Today, This Moment
It’s always hard to remember specific details when it comes to the type of journey I’ve been on these last few days but I thought it might help to write them out. David Phelan and I were scheduled to meet in Frankfurt, Germany for a 1:00 pm flight to Delhi. When I saw David in Frankfurt we did the normal catching up stuff and got a few drinks to keep us hydrated for the flight to New Delhi and discussed our teaching on Integrity and Humility.
We boarded the plane like normal and were in aisle seats across from each other, which meant we didn’t do a lot of talking on the flight. We arrived in Delhi around 12:30 AM and had a 5:30 AM flight from Delhi to Lucknow. On arrival we gathered our stuff and headed to immigration just like normal. When you go through immigration they divide you into Indian citizens and foreigners and then you wait in line until an agent can inspect your passport and visa. Sometimes they will ask a question or two sometimes they won’t.
When it was my turn in line I went up to the agent, a younger man, and handed him my visa. I usually try to make eye contact and smile if I can during the process. As I was watching him I saw that after he swiped my passport and looked down at his computer his demeanor changed and he looked at me and then back at the computer screen. At that point I pretty much knew that what has happened to several others we’ve heard about was probably about to happen to us. I glanced over to see if David was going to get through and saw he was also being held up which didn’t bode well for it being something incidental.
From that point things went pretty fast. The immigration officer I was with sent for a supervisor of some sort and then two men escorted me down to another booth where they took my picture and got my fingerprints (I had had that done before in India so I didn’t figure it would hurt to do it again). At this point (about 5 minutes had passed) I still hadn’t said anything since I said hello so I thought I’d ask the obvious “is there something wrong with my passport or visa?” One of the three agents standing there said just come with me. Another asked what I did. I explained I was a pastor who tried to help people see how much God loves them. Then the other agent again said come with me. I followed him back to the initial booth.
As he was turning the pages of my passport I could see he had crossed my visa out with an X and written the word cancelled. After a few more minutes of typing he escorted me to another area. This was my 13th trip to India so all the places I went to were pretty familiar to me. They are all right there at immigration. This time there were three or four people waiting from Lufthansa Airline. At this point David also came up. Before this point I didn’t mention being with anyone else but now it didn’t matter so we spoke for a minute about any options we could see.
David asked to talk with an official but the airline personnel said we had to go right now. There was a plane waiting for us and that the tower wouldn’t release it until we were on board. Anyone who has ever been to the Delhi Airport knows it’s not a small place and they were in a huge hurry which makes your mind even more careful because it’s so easy to make a mistake when you’re being rushed. (For instance did we have to get on that plane? Couldn’t we ask them to tell us why our visas were cancelled? Would our trip be reimbursed? Do we have to let them take our finger prints? Could we spend the night and refresh? Do I have all my things with me still? What happens to our checked bags etc.?)
We had to walk as fast as possible and go back through security. As the lady from Lufthansa was speaking with me at security someone else was dumping my bag out and looking at everything then asked me to pick it up as the agent continued to tell us to hurry up. I kept asking for assurance they were getting us back to the states and they kept saying don’t worry.
Finally, about an hour since we were on a plane we arrived back on another plane. The pilot was there waiting for us and was quite frustrated saying they might not be able to leave because they might miss their window over Kabul. I explained to him that we weren’t late, they wouldn’t let us in. When he realized what happened he didn’t apologize but you could see he realized he’d put his frustration in the wrong place. A very kind stewardess quickly asked if we happened to know the safety procedures for the plane. We said yes, and she said thank goodness. She asked about why we had not been let in India. I explained that they didn’t tell us but that we were Christians and we work in India by bringing doctors and help put in wells and teach Indian pastors about God’s love. This trip we were focused on teaching integrity ad humility. You could see the shock and even sadness in her eyes that we would be denied entry into India for our love for God and the India people. She arranged for David and I to sit together and begin the flight back to Frankfurt and then on to the states.
There are so many thoughts I have about all this but I do want to be sure everyone who reads this understands, according to the laws in India we were doing NOTHING wrong. We are allowed to go encourage believers, help with orphans and teach the Gospel. India does have laws against conversion. Not to say I don’t or won’t share my faith when I’m in India, but it’s no different than when I share my faith on vacation with Kelly and Emma Grace. When we are in India as a team our purpose is to train believers so they can bring people to Christ. We aren’t out going door to door or doing tent revivals.
So where do we go from here? Well, we will need to think of new ways to encourage our believing friends in India. We will also need to pray fervently as it is clear that the government is increasing its stand against Christians within the nation of India. Finally, we need to realize that doors open and close not only in foreign lands but even here on a daily basis. We must be vigilant in looking for times when people around us are open to the Gospel and not miss the opportunity. I’m more grateful now than I’ve ever been for the time I’ve had to pour into the lives of those believers and realize that I probably won’t see many of them again until we worship together in Heaven.
India was a very special place God called me to serve. That door is now closed and so while I’ll seek many avenues that are available to try to get my visa renewed I realize that each lesson I taught and learned there mattered, every penny invested mattered and now, if there was something I should have done, I can’t go back. TODAY, this MOMENT is what we have for the Kingdom. We must make the most of every opportunity.