Note: I wish I had photos to accompany this blog entry. Pedro mentioned the possibility of taking our camera with him on this errand, but we both agreed it was wisest not to draw any unnecessary attention while spending the night on a less-than-lovely downtown street corner! Nonetheless, I will share the story as it was told to me by my wonderful, very tired husband this afternoon.
It was a little after 1 AM when Pedro, Nicolas and Mario approached the area where the offices of Extranjeria (foreign affairs) are housed in downtown Iquique. As they drove around the block in search of a parking space, they passed three prostitutes and a raucous "gentleman's club" (out of which later spilled a drunken man "howling at the moon," to quote my husband!) Needless to say, it's not the best part of town.
When they took their places at Extranjeria, Pedro estimates they were already about 25th in line - even though the office didn't open for 7 1/2 more hours! Most people were quiet, just trying to survive the night and catch some shut-eye. A huge mound of garbage was piled half a street down, and it was rifled through by those seeking a piece of cardboard on which to sit while waiting. Typical for downtown Iquique, the wall against which people rested reeked of urine. Thankfully, Pedro and his companions (two young men from church who graciously agreed to accompany him) had planned ahead and brought three kitchen stools, a thermos of hot coffee, juice and disposable cups, and sandwiches to help them through the long night.
While most people in line did not become conversant until later in the morning when things began to move, Pedro said Nicolas was the ideal company because he animatedly talked the entire night! He is preparing to enter his third year at our seminary in Santiago, and we had chuckled previously when he announced that he had a huge list of questions to ask Pedro while they were in line. I only urged him to take anything my husband said with a grain of salt, since with no sleep he couldn't be faulted if something strange came out of his mouth! :)
Finally 8:30 rolled around and with it people "appeared" in line in front of the guys - moving them from 25th to about 60th place, which was quite frustrating. As Pedro looked around he noticed that everyone in line had a white envelope in hand, and the lady in front of him asked him whether he had his. He was about to reach the door, and come to find out this was a "requirement" about which we didn't know! Nicolas and Mario saved the day by running down the street to buy one. That was the first small snag; the second was when the lady in the office told Pedro he needed photocopies of all the papers he had in hand. He hurried to a nearby photocopy place to comply, then returned to the waiting throng - this time inside the building, where there was at least a section of chairs for those whose papers had been accepted.
I should mention that at some point Palmyra, the young Bolivian woman from our church for whom we had offered to save a spot, arrived with her roommate and was so thankful for the "gift" the guys had given her by doing so. It was her third or fourth attempt to deliver her documents! Pedro said she seemed very touched by this act of service and she shared with him about her family and background. She is one of twelve children, trying to get ahead by working in Chile, and would love to be more involved in our church but only has Wednesdays off from her work in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant.
Well, I could go on but to wrap this all up let me say that nearly twelve hours after leaving our home, three very tired but still upbeat men returned with two documents bearing notice of a 4-month allowance for Ian and Alec's residence in country, to be followed by a 1-year visa (Lord willing!) Pedro will need to return in 4 months' time for the visa documentation or for an extension, whichever is granted, and we are really hoping for an appointment rather than another overnighter when that time comes.
Humanly speaking, we are beyond frustrated by the way the affairs of foreigners are being handled in Iquique - and we are not the only ones (Pedro observed one very upset Chilean man who was attempting to deliver documentation for an employee, let fly a stream of animosity toward the office and its employees this morning.) Spiritually speaking, we realize that God is pruning us and also revealing to us the enormous mission field that is the foreign population of Iquique, which has simply exploded in the few short years we have been here.
For awhile now we have dreamed of planting a downtown church among Bolivians, Peruvians and Colombians in Iquique. When the time comes, we know exactly where to start spreading seeds - by reaching out with a warm cup of coffee or a refreshing cup of cold juice and the Word of God to the hundreds waiting tiredly outside the offices of Extranjeria. In everything, God has a purpose!