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Monday, May 14, 2012

A Tale of Two Saints

On April 18th we received a surprise announcement that six work visas for missionaries were approved!  The prayers of many were answered and the Lord once again intervened to ensure that His important work continues to progress in Namibia.

The notice from our agent was especially surprising because it came only four days after the applications were delivered to Home Affairs, shattering our expectation that the agency requires several weeks to make a decision.
The other unexpected result was that Elder Farley’s work visa was approved with a “fuzzy” application.  Elder Farley was a favorite in George and we included him in the group even though the ink on his paperwork was smudged from spilled toilet cleaner.  It was a sort of test to see if the reviewers at Home Affairs really cared about neatness.  Smeared ink seems to be OK and the question of whether the reviewers actually read the applications remains.

The chemical spill occurred several days earlier in the boot of the car.  I was trying to protect the applications by hiding them in the boot where they wouldn’t get stolen, until we could deliver them to the agent.  When I sandwiched them between two boxes I compressed the trigger of a hidden spray bottle of cleaner that slowly siphoned out and saturated the bottom edge of the documents.
At first the damage was minimal.  Just the edges were wet.  The cleaner did not dry quickly.  It continued to wick up the pages and dissolved colored copies, ink approval stamps and signatures. 

The destruction continued overnight.  We were horrified to find that by morning some color images had disappeared completely.  The passport copies could be replaced.  Of particular concern was Elder Twitchell’s Police Clearance and Elder Haws Medical report.  These documents are both difficult to replace and some Police Clearances require the Elder to appear in person.

When I called Sister Twitchell, she informed me that she had originally mailed multiple original Police Clearances to the Mission Office.  Sister Oldham discovered that only Elder Twitchell had a duplicate Police Clearance in the Mission files.

Two days later Brother Shegena called for help with a “dead car”.  Brother “Sunny” Shegena is 1st Counselor in the Katutura Branch and Sunny and his car are valuable branch assets.  I spent the next couple of hours with Sunny and his car.  We also had a branch temple trip to organize.  In our conversations I mentioned that I had ruined some visa applications that were ready for submission further delaying the arrival of much-needed Elders in Namibia.
Sunny became very interested in our efforts to apply for visas and he related his experiences of the night before.   He was at the scene of an auto accident immediately after it happened. When faced with a potential head-on collision, the driver swerved off the road, hit a utility pole and flipped the vehicle. The thirty-year-old driver, Jonas, was admitted for a skull fracture and a female passenger suffered minor injuries.
Sunny called the ambulance and accompanied Jonas to the hospital. Jonas is a relative of the Katutura R.S. President, Sister Povanhu. Sunny lives in her rental, knew about the relationship and informed Sister Povanhu of Jonas' condition.

After several hours at the hospital, Sister Povanhu and Sunny met Jonas' close cousin, Mr. Valombola.  Sunny talked with Mr. Valombola and described the accident, the instigating driver that fled the scene and Jonas' condition. Mr Valombola was very impressed with the efforts of both of these church members and their “long-suffering” for his cousin. It was also discovered that Sunny had tutored (as a volunteer) Valombola's 14-year-old son in computer science. Valombola informed Sunny that he was a Director in Home Affairs and will return the favor any way he can.

I was very excited to hear about Mr. Valombola;s offer and suggested that Sunny call him immediately and arrange for an appointment to, “counsel us on how to get visas for missionaries”.  Valombola graciously accepted the offer to meet a few days later.

Marius von Mollendorff came from the Area Office to accompany us at the meeting with Valombola.  He brought with him formal approval to remove the “stand-down order” for visa applications.  If we were not waiting for replacement documents (arrived two days later), we would have submitted our group of applications immediately.
Mr. Valombola is a very busy decision-maker.  During our visit, he took several interruptions to give directions to subordinates.  Our agent (Emce) noted that she observed Valombola once in the lobby “directing traffic”.  He was organizing people in columns and then demanded that the security guards take responsibility to ensure that people stayed “in cue”.

Valombola’s only significant advice was that we should add bullet points and graphics to our motivation letter that accompanies the visa application. He said that the reviewers don’t read detailed text and they need information that is simple to read.  Our motivation must show the results of our training efforts.  “You are here as trainers so show what your training is doing for Namibians.”

We submitted the six applications with colored photos of humanitarian efforts, Helping Hands projects and returned missionaries that are now leading the Namibian branches.  I don’t know if we received visas because we followed Valombola’s suggestions for our motivation letter or if Valombola just “directed traffic” when our applications arrived.  Either way, it seems that Mr. Valombola was the key to our success.  Spilled toilet cleaner connected us with Sunny’s story and, eventually with Mr. Valombola.  It also delayed submitting of applications long enough to have Valombola’s intervention.
Did Valombola complete his perceived obligation or will he continue to intervene with future visas?  Did Valombola permanently “fix” the review system so that future visas will be approved without his intervention?  I suppose the outcome of future submittals will answer these questions.

What we know for sure is that the service of Brother Shegena and Sister Povanhu mattered in getting missionaries back to Namibia.  These two are key in the on-going functioning of the Katutura Branch and selflessly serve in many ways.  In their minds, what they did for Jonas at Katutura Hospital and the impression they left on Mr. Valombola was just routine for them. They are the true heroes in the story of Namibian visas.  They don’t yet know that missionaries have visas and will be here soon.

As footnotes I must mention that Jonas was released from the hospital and is recovering at home.  Doctors expect a full recovery.  Brother Shegena received an appointment from The Ministry of Education for a much desired internship the same day that visas were received.  Sister Povanhu is generously taking care of the nine-year-old daughter of Jonas while he recovers.  I keep a spray bottle with toilet cleaner in the bathroom cupboard and use it often.

The Lord is watching over Namibia.  His influence is evident in many ways and his kingdom continues to grow.

Elder Smith
28 April 2012

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