When I flew from Nanjing and landed at Beijing airport that early summer morning, I didn’t know I would be stuck in the city for the next five days with only one day’s changing clothes packed in my small backpack.
I hailed a taxi and asked the driver to take me straight to the South Africa embassy. I was going there to pick up our passports, mine and another two friends’. I tried to widen up my sleepy eyes, glancing at the buildings through the window as the car passing by, silently praying that they’d put the South Africa visas inside our passports already. The flight we’d booked from Shanghai to Cape Town would be in two days.
I waited for about half an hour by the gate until the embassy opened for work. I was the first one getting into the visa office. The staff who received me was a woman. After I gave my information, she passed me the passports and said to me with a touch of scoff: “ We’d received so many faxes from your friends.”
I squeezed out an embarrassing smiled, said “thank you”, then opened my passport.
There was no visa inside. My heart sank to my stomach.
I opened my friends’, neither.
I went back to her and asked in a shivering voice for reasons for declining our visa application. I don’t remember the reason precisely. It might have been lack of financial proof in the bank. But I remember she said, “You could submit an appeal letter to apply again with more papers.”
I was a 25-year-old volunteer worker for a mission organization at that time. My friends and I were going to South Africa for a conference and a short-term mission trip. We had eight people of different nationalities on the team, and three of us needed a visa.
After I exited the visa office, I called my leader and reported to him the situation. He quickly assured me that it was not over yet, and asked me to wait there and not give up. Meanwhile, he would contact the South African staff who gave us the invitation for the trip and gather more documents needed. At the end of the phone call, he said to me: “God is bigger than the situation. There is a purpose for you to go, and He will make a way.”
Many phone calls, text messages and faxes later, I walked into the same office and submitted a freshly printed appeal letter and more documents to the same lady. I said it was urgent because of the timing. She seemed to be not bothered and told me to wait for the result.
When I walked out of the embassy, it was almost dinner time. My empty stomach reminded me that I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. I felt exhausted, physically and emotionally, from the amount of work and stress.
I sat down on the cement stairs outside the embassy gate and took out my phone to cancel the returning flight to Nanjing that evening. Yes, I had planned to accomplish the mission within one day and catch the flight to be back with my teammates.
But the reality was so far from ideal.
I studied the side of the capital city mapped out in the dusk before my eyes for a minute, a city I’d much admired as a child, now looked strange and indifferent. I never thought my first encounter with her would be under such unsettling circumstance. However, I would get to know her better for at least another four days, until Friday.
Now, where shall I stay tonight? I didn’t know a soul here.
I checked in a hotel the first night after grabbing some street food. The next day, after having pulled all his strings, my leader found a place for me to stay. Her name is Cindy, a nice Taiwanese lady in her late 30s. She was one of my leader’s friends’ friend. She kindly offered her pink sofa bed in her studio apartment to sleep while I was waiting for the visa.
Those days felt like a long dream, so unreal. I asked myself hundreds of times, why am I here?
My life had been nothing but conventional since I graduated from university with a bachelor’s degree. I said no to opportunities which promised a decent income and predictable career path, and chose a kind of environment and work that required me to raise my own finances. I believed and served God as best as I knew, which led me to sleep under a stranger’s roof in a massive city where I had no friend, waiting for a visa to a country that wasn’t even on my bucket list, and may never appear on my passport.
God, what are you doing? Will we eventually go to South Africa? Will they give us the visas?
My faith was greatly challenged in those days. I had doubts even for my choice of joining the organization in the first place. Did I hear Him right? Am I walking the right path? What if we didn’t get the visas? Would God still be trustworthy?
My questions and logic brought me to the fundamentals— salvation and death, heaven and hell. If I couldn’t trust God on the matter of providing us with the visa for a mission trip, how can I trust Him for His promise of salvation, eternal life and heaven? Then, my whole belief in Christianity would be subverted.
I realized that trust is as simple as making a decision. Instead of walking down the path of void and unbelief, I decided to trust His goodness and power and keep moving forward with hope each day.
I would get up early in the morning, put on the hand-washed T-shirt and shorts from the previous day, head out for breakfast, then push through the swarms of people in the subway and catch a train to South Africa embassy.
I would walk around the property outside the walls, proclaim God’s authority over the place and claim for the release of our visas in His name, remembering the story of how God helped David defeat Goliath. Nothing is impossible with Him.
Then, I would go inside to inquire about the result (because no one picked up the phone when I called ). The answer had been “not yet” for three days.
Friday finally came. Today was the day, for better or for worse. We had already postponed the flight to Cape Town twice and left no time to wiggle before the conference started. Four of the team members had already flown to Cape Town, and the other three were waiting for me in Shanghai. I knew they were eagerly expecting my phone call.
I’d been waiting for over two hours among dozens of others who were also picking up their passports. It had passed the usual closing hour, but the staff instructed us to wait a little longer. I never understood the way they worked in that embassy.
Suddenly, a man showed up from upstairs with a stack of passports in his hands. I jumped up from my seat when he called my name and received the three passports he handed to me.
I took a deep breath and prayed my heart out under my breath, and opened one passport. There it was, a greenish sticker found on one page. We got the visa, the three of us!
I put the passports in my backpack, feeling like a warrior having harvested the best spoils. I was beyond happy.
That South Africa trip contained some of my best memories. And the five days in Beijing taught me a profound lesson about Christian faith.
The founder of the world’s largest mission organization Loren Cunningham once said: “When you obey the Lord, you go as far you can, and then lean forward, in other words, you do just a little bit more with the anticipation of what God is going to do.”
As I’m writing this story, I feel encouraged all over again. God is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. That which He did in the past, He can do it again.
My friend, you may have known this already that the journey of following the Lord isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Sometimes it can be very challenging and confusing. But just as Loren implied, we do our best, anticipating what God is going to do. And whatever He is going to do would be life-giving and beautiful, not because of who we are, but because who He is.