Welcome to my world. Sometimes I think about the stories I tell and think to myself, “Nobody is going to believe this.” It has happened to me so many times that one of my best friends, Lowell Haworth, one of my roommates from my Freed-Hardeman days, has told me on multiple occasions that I should write a book. Well, I haven’t written a book yet, but I am writing blogs. And this is just another day in my world.
I have been looking forward to this summer for weeks. As busy as it is going to be, I have been looking forward to the last day of school so I could launch off on my trips. First up was the trip to Recife, Brazil, to work with Danny Bratcher and Randy Short. I went there last year and loved it and have been counting down the days to go back. Unlike all of the rookies going this year for the first time, I had already purchased my visa last summer. According to the Brazilian consulate’s website, the visa was good for 5 years. So, I didn’t give my visa a second thought.
Sunday we arrived at the Miami airport around 6:00 am for check-in. Bags were checked in, 2 different COPA Airlines employees at the check-in stations saw my visa, passed though security where another 2 professionals looked at my passport and visa, and boarded our plane for Brazil. We had a connection in Panama City, Panama, where another COPA employee looked at my passport and visa, before letting me back on the plane. 6 ½ hours later we landed in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We zipped through the customs line where I encountered the shock of my life.
The Brazilian customs agent informed me that my visa was not valid. The stamps in my passport were expired and I could not enter the country. In my wildest dreams I never experienced anything like this. How could a visa, good for 5 years according to the Brazilian consulate’s website, be expired in less than 1 year? I met with not 1, nor, 2, but nearly half dozen customs agents to discuss the problem. Every one of them admitted that they understood the problem, sympathized with me, but told me that they had strict policies put in place by the government that could not be altered. As my traveling buddies went through the door to get their luggage I was taken to a holding room on the third floor of the airport to await the first plane to take me back to America. I was being deported.
Now, this is a humbling experience. To be in a situation where you literally have no control over what is going on. I was mad, upset, puzzled, and scared. When you are the team leader of a mission trip and you are being sent home, all kinds of things go though your mind. But I did get to talk to Danny and Randy on the phone and Randy offered me some information that really put things in perspective. He had called a friend who worked in the police force of Brazil to see if there were any strings that could be pulled. He told me he had both bad news and good news. The bad news was that nothing could be done to keep me in the country; the good news was that God was in control.
So, at 3:00 in the morning, after 6 hours of sitting in a holding room (Sao Paulo is in southern Brazil. It is winter down there and it was actually very cold. Not a good thing for a guy dressed in a t-shirt and shorts) I was taken to the plane by security and placed in my seat. After a LONG 12 hour flight to Brazil I was about to repeat the flight back to the states. In the course of 32 hours I flew 24 hours in a plane. Jet lag has a brand new meaning to me now.
I have to admit that the people escorting me from gate to plane at all of the stops were quite friendly. They all new my story and in their own ways told me that they were sorry. I got great seats on the plane too. Even though the planes were completely full, they were able to give me window seats right up front. I can’t do that when I book tickets! I even had the exact same meals going back too.
Upon arrival in the US, a customs agent met me at the airplane door. He addressed me by name as if we were close friends. He informed me that I was now back in the United States and that all was well. I asked him if he knew what happened and he informed me that he did. I asked him if he knew why this all happened and he simply said, “You are a victim of politics.”
It seems that the president of Brazil has a beef with America over our visa policies with foreigners coming into our country. We charge a costly price for a visa, limit the number of days a foreigner can stay, and deport those who do not have proper paperwork. So, the Brazilian president has decided to repay the favors. He has implemented rules that state Brazil will charge Americans the same amount to enter Brazil that America charges Brazilians to enter the US. If anything is out of order with paperwork, they are sent back just like the US would do. Of course, my thoughts are obvious: unless Brazil is trying to keep people from coming into their country to blow up buildings and kill innocent civilians or to vanish into the country and violate their travel visa to remain in the country to work illegally, he needs to take a chill pill.
The only thing he accomplished with me is the fact that he kept a Christian from entering his country with the purpose to help those in need. His political agenda will go unnoticed in his circle of influence since I am just an ordinary American who was sent back to the states to prove his point. But his actions will be seen and heard by many in the Christian community. President Luiz da Silva, you made your point. Hopefully others will learn from my mistake. Make sure you check your visa (and know what to check for!); don’t assume that the information on the Brazilian consulate’s website is accurate (don’t assume that your visa is good for 5 years); and don’t trust that numerous COPA Airline employees know what they are doing when they check your passport. You might end up in Brazil with a 1-way ticket waiting for you when you get there.
Good luck to the Recife team that is working there now. I wish I could be there with you to help build that playground for the children’s home. I wish I could be there for the VBS and the hospital visitations. But God is in control and I have a feeling that everything will turn out just fine. After all, God has been doing this kind of stuff for a long time. My prayers are with you!
So, there it is. The record set straight. When you hear about me being kicked out of Brazil, at least now you will know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would put it. I guess I will just put this on my long list of “accomplishments.” Graduated from high school; Graduated from college; Outstanding Young Men of America; Who’s Who of America’s High School Teachers; TSSAA District 8 Soccer Coach of the Year; Kicked out of Brazil… yeah, fits right in… welcome to my world.
Your humbled servant,