In order to stay In our new country long term, I needed a job. My best bet was teaching English, so I went to one of the many private tutoring schools in the city and was hired. However, before I could begin work, I had to have a work visa and to get that, I had to go to an embassy outside of the country and have it stamped in my passport.
Our team leader, John, wanted to buy a car from Germany, so he and I decided to fly there, get a car for him, a visa for me and then drive back together.
However, in order to leave the country, I had to put my car into customs, because it was written into my passport. This proved to be a difficult, convoluted process, requiring the collection of signatures from a variety of offices in different places in the city.
Much later I realized that each step in the process was designed to thwart a particular form of evasion of the law. The locals are masters at finding ways around the intricate and omnipresent bureaucracy in their country, and each evasion that was uncovered produced a new step in the process.
At the same time, I found this work with customs was very educational, with opportunities for language learning, gaining cultural insights, and recognizing appointments with “angels.” Often some local in an office would take me under his wing and usher me through that part of the process. Each incident was another God sighting.
Barbara and the boys moved in with John’s wife while we were gone. Everything went well for us, and our trip back from Germany was faster than our first one, even though it was snowy and cold.
While I was driving through the night in Yugoslavia, a large elk bounded up the bank beside the road and stopped, his great head and antlers hanging over the road. It happened so fast that I didn’t have time to swerve, but just before I hit him, the elk turned his head away and we slipped by. One of the many God sightings on this trip.
After our return, I went through the process of getting my car out of customs. Finally at the last step, the woman behind the counter held up my passport, just out of my reach and said, “Ok, I did my part, now you have to give me a present!” Here was another new experience for me in this culture, my first encounter with bribes. I pulled out a 500 lira note (about $10).
“That’s not enough,” she said, drawing back my passport. I tried a 1000 lira note. She hesitated, then accepted it. I walked away relieved that it hadn’t cost me more. Some things would take more getting used to than others. It became my practice to not pay bribes if at all possible, but in this situation, there was no way around it, since the woman had my passport.
As time went on and we slogged on through language studyby day, teaching English at night and the difficulties of everyday life, I was personally amazed and encouraged to see how much joy God gave me in being where He wanted me. Leaving behind the physical work of the tire shop, the mental stimulation, the success of business, and the beauty of home had not had the deleterious effect I’d expected. Obedience brings joy and God was setting me free from my natural inclinations.
In making these adjustments, however, tensions did surface between us. One morning Barbara and I had a strong discussion. At one point I pounded my fist on the table and said, “Who’s the boss here anyway?!!!” Josh immediately replied, “The landlord!” We burst out laughing. His comment brought us to our senses and we were able to resolve the issue in harmony.