It's hard to figure out where to start, because at times it feels like we'll see that fabled light at the end of the tunnel once we finally dig our way out of the cave-in we've found ourselves in. Sound pessimistic? Actually, I'm feeling more optimistic about our document situation than I have in years!
I guess I'll start from the beginning. Phyllis sent out a prayer request sharing that I'd been summoned to an appointment at the Migration Control office here in Kovrov.
I showed up, was asked in, and sat down to talk to the Director. After a few minutes, he waved me into a small side room, where three people were waiting to interview me. (See where I could've gotten into melodramatic thriller style?)
After a while I learned that these people were three inspectors from the regional Migration Control, and had been asked to come figure out to do with this American, a serious repeat offender. (It comes out like "Evil Lawbreaker" if you translate the phrase literally.)
There were a good many questions, and I could very much tell I was being prayed for. I was able to speak clearly, and the people were very sympathetic. After hearing my life story since 1994, when I first came to Russia, and writing it all down, they asked me if I would like to go to Vladimir with them. This was after at least two hours of non-stop question and answer, but I was ready. Their initial verdict was that since I/we had been trying to make things right since March, not to mention the fact that I didn't try to defend myself and say I'd done no wrong, there was a good chance that the outcome would NOT be automatic deportation. (Which could have very easily been the logical step, going strictly by the migration laws.)
After signing another two papers admitting my guilt, with some explanation from my side, we got in a van and drove to Vladimir. I was amused at the amount of personal interest, and touched by the compassion and understanding I met with in these inspectors. Not something I had personally seen much of in law enforcement officials, and a far cry from all the horror stories one tends to hear living in Russia.
An hour or so later we were in Vladimir. The inspectors went and made their reports to their boss, the head of the Federal Migration Control for all of Vladimir region. (A fairly important person, powerful, influential, high ranking, etc., etc.) Then I had to wait to meet with him. Probably another couple of hours went by. One inspector stayed with me as escort, guard, what-have-you, and we were able to talk as we waited. During all of the interview and following unofficial conversations, I was able to share of my faith in God and love for Russia, my conviction that it was God who brought us here.
Finally we were summoned to the Regional Migration Control Chief's office. Again, I was deeply impressed by the dedication to the law and professionalism I saw - balanced with a willingness to deal with individual cases and people individually, AS people. Also there was nothing to suggest he wanted a bribe from me, and to the contrary, I felt very strongly that that sort of suggestion would only get me thrown out on my ear. A person like that is something that is not that commonly met with in a system so petrified by bureaucracy and permeated with corruption. He also intimidated me greatly, but not on purpose. I just don't know if I've ever met any Russian government/law enforcement official on his level before.
He had all the information from his inspectors, as well as their personal reports. He decided to be merciful, although it took me a while to figure that out. He was almost beside himself from the fact that we didn't come to Migration Control when we first came to Vladimir Region.
Whether that was the result of fear, misinformation, misunderstanding, or not. He quite perturbed that we'd never known that it could be a fairly simple and straightforward matter even to obtain a residence permit. I repeatedly avowed that I had NEVER heard that such a thing could be simple, and if I had known, I would've tried long ago. =)
His mercy was thus wise demonstrated:
Due to repeat offenses, my visa is technically no longer valid. Strictly speaking, he should turn in the protocols to the regional court, which would result in my visa being annulled and entry to Russia denied for the next 5 years. (The thing we feared above all else.)
This he did not do, for which I am very grateful. What he did was fine me (which I went out immediately and paid, with my trusty escort), CLOSE my visa, and give me an exit visa.
I did not get the distinction immediately, which they understood by the tears in my eyes and trembling voice. Both the Head of the Federal Migration Control Office as well as several others went out of their way to clarify, comfort me, and define the difference.
A Visa Annulled through the court = deportation + entry denied for 5 years.
A Visa Closed through the Migration Control = shorter visa length, exit visa issued, leaving the country, but free to return at any time.
See the difference?
I thank and praise God for HIS mercy. He is the one who holds the hearts of the rulers in his hands, and truly the only one who can keep us safe here.
So, I was issued an exit visa good for ten days, effective this Monday. Then I was cheerfully, if sternly, wished well and seen to the door. I got home at 9:30 pm, having left at 10:30 am.
This does not solve all of our problems, by far, but it is actually encouraging. To know that the Migration Control Office in Vladimir is willing to work with us makes a huge difference in my thinking. This is probably the first time since coming to Russia in 1994 that I have felt that I have any hope of getting my documents done, and done correctly, completely on my own; that interacting with the law enforcement officials personally could actually be beneficial, and allow me to live here 150% in compliance with the law. What can you say, I guess a second-class citizen, suspect-immigrant type of mindset creeps in easily enough after a while. We're almost afraid to get our hopes up too much, but this may very well be the beginning of a new period of greater personal security and increased ministry for us.
There are still major questions immediately: what do we do about invitations/visas for Phyllis and the children, can the those be issued through our Vladimir-Ivanovo Regional Baptist union, will the Regional Migration Control Office help us with that, just to mention a few!
I'll probably be getting tickets to cross the border very soon, so as to come back and hurry things along for Phyllis and the children. Thank you so much for your prayers, and please do keep praying for protection and wisdom for our family.