[notice]Dianne Steven reflects back on her first missionary venture[/notice]
Detention centre? Deportation? How could this be possible?
I had left Brisbane, Australia, by air at 8.15am on January 10 on my way as a newly fledged missionary headed for Tanna, an island in the group known as Vanuatu, in the South Pacific Ocean. I had only been a Christian for three and a half years and was now following my call by God to ‘go’! After a flight of two and a half hours I found myself feeling strangely apprehensive as I proceeded in the queue towards immigration at Port Vila Airport, the capital of Vanuatu on the island of Efate.
Then everything happened so fast and I felt myself just being carried along in a state of shock, not really being able to understand too much of what was going on, due to everyone conversing in “Bislama” (Pigeon English). I was taken to an office full of officials, all talking in this foreign tongue; and I saw my suitcases come into the office and then go out again. The essence of it was that I had been given the wrong information while still in Australia. I was South African (a big problem at the time!) and I had not lodged a tourist visa application three months in advance of my arrival, as was the requirement! I had been told by the sending mission agency that I did not need a visa, even though I had told them that I was sure I did need one. No grace was given as the person with the power in the Department of Immigration was not contactable.
Told to trust God
So I was escorted back onto the same plane, but this time heading for Sydney. I had been given a brief opportunity to speak to the two pastors who had come to meet me. The one said “Trust God” as I was led away by two uniformed escorts who flanked me on either side during the whole process. From what I could gather, I was to be flown to Sydney and then placed in a detention centre, as I did not have a visa for re-entry into Australia – mine had expired. I would then face deportation back to South Africa as I didn’t have sufficient funds to stay in Australia. My world felt as if it was falling apart!
Unbeknown to me a young, native, Vanuatu airport official, Robert, was really concerned for me (grapevine news always travels fast). He had seen me walking crying, flanked by my two uniformed officers, to the plane which already had its engines running for take-off. He asked permission from his boss to have time off to approach immigration on my behalf to try to sort things out. This he did while I was in-flight back to Sydney!
Having taken my seat after a humiliating, tearful, walk down the aisle with all eyes on me, I asked myself “Where is God? How come He brings me all this way as a ’missionary’ and now just abandons me and allows me to be deported; what’s the point?”
Half an hour into the flight the voice of the pilot boomed over the intercom and interrupted my crying to summons me to the cockpit. So once again I had to walk the aisle with all eyes staring at me wondering who I was and what I had done wrong. The pilot told me to take a seat next to him in the cockpit (would have been a great experience under different circumstance).
The pilot said: “Lady, we have a problem!” I responded “yes, I know”. I had apparently delayed the flight to Sydney by 15 minutes, and the Prime Minister of Vanuatu (newly appointed a week earlier) was on the same flight! As you can guess he wanted to know why, and then who was this woman who had delayed the flight, and was walking down the aisle past his seat crying. The pilot then asked if I knew that the Sales and Marketing Director of Vanuatu Air was also on this flight! In short, I was told that the pilot was negotiating over the radio between Canberra and Port Vila, due to the intervention of Robert — who had started things rolling back in the island captital — and the Prime Minister on board the flight.
I went back to my seat, calmer, thinking: “So God is with me after all!”. God works in mysterious ways!
After a flight of a few hours we landed in Sydney. Everyone was asked to remain seated until the Prime Minister was escorted off the plane. Then everyone was asked to continue to remain seated. I was then summonsed forward and escorted off the plane and across the tarmac by my two security guards to the VIP Transit Lounge. Some documents had been faxed from Vanuatu and I was told to “sign!” I didn’t even read what I was signing; I just signed as instructed, being totally overwhelmed by all that was happening. I was then told that that was my visa!
Within half an hour I was escorted back onto the same plane and flown ‘business class’ back to Vanuatu, courtesy of the Sales and Marketing Director!
Ten o’clock that night I finally arrived in Port Vila, legally. Of course this time there were no pastors to meet me, as I was not expected back so soon. But, faithful Robert, still on duty, met me on the tarmac coming off the plane and he told me to take a seat while he went to get his vehicle. He gave me a lift right to the home of the one pastor who he knew had come to meet me earlier. We all just stood amazed at what God had done! Ten days later I was being flown by a Twin Otter small aircraft to the tropical jungle island of Tanna!
God was so true to the word that He had spoken to me years earlier: “Go and tell the world that I have not failed you in anything!”