Thursday, November 13, 2008

Practical Theology--The Value of Waiting

The last few days can properly be called “A Lesson in Practical Theology: The Value of Waiting.”

I realized in retrospect that I severely underestimate the value of waiting. In other words, how easy is it to jump directly to the result--to see life as a string of results that require “waiting periods.” These blips in time, as it were, are seen as an inevitable absence, as opposed to a crucial opportunity. Needless to say that my experience with the Resident Permit Office in Thessaloniki at least showed me how far I was from seeing an event as producing fruit when it doesnt produce results. Well, this is a bit abstract, but maybe you know what I mean. I wrote an e-mail to my mother and she suggested that I post my description of the Residence Permit office on the blog so that y’all can get a bit of a sense of what the bureaucracy is like in these parts. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly cynical descriptions. It was an amazing experience (mostly in retrospect) and one that I know I will remember for a long time to come...and sadly will probably have to repeat...although, God-willing, with a bit more patience, love, long-suffering etc etc etc.

I got the paper that I need to be able to travel back home for Christmas! God is very good and has taught me an immeasurable amount of lessons through this experience...

I bought Greek health insurance, because i won’t be covered by the school until next year and my American insurance only covers me for emergency care while abroad and the office won’t accept this. Well, after submitting my certificate for Greek insurance to the Residence Permit office I was told that they wouldn’t accept the letter from the insurance company because they claimed it didn’t cover enough. Yet the Insurance company, which is the biggest private company (at least for life insurance) in Greece sends the exact same letter to ALL of the offices all over Greece and only this office for ME gave them a problem. As it turns out, it was only because they didn’t know about the extent of my coverage and so they were a bit insecure and therefore rejected me. Imagine, having government workers reject an application based on insecurity...well, I’m sure it happens in the states, but I never had to deal with immigration offices before. I have to tell you, it has been an eye opening experience to see how some of these poor souls are treated when they seek solace in a country that is certainly better than their own (usually from Albania or Bulgaria etc.)...but I am VERY grateful that I am an American.

Imagine walking into a 3rd floor office which is appropriately placed at the end of a hidden stairway in back of a random alleyway on a small side street outside of the center of Thessaloniki. The first thing you smell (or rather see AND smell) is THICK THICK smoke from all of the agitated employees trying to calm their frayed nerves with cigarettes. Then you see a jungle of people—families with children, students, immigrants from Africa, china etc—and a jungle of paperwork that they are hurriedly trying to prepare for the employees who sit behind thick plexiglass counters and pretend not to speak anything but Greek, when in fact they often speak English. All of the signs are, of course, in Greek (b/c why would an immigration office EVER put up signs in English or some other language that ALL of its customers could understand :))...and you have no ideas where to go. Finally, after waiting for a good amount of time, you discover that you were supposed to give them your passport to save a place in line. They call your name and you go to spot at the counter where they take your application and pick it to pieces with random, useless criticisms that leaves your head spinning and completely bewildered. Then you are sent away and asked to change this sentence in one of the letters or that stamp on one of the pages. Multiply this experience times 3 or 4 (or if you are my friend from Montenegro, times 20) and you have a basic idea of the waiting period one must pass through. Most of the time they make up requirements that don’t even exist...blah blah blah...ok, I could go on...but I just wanted to give you an idea :). Lest you think my view of the "system" here is that it is totally defective or evil, please read on.

Any Balkan readers who are reading this are probably laughing at me right now. I’m sure this is pretty standard procedure, maybe even better.

Today, the day I received my paper, the office was exploding with clients SCREAMING at emplyees and employees SCREAMING back at clients. Two fights almost broke out and it literally seemed like the entire office of employees ended up yelling at eachother. They finally called the police who seemed to calm everyone down. 

Anyway...amidst this chaos, there are BIG lessons to be learned...prayer, inner peace, patience, love, long-suffering, selflessness etc.

You should try it sometime :)

Glad you stuck with me through the whole story.

Until next time,

with much love,

No comments: