I have a drawing by Sandra Boynton of a cow stuck with its front legs on one side of a crescent moon and its back legs on the other side. The caption is "Nothing is ever simple." That image pretty much sums up the joys of getting a US visa for citizens of South Sudan these days.
We are trying to bring Bishop Stephen and his wife Lillian to Missouri's diocesan convention. They are savvy international travelers, and Stephen has traveled to the US at least twice before. But because of South Sudanese independence, their current passports technically identify them as citizens of a country to which they no longer belong. So they were waiting until they could get South Sudan passports. They paid attention and applied with dispatch, but South Sudan passports are not available; the first run had errors, so the country is reprinting them. They are supposed to be ready in November.
The US embassy in Juba has told Bishop Stephen that he can travel on his old passport with no problem, but he has to get a visa through the embassy in Khartoum since it's their passport he and Lillian carry. The State Department told me that they could go to Kampala for visas, but we decided the people in Juba are closer to the situation than those in DC. In September, when Dan and Ev went to Juba with the bishop, the embassy person said they only would have to send their passports and application paperwork to Khartoum via embassy mail. But when Bishop Stephen and Lillian went to Juba to apply for visas, they were told by the same person that they have to travel to Khartoum for interviews. We know that Bishop Joseph of Renk, also in South Sudan, was able to get a US visa to travel to Chicago in September this way. We are hoping that the embassy hasn't changed its mind in the meantime about citizens of South Sudan traveling on Sudan passports.
Stephen and Lillian have a visa interview this coming week. A knowledgeable person from Khartoum told me last week that usually people are handed their visas within a couple of days of the interview. So with luck, we will know by Monday, November 7th, if our friends will be at diocesan convention.
Meanwhile -- remember, nothing is ever simple -- Lillian is graduating from Uganda's Bugema University this Sunday, October 30th. Stephen texted me today that he is on his way to Kampala. Lillian's tuition has been supported by the Diocese of Missouri since Stephen returned to Sudan from Eden, and she is a shining example of what we hoped would happen with the people whose out-of-country education we supported: She is returning to Lui to be the leader of the Mothers' Union and to use her education to benefit South Sudan's church and society. She is supposed to return to the US next year to attend the UN Commission on the Status of Women and the parallel events of Anglican Women's Empowerment (AWE), which focus on international rural women this year.
Here in Missouri, besides preparing for diocesan convention and the visit of the Presiding Bishop to our diocese, we are waiting to hear that the money wired for airfare from Juba to Khartoum and back has arrived at ECS, that Stephen and Lillian have safely returned from Kampala so they can get to Khartoum, and that they actually have gotten their visas. Then we can quickly buy their airline tickets to the US! I should mention that as soon as they are back from Khartoum, they have to be in Juba for the bishops' retreat and the ECS synod meeting, from which they'll leave a bit early to come to us.
I ask your prayers for safe travel and visa success for Bishop Stephen and Lillian and your thanksgivings for Lillian's successful completion of a university degree.