I am currently in Mombasa enjoying a time of rest and reflection away from my ministry in Nairobi. Being here has reminded of a way that God provided about 1 ½ years go. Some of you know the story, but many do not. It is a truly astounding tale of God’s ability and willingness to provide for me – and I have felt convicted recently that I need to share it broadly.
When I first moved to Nairobi in October of 2014 I came on a visitor’s visa. I knew God was telling me to come to Kenya, but when I moved here He had not yet provided a long-term solution to staying in the country. This took faith that God would provide. I am a mega-J on the Meyer’s Briggs. In other words, I like things to be superplanned out. As I waited on God, He used the work permit situation to stretch my faith far beyond the limits of my comfort zone. Only a couple weeks after moving to Nairobi the children/youth that God had given me moved into my new home. I had kids! The thought of having to leave them produced fear – and led me to pray…a lot.
The visitor’s visa expired after three months, but I was able to renew it for another three months. However, I was told by an immigration official that the maximum amount of time I could stay in Kenya as a visitor was six months. The six-month mark was set to expire on April 30, 2015. God provided a local church pastor who was willing to sponsor my work permit as a missionary. (In hindsight, this was remarkable in and of itself! But it is a story for another day). However, the Department of Immigration was taking a very long time to process the permit. Every couple of weeks I would go to the Department of Immigration to ask if my permit had been approved. With each visit I would be told, “not yet” – and that I should come back later. If memory serves correctly, this went on for months. As the six-month mark loomed I grew anxious that I would need to leave the country and try to come back in as a visitor to start the process all over again. A few days before I would need to buy a rush ticket out of the country I went back to the Department of Immigration. They still had not processed the papers – but I was referred to the “boss” upstairs. He was able to help, and at the 11thhour they approved my permit. On April 27, 2015 – three days before I would have to fly out of Kenya or drive across the border - God gave me the papers I needed to be able to stay in the country.
Three years passed. God blessed my ministry. He multiplied my sons many times over. And then it came time to try to get a work-permit renewal.
However, at that time – perhaps due to political tensions surrounding the recent election – other immigrants were facing challenges in getting their work permits renewed. A dear friend of mine (also a missionary) had waited for eight months (she left Kenya and went to America for a substantial portion of the waiting period). Another American friend was denied a renewed permit altogether.
And again – I felt anxious. The thought of having to leave my kids bothered me greatly. I was on my face before God, asking Him to provide. This became a matter of regular prayer – and I asked others to join me in the request.
The pastor who sponsored my work permit told me I should submit the renewal papers in late January - three months from the date the first permit was set to expire. I got all of the required documents in order well before the three-month deadline. Then I waited. I decided to go on vacation to Mombasa for a portion of January, 2018 and to submit the papers upon return to Nairobi.
It was in Mombasa – while I was on vacation – that God provided in a way that still blows my mind. I continued to pray while at the beach. I’m sorry to say, but I fretted. I wish I could report that I had absolute faith and trust. But I confess that I did not. However, anxiety prompted me to pray all the more. And God heard my prayers!
One day towards evening I went out for a walk on the beach. As I was leaving the hotel property and descending to the strip of sand I saw a couple of women (one probably in her thirties and the other perhaps in her fifties or sixties) who were also out for an early evening walk. I decided to let them pass. I wanted to walk alone. But then the younger one asked me if I wanted to join them.
As an aside – many prostitutes walk the beach toward evening. I have gotten into the habit of giving a hard “no” if anyone approaches me and tries to walk with me. So – when this younger woman asked me if I wanted to join them on their stroll I said that I did not.
But, then I looked at them a bit more closely. It became immediately obvious that they were not women of the night. They were dressed very conservatively. I thought, “Hmmm – maybe these are people who are even staying at the same hotel as me and they are trying to be kind.” I felt bad for being rude – and then after my sharp “no” decided that I would in fact walk with them. They graciously received my company.
As we walked on the beach I came to learn that they were both of Eritrean descent. They both also seemed to have a heart for the poor/children. I decided to tell them my story. I opened up about the fact that I was anxious regarding getting my work permit renewed.
It is then that the most amazing thing happened. The older woman, who had just met me, told me that she had a friend in the Department of Immigration. Apparently there was a time that she had also struggled with being an immigrant, and she had met someone in the government who showed her great kindness. She thought that maybe this friend could help me too. She said that she would connect us.
Now – this is remarkable. I was a stranger on the beach to this older immigrant woman. And yet she felt drawn to help me.
This woman did in fact put me in touch with her friend at the Department of Immigration. I called the government official and told her that I planned to go to see her just as soon as I got back from Mombasa. When I returned to Nairobi and went by the government office to submit my papers she was expecting me. I bypassed the long line of people. When I gave her my documents I asked her how long she thought it would take for them to be approved. I think she said, “Maybe a month.”
I reasoned that a month would be awfully fast. After all I had waited multiple months the first time. I was glad at the idea that perhaps this time it wouldn’t take as long. But it was almost too good to hope for.
In fact, it did not take a month. It took a week. One week from the time I submitted my renewal application everything was approved. And one month from the time of my application everything was stamped and in my passport. I thanked the government official who had helped me, and she also thanked me for the kindness that I was showing to “her people.”
My fellow immigrant friends couldn’t believe it. When I told them I had applied and received my approval within a week they were astonished. One told me later that she thought to herself, “Are you sure?!”
But it was true. God had provided for me in an astounding way. And there was no bribe. There was no corruption. It was simply a gift from His good hand, mediated through one stranger on the beach who decided to show me kindness and through another stranger in the government who also decided she wanted to help.
While I have shared this story with some in the past, being in Mombasa again reminded me of God’s remarkable provision and I felt convicted that I should now share the story more broadly. I hope that this story will encourage some of you who are waiting on God. But, even more, I share this as an act of gratitude.
God came through for me in a way that still amazes me. I am so thankful – still. His kindness to me and willingness to help me blow me away. And the most I can do is tell of His wonderful works. I give Him glory for His faithfulness towards me.