Trip to Syria, 1981

Trip to Syria, 1981

 
Our little ministry team of six began to meet together regularly. Dan and Nancy and Betty and Dolly were still in full time language study while Barbara and I were very involved in the work of the foundation with nationals Charles and Henry.
One big positive in this situation was that I was not teaching English anymore. When I was expelled, I’d lost my job, my work visa and my residence permit, so we now stayed on tourist visas.
 
I talked with the foundation’s lawyer about getting another job but he told me that it would be impossible, because the government would never give another work and residence permit to someone who had been expelled. However, he did not know the Sovereign Lord we served.
 
For the time being we just made an exit every three months to renew our visas. This was the boys’ favorite time of our stay in our country, as we often made our exits to Cyprus and had to “suffer for Jesus” on the beach for a few days!
 
At the end of December in 1981 we decided to make our next visa renewal exit to Syria. We got our visas from the Syrian embassy in and set off in our faithful little VW down toward the Mediterranean coast. There we turned towards the East and followed the coast towards the biblical city of Antioch and then into Syria.
 
It took us two days to reach the border, the last part being through a mountainous area where we were stopped several times by soldiers who searched the car, counted our money and asked lots of questions. We found out later that this was an area known for smuggling as well as for terrorist activities.
 
We reached the Syrian border in the evening and passed through the first formalities without any problem. However, on the Syrian side the policeman looked at our passports and shook his head. “There is a problem,” he said. “You have a tourist visit, but your wife has a transit visa.”
 
“What does that mean?” I asked.
 
“You can re-enter your country, but your wife must go to another country first.”
 
I took the passports and looked at the visas. “They both look the same to me,” I said.
 
The policeman pointed to the Arabic script on the page, “Look here, see this little mark on yours; it is not on your wife’s. That’s the difference.”
 
We could not go back to our country without getting entry and exit stamps to Syria, and if we went into Syria how would Barbara get back? I went out and told Barbara about it.
We took it to the Lord and began by praising Him for the situation, thanking Him for what He would do and asking for guidance. As we were praying, a man came and told me to come back inside.
 
The policeman asked for our passports again, “I will help you,” he said. “But you must go to the police in the city where you will stay and have this transit visa changed. Ok?”
 
“OK!” I said, and praised God for His quick answer.
We passed through the border and drove to the nearest city. Syria had earlier been under French control, so many people spoke French. I was looking forward to having Barbara make use of her considerable French studies to be our interpreter here.
 
However, when we came to a hotel, Barbara could not remember one word of French! Her newly learned other language had covered it over! So I had to make arrangements for a room using pantomime.
 
The next day we went to the police and were not surprised to find several other foreigners there, also having their transit visas changed to tourist visas. It seems it was part of an agreement between the embassy and the border in an attempt to get bribes. But the Lord had used that merciful policeman to protect us from having to give any.
 
That day we went to a small coastal town and rented a summer cabin right on the beach for the week. It had a kerosene water heater, which blew up the first time we used it, spraying black soot all over the bathroom!
 
We noticed that there were a lot of small spots on the wall and wondered what they were. In the evening we found out, for after we turned out the lights, the mosquito hordes came out of now where and we had a long battle to deal with them all, adding more spots to the wall.
One interesting thing about this trip was the great difference we saw between the culture of our country and Arab culture. Our nationals are curious, ask lots of questions and are quick to offer help and hospitality to strangers. The Arabs simply ignored us. It was like we were invisible!
 
We were approached by only one local, an Armenian nominal Christian. He took us under his wing and dragged us to a number of places. One was to a farm where the owner gave us a nice meal and in the evening we drank tea around a big, roaring fire. It was wild and romantic.
 
On the way home our headlights picked up a man standing beside the road. He had a beard and long hair, was dressed in shabby jeans and held a machine gun. He waved for us to stop. I stepped on the gas and kept going.
 
Our local “friend” said, “You should have stopped, that was a policeman.” Could have fooled me! I was not going to take a chance on a lonely dark road in the middle of nowhere with someone holding a big machine gun!
 
On our trip back into our country we went through a Syrian police check and all of the men had beards, long hair, and shabby blue jeans, both pants and jackets. Our guide had probably been right.
 
It was a real pleasure to come to the our country’s border and pull up to the customs man, to hear him say, “Welcome, we found your coming pleasant!” We were back to the land of hospitality and visibility!
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