with bad news.
Our agency contact, named Catherine, messaged us around lunchtime. I expected the subject line to read: “Official Court Date!” or “Pack Your Bags!” or something like that. Instead, the message read, “we need to talk.” I texted Rebecca. I added my own commentary, noting, “I have a bad feeling about this.” When the boss or boyfriend says, “We need to talk,” you’re more than likely not getting a promotion or roses. You’re most likely getting the boot. This sunny day turned overcast, fast.
At 4:00pm the conference call came. At first, Catherine made the kind of chit-chat that is customary. But finally, she exhaled and in her British accent she said, “So, I need to explain something complicated to you.” After a bit, she finally came out with it. “I was informed that there’s been a clerical error somewhere in the South African government.” She told us that the oldest boy, “S,” does not have a correct birth certificate. We thought, “What? We have a copy of his certificate.” Catherine explained, “In South Africa, everyone has two birth certificates: an abridged and an unabridged version. You have the abridged. It’s the unabridged with the issues.”
Every citizen has a birthdate and an ID number (like our Social Security number). Those appear on the certificate. It’s not that “S” doesn’t have an ID number or a birthdate; it’s that he has too many ID numbers and birthdates. And the government can’t figure out where the original has gone. And, frankly, because of politics and whatever other reasons – they don’t feel any rush, at this point, to figure it out (at least, not the kind of urgency that we would want). They’ve been working on it since January and have not moved any closer to a solution.
We asked the only question on our mind: what’s the bottom line? “So…how long of a delay are we talking?” And that’s when I heard the dreaded word: indefinite. I can’t remember if Catherine actually said that word or if that’s just how my brain was translating her remarks. Indefinite. I hate that word now. When we pressed for more of an answer, her comparison was, “Well, getting a brand new passport in South Africa can take more than 12 months. This issue – which we have never encountered – is much more complicated than a passport.” That was her one and only example.
To some, that may not seem like much. “Oh well, just a little more time.” Well, remember, we announced our adoption in December but we’ve already been in the process for 2 years. Furthermore, with enough time, our US paperwork will also begin to expire. And we would have to go through much of this same process all over again, not to mention the astronomical expense.
Maybe it’s not a fair analogy, but I can imagine an inmate who, having been behind bars for two years is told, “Your release date will be next Friday.” Then, within hours he’s told, “Actually, you’re not getting out Friday. In fact, we’ll eventually let you know when you’re getting out. But, we don’t have a date in mind. Maybe next month. Maybe next year. And, oh yeah…you’re going to have to pay us more money to stay here too.” Right now, that’s what this sort of feels like. Very indefinite indeed.
In a sincere and sudden attempt at bargaining, we offered to move to South Africa and petition the courts ourselves. The funny thing is, we can still legally adopt them. We just couldn’t leave the country. Catherine said, “That may be an option later – but, for now, we just have to let them try and handle it. I’ll give you a call back in 3-4 weeks.” And that was it. She hung up. Rebecca and I sat there in stunned silence. We thought we were leaving in 2 weeks. Instead, we’re leaving in…well, indefinite weeks. Maybe next month. Maybe next year. Only God knows.
At some point in the conversation, Catherine’s comment was, “we need a miracle” if we hope to get this resolved anytime soon. And that’s where all of our hope lies right now: a miracle. That’s what we need you to pray for, a miracle. That’s what we need God to do, a miracle. If Exodus has taught us anything it’s that God can provide miracles for His people. And we need Him to do it yet again.
God delivered our US paperwork unexpectedly. He is sovereign over the S. African government too. Our timetable may be indefinite, but His power is definite. Will you please join us in prayer? Will you pray for God to work a miracle?
He can do it. Let’s pray that He will.