It was a week of events: new babies born, a wedding, a baptism, missionary transfers. Our personal significant event was a bit less exciting. We went to the immigration office to renew our visas.
Apparently our missionary visas have to be renewed, according to government regulations. On Thursday, in the midst of getting transferring missionaries to the terminal and meeting incoming missionaries to get them to their new areas, the telephone rang.
An actual telephone call is relatively uncommon here, as most communication is by text. When we first came here, we considered communication by texts a huge frustration. Now we think it is handy because a text does not demand immediate action, and reception for voice calls is usually poor. This time the telephone rang and I scrambled to get to the phone before we lost the call.
Sister Hall, this is Elder Peck from the mission office. How are you doing?
We are doing fine. And you?
Great! How are transfers going?
We’ve gotten all the outgoing missionaries on the bus and the new ones should be here soon… unless you have other information?
Oh, no, that is not why I am calling. We just received a call from Manila and they need you and Elder Hall to be in the immigration office in Cebu by 9 tomorrow morning.
Umm, okay. But what is going on?
Well, they just need fingerprints and photos to renew your visa. Can you be in the mission office by 8 and we will give you a map and instructions?
Okay, we will be there.
Great! That will save you a trip to Manila.
In that case, we will definitely be there.
We started our trip at 6 am. In the office we met two other senior couples, one from the island of Negros and the other from the island of Bohol in the Cebu East mission, who had left their area the night before to be in Cebu that morning. A number of young missionaries had also been called randomly to come into the office.
We were handed a picture of the office, a map, and given oral instructions. We carpooled in three vehicles. We carefully followed all directions and found the street where we were to turn into to get to the immigration office. Unfortunately the street was marked with a sign that said, “Do not enter.” We continued to the next corner, turned, and followed the street until we found a place to turn around, or in other words, stop, back partly out of the street and pull back into traffic.
You sisters get out and go get in line while we find a place to park.
The pickup disappeared down the street. We walked into the area in front of the building and milled around with the other waiting people. Our husbands came back. We greeted people we knew and caught up on their activities. Finally a lady asked all the senior couples to follow her into the building and up a flight of stairs. They offered us chairs to sit and wait until we were called to the counter for computerized fingerprints and photos. We returned to our seats to wait again.
We were asked to go back downstairs, back outside and to a booth at the edge of the street for another photo. We were asked to go back upstairs and wait. We were asked to go back downstairs for ink pad fingerprints.
We were asked to go back upstairs and wait. We were asked to go through a door labeled “Information Capturing” for another photo. We were asked to wait again. After only two and half hours we were given permission to leave.
For one of the senior couples, only the husband went through the process. The wife was told that she needed to come back later because her papers were still in Manila.
The wheels of government bureaucracy are interesting to deal with on all sides of the world.