I can spend time with my friends, go to my favorite places, reflect on our time here with people who have known us here. All these things are giant blessings! How do I know this?
Three years ago, when I was leaving another country, I didn't have the same opportunity. I found one of my past prayer letters that outlined the events that were consuming the time and energy of my team this time 3 years ago, when I left another country. ***
Beginning Friday, April 7th (2006), we experienced a lot of pressure from the local authorities which eventually led to us having to leave. It began with problems with our registration as a result of a law that was recently passed to intentionally target foreigners. Our passports were taken from us for a few days, during which we spent a lot of time at a local government building. We ended up paying a lot of money in fines and thought that our problems were over.
However, the day we received our passports back (Thursday, April 13th), Debbie’s English class and Jordan’s English club were visited by the police. Their students were questioned and detained, and ministry materials were confiscated from the guys’ house, where Jordan’s club was taking place. During that time, it became apparent that the city authorities wanted us out. By the end of that night , our country director made a deal with the police, over the phone, that our team would leave the city instead of going to jail. We were told we had a week to leave.
On Friday, we made a decision to stay in our city until Tuesday so that we could carry out our Easter outreach plans and have enough time to say goodbye to friends and pack (though a few days hardly seemed enough). We planned to show the Passion and the Jesus movies in a local movie theatre on Saturday and Easter Sunday to our friends who were interested. However, on Saturday (April 15th), police again showed up at the guys’ house in the morning with arrest warrants. Our country director was at their house (Praise God!) and was able to keep the police outside until all of the paperwork and everything was done legally. By the end of the day, the police left (we think because the guys' house owner paid a bribe for them to leave), and the guys were able to leave town immediately.
While the guys were stuck in their house for seven hours, Debbie and I packed (in the midst of destroying ministry materials) and hurriedly left town on our own. We all met up in the capital city late that night where we spent a few days deciding what was our best next step and waiting to see if criminal charges would be pressed against us. At the end of that time, we decided that it was best for our company and for the potential of some of us to return in the future, if we left the country as soon as possible.
So, we flew out on Thursday, April 20th, to Paris to be debriefed by the regional part of our company and to explore other places for us to serve. Unfortunately, no other locations worked out for us, so we plan to return to America Thursday, April 27th.
It's so bittersweet to reflect back on that time. There are so many friends who I wish I could have spent time with and said goodbye to. There are many places I would have liked to visit one last time. Many things I would have packed in my suitcase had I known we were headed back to the States and not to another secure country. Mostly would have just liked to have time to spend with the people who I had grown to love.
God is so good, and the experience that we are having here is a reminder of that for me. He's giving me another opportunity to 'leave well'... something that I'm realizing is so important.