Ignorant Immigrants

No, in spite of the sound of my title I have not suddenly become a rabid racist or an anti-immigration hawk. (In fact, I will throw in my two cents for allowing immigrants easier access to America, particularly if it means that people from countries where the gospel is not readily available will be surrounded by people who will share the good news!) No, this post isn’t about immigrants coming to America. What I’m talking about is me and my family. We are the ignorant immigrants.

“Ignorant” simply means lacking basic knowledge. We learned that even though we have traveled quite a bit in the past two years we still are very ignorant – lacking in basic knowledge – of all that we need to know about being missionaries.

Have you ever had one of those days you wouldn’t wish on anyone? A day where you wish you had an opportunity for a mulligan – a do over? Well, January 17th lives as one of those days and will do so for the Riley family forever.

Imagine spending several weeks preparing to leave the country for 8 months. Imagine doing so while preparing your house for sale. Throw in three kids, all under the age of 10, and the cost of buying five round trip tickets across the Atlantic Ocean. Let’s add on four sad grandparents, many sad goodbyes, leaving behind a dog you’ve had for 12 years, packing 20 bags, having friends and supporters lend you a hand, bring you meals, and telling pretty much your entire world “good bye.”

Now, think about how you’d feel after taking your 20 bags, a car seat and a stroller to the airport, checking in, flying to Detroit, flying all night to Paris, changing airlines, flying to Birmingham, and finally arriving in England after about 15 hours of airport and air travel time. You are actually feeling very well because all of the flights have gone smoothly, the kids have slept and are fairly well behaved, and there have been no delays. You walk up to the customs desk to gain entry into your new country, feeling ever so glad that all has gone so well. You pull out your five passports (you’ve shown them a dozen times it seems), the letters you brought that you believe grant you access to the country, and you are looking forward to finding out if all of your bags made the trip with you.

Then, time stands still when the lady says: “This just isn’t my day. I’ve had all of these today.” And the customs guy next to her chimes in, “You’ve got the hot seat today.” “Yes,” she says, “this must be the hot seat. Do you have your visas?”

“Our what? Isn’t that what those letters get us?”

“No, you were supposed to get your visas before you came to England. You can’t get those now that you are here. You might as well take a seat over there. You’ll be here a while. I’ve got to go talk to my supervisor.”

To make a very long story about our very long day short, we were detained, fingerprinted, had our passports confiscated, and ultimately waited for five hours in the airport. Don’t forget we still have our three kids and have now been up for over 24 hours. We did get to play a few great hands of Uno Attack! and we could go to a bathroom and drink from a water fountain.

I would have included a picture of us in the airport for this post, but while Tara was taking the picture a guard came over and stopped her because one cannot take a picture in customs. We thankfully didn’t have to give him the camera; instead, the guard went through all the pictures on the camera and deleted the ones we took in customs. There happened to be a small sign on the opposite side of the room that said “no cameras,” but we hadn’t seen it and were ignorant once again.

To their credit, British customs were great. They understood we made a mistake and treated us respectfully. They also had mercy on us, given our three kids, and didn’t make us get on the next flight out of the country. They granted us three days to recuperate and we will be returning to America on Sunday.

In moments like these there are few things you can do. We are humbled and can only pray, laugh, and ask God what He has for us in this difficult circumstance. God is amazing and He can redeem even our most stupid mistakes and turn our ignorance into wisdom. But I must say it is never easy when you are in the midst of it. We honestly thought we had done all we needed to do to come into England. It was just last year we came and we did the same things we did last time. The problem was our understanding of what we did last time and how this time was different.

As I said, sometimes one can only laugh… well, I can’t help but chuckle that I have even done immigration law (in America) and yet I couldn’t emigrate successfully out of our country.

So, please pray for us. We now must return to America and apply for British visas. Pray it goes quickly and easily. We also must incur the expense of five more flights, which will impact our budget greatly upon return (we were planning on trying to acquire a car). This seems like an awfully expensive education, and we still are unsure what all we are meant to learn through this (except now we will be better at advising others about overseas trips!). We had totally prepared ourselves to be here and to have left behind all we knew. We feel like poor stewards of the funds people have so graciously donated to us and are greatly concerned about our increased costs.

And, well, I just feel pretty dumb. Besides that, I don’t know what else to say.

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