One and a half weeks ago I wrote about the idea of memorial stones—tangible reminders of God’s faithfulness. Last time I posted the first part of a story from 1992. Today I’d like to share the second and third of three related events that happened quite a while ago, but which still feed my faith today. Be sure to especially notice God’s sense of timing.
If you remember, it was October, 1992. Pete had been invited to a mission conference to be held in San Jose, Costa Rica, that included representatives from every Latin American nation….
Having finally made it to Costa Rica, we were proceeding smoothly through customs when the inspector decided that Pete’s large box full of used, donated floppy diskettes looked too valuable to allow in without paying duty (and going through the attendant red tape.) Our limited Spanish was simply not up to explaining that the materials were used, had no commercial value, and were vital for providing computer backups during the international conference we were about to attend.
At that point, our host family arrived to meet us. After a few minutes of explanation, the inspector agreed that yes, the materials perhaps could have been let into the country without delay. Unfortunately, while he was sorry, there was absolutely no way to undo the paperwork process once it had begun. In order to avoid bribery and corruption, new rules stated that the red tape could not be bypassed for any reason.
Our hosts were crushed. As the husband, Randy, explained, it took weeks, if not months, to get something through the Costa Rican customs department. They had already been waiting ten months for a vitally needed van to clear customs.
We finally left without the diskettes, planning to come back the next day to begin the paperwork. Perhaps they could be used for something else eventually.
In the wee hours of the next morning, another airplane arrived from California. On board were two conference participants: A North American observer, and the conference’s Nicaraguan representative (who lived in the USA). The US citizen was welcomed into the country, but… “What?? You’re a Nicaraguan citizen and you don’t have an entry visa? I’m sorry, but you should have known the rules were changed last month. Nicaraguans can no longer enter Costa Rica without a visa. It doesn’t matter who you are, or how important this conference is—you may not enter the country!
The Nicaraguan was taken back to the airplane for a return flight to Los Angeles. As the plane pulled back from the gate, the observer left the terminal, thinking, “How sad that he couldn’t come. He was a key participant….”
Early the next morning, Pete and Randy headed back to the airport to begin the process of retrieving the floppy disks. They managed to see the director of the customs service, but even he was unable to expedite things. He estimated that if if everything went perfectly, it would take at least a few days. (Randy was rather skeptical about this, since they had said much the same thing about his 10-months-missing van!)
Pete and Randy went from place to place, threading their way though the customs-clearing maze. A different person handled each part of any transaction—one filled out the form, another took your money, another gave a receipt, another entered the data in the computer, etc. In their wanderings, they just “happened” to be walking by the terminal building when the rather frustrated North American observer came walking out.
After quickly sizing up the situation, and an even quicker prayer, Pete and Randy ran inside the airport. Miraculously, Randy was able to use his conference credentials to gain admittance for the Nicaraguan, who was retrieved from the plane already on the runway!
This certainly gave us a better understanding of why God might have allowed the diskette problem to occur—otherwise, the Nicaraguan would have been winging his way back to LA. Wow!
With that bigger problem solved, we wondered if we’d get the diskettes in time for the conference.
At this point, a true miracle of efficiency took place. Every scrap of paperwork, every review, every signature, stamp, fee payment and inspection was completed, with smiles, before lunchtime! Our host had never seen the customs office work so well (and he hasn’t since, either, since his van languished for many more months). The disks were released in plenty of time to be put to their intended use.
It is easy, in retrospect, to see God’s wonderful sense of timing and the fact that He was lovingly taking care of these situations, even as it appeared that disaster was imminent. But how often are we able to approach these situations with joy, knowing that God is in control and will redeem the situation in His own way?
I hope that, as we collect more of these memorial stones, we can learn to place ourselves in God’s hands. Doing so will make every obstacle no longer a source of stress and aggravation, but truly an exciting adventure of praying and watching God at work.