Bolivia: Part 1 – “I Can’t Let You on the Plane…”

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. -Ephesians 6:12

As I think back on my recent trip to Bolivia, I truly believe I was in a spiritual battle against one who tried to keep me from going. I don’t say this mystically or frivolously; there were too many obstacles for what should’ve been a simple task that I can only wonder, Why was he trying to stop me?

First, I had to get a visa in a very limited time, and as I was sure I had to get a yellow fever shot (At least, I think the US government said so), I couldn’t send in a visa application until I got it. The health department couldn’t fit me in until August 10 and I was told the visa process itself takes about a week. I was supposed to leave for Chile on August 31, so it should have been simple to send for a visa and get it back in time, I thought. It was a little frustrating spending forever on the phone trying to make sure I had everything right and that they really did need my original passport (they did), but I knew it’d be worth it in the end. The process is simple, actually, but it just wasn’t working out that way for me.

And it turned out the yellow fever shot wasn’t necessary, so while I’m glad I got it, I could’ve had the application sent long before.

And then, after having waited forever to get a yellow fever shot, I organized my packet…and sent it to the wrong address. My passport and all my personal information was floating around in the mail somewhere, and I was wondering if I’d get it back in time to even go to Chile, much less Bolivia. Thankfully, it did come back, but by that time it was too late to get a visa, so I would have to get one when I got into the country.

August 31 arrived, my day to go to Chile! I was so excited as I stepped up to the desk and handed the lady my passport and information. She took them and started typing things into the computer.

“It says here there’s a visa requirement.” Her words shocked me. What? A visa to go to Chile? Since when? All I had was a passport.

“Did they just recently change that?” I asked.

“Sometimes they do. Let me check.” So she called her supervisor, hung up, and said, “Yeah, I’m sorry. I can’t let you get on the plane without a visa.” This sick feeling of more than $2,000 being flushed down a drain came over me. I felt horrible for all those churches and individuals who had given me their hard-earned money so I could spend it on plane tickets I’d never use. Too late to get a refund for the flight I was supposed to be on and my now-worthless tickets to Bolivia already purchased, I walked outside and sat down, stunned, with about forty minutes left before the plane started boarding. I had gone through all this trouble only to be turned away at the last moment. I couldn’t believe it.

How could this happen? Two thousand dollars wasted! I’m not going to Chile anytime soon and probably never to Bolivia. And how long would it take to get a visa and reschedule a flight? Two weeks, three weeks, a month? I looked up the requirements and, sure enough, there it was: A visa required for anybody staying in Chile over 90 days. My return trip wasn’t scheduled for another six months, long beyond that time frame.

I suddenly remembered why I hadn’t gotten the visa. I knew I wouldn’t be in the country for more than 90 days, at least at first, and I could always step outside the border and re-enter if I had to. I had seen the visa requirement while preparing and put it completely out of my mind, and now it had come back to haunt me.

Ms. Julia Garst had come to see me off, but she had to leave early and as she stepped outside, she said, “Stephen, it’s all going to work out.” And she said it like she really believed it. And in my own heart, I knew it had to. There had to be a way.

I’m going back in there to tell them the reason I didn’t get a visa is because I’m traveling within South America, and if that doesn’t work I don’t know what I’ll do. I think my next option was to argue and refuse to leave until they let me on the plane. I was really hoping it wouldn’t come to that.

I stepped up to the counter and this time was able to speak with a man who looked like he was in charge. I told him the situation and he called somebody else, and before he hung up he said, “Okay, wonderful.” I was approved to go! It wasn’t long before I was on a plane to Atlanta, and from there to Chile.

My pastor had recently said that when you surrender to serve the Lord, Satan will attack you and try to throw you off course. I knew it was coming.

I thought I’d at least get out of the Tri-Cities first, though.

 

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