Friday, 15 August 2008

Visa Renewal Trips

When we accepted our call to serve a mission in the Europe East Area living in Moscow, we didn't know what traveling we might be doing. We certainly weren't aware when we arrived November 17 that Russia had passed a new regulation the 1st of November requiring foreigners to leave the country every 90 days to renew their visas. Our first visa renewal trip was to Tallinn in Estonia in February when we had to exchange our one-year visa for the requisite 90-day visa.

Tallinn, Estonia - February 14, 2008

Our next visa renewal trip was to Prague in the Czech Republic, because Tallinn was no longer available for the quick turn-around desired for getting a visa back from the Russian Embassy. (More Prague photos are on the post of 6 May 08.)

Prague, Czech Republic - May 4, 2008

Our most recent visa renewal trip was to Madrid, Spain. Why is the Church sending missionaries from Russia to Spain to renew their visas? It is one place where the Russian Embassy has agreed to pick up passports on a Monday and have them back with the new visa by Tuesday evening, or at least that's how it is supposed to happen. While waiting for your passport and visa, missionaries can attend the temple in Madrid, which is such a nice opportunity. Plus there is an MTC (Missionary Training Center) by the temple where the young Elders and Sister missionaries from Russia can sleep and eat their meals while waiting for their visas. As a senior couple, we were able to stay in temple lodging Saturday and Sunday night, which is also in the MTC building; however, it was not available to us after that because it was needed for temple patrons who were traveling a distance to attend the temple. One group was coming from Portugal.

Madrid Temple - August 2, 2008

Because we can only have what is referred to as a "double-entry visa," we needed to schedule a training meeting in the country of Georgia on our way to Spain. We were in the city of Tiblisi, and I'll write more about that later and add some photos. It's a good thing we went to Georgia on our way to Spain rather than on our way home, as upon our return to Moscow we have been concerned to hear about the hostilities taking place between Georgia and Russia. In fact, the Church has evacuated the missionaries out of Tiblisi to Armenia; and the humanitarian couple we provided training are now safely in Yeravan, Armenia, as I write this.

Tbilisi, Georgia - August 1, 2008

Having a Chinese dinner
with Elder & Sister Larson in Tbilisi.

On our way from Tbilisi to Madrid, we had a four-hour layover in Istanbul, Turkey; so we had arranged to meet in the airport with Elder & Sister Loosli, the humanitarian couple there. In order to meet them, we had to buy a Turkey visa for $20 each and pass through passport control.

We arrived in Madrid Saturday afternoon and got settled in at the temple lodging and made arrangements to get temple-ready cards faxed from Doug for the sealings we were privileged to do on Tuesday. Sunday we attended church at the MTC, which was a special experience. It was Fast and Testimony meeting, and we enjoyed hearing the testimonies of these young missionaries. Sunday evening, the Russian missionaries joined the
Madrid MTC missionaries as they sang hymns on the temple grounds.

Madrid MTC Missionary Choir
(The Russian Elders serving in Novosibirsk
are the six at the left.)

We did some sightseeing on Monday and took a city bus tour with Clark & Renee Mason, who were also in Madrid renewing their visas. On Tuesday we did special sealings and did a session at the temple.

We enjoyed being in Madrid
with Renee & Clark Mason.

The Royal Palace, Madrid

We saw buildings with interesting architecture.
This is the Palace of Communications.

Crystal Palace in Retiro Park, Madrid

Temple de Depod, 4th Century - Madrid

Puerta de Alcala Gate, Madrid

Retiro Park with its many statues
is an inviting place to walk.

We expected to get our passports with the new visas back Tuesday evening in time to catch the red-eye flight back to Moscow. None of the passports were ready Tuesday, so we had another night at the hotel. In fact, the Russian Embassy didn't think the two blank pages Sam had in his passport were sufficient; so this made a further delay. We went first thing Wednesday morning to the U.S. Embassy to get more blank pages added. Then the passport had to be taken to the Russian Embassy the next day, and we were told it would probably be Monday before Sam would get his passport back or possibly on Friday if he were lucky. Since we had to stay another day in Spain, President and Sister Hill at the MTC recommended that we take a day trip to Toledo, an old fortified city on the Tagus River that has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO .

Narene & Sam with Toledo, Spain in the background.

Another view of Toledo and the Tagus River

Prado Museum - Free Admission 6:00-8:00 p.m.
We got there just in time after our bus trip to Toledo.

Upon returning back to Madrid after an interesting day in Toledo, we had a message waiting for us to call President Hill. Sam's passport had been delivered. However, we still needed to make flight arrangements for us to fly back to Moscow. It was a challenge the next morning getting our airline tickets and boarding passes, but with the help of the travel lady in the Service Center in Moscow, President Hill, and Antonio who had our old tickets and drove us to the airport, we made it on the flight. We got back to Moscow about 7:30 p.m.; but we were two hours standing in line waiting to go through passport control, so it was 10:45 p.m. when we got back to our apartment after quite an eventful week.

It seems each time we leave on one of these trips, we have some kind of an adventure. Where and what will it be next time?

Because of the loss of time in missionary service and expense involved in renewing visas every 90 days, the Church announced in July that no new missionaries would be sent to Russia from countries where visas are required. Those currently serving in Russia from these countries, including the USA, will continue to serve their full time; but those who had been called to serve in Russia and were in the MTC at the time of the announcement were reassigned to other countries. However, we have been assured that senior couples will still be called to come to Russia, only there will be fewer of them serving here.

We have had a request submitted for a replacement humanitarian couple to serve in Rostov since February, and we have recently had three more humanitarian missionary couples complete their missions and return home. So far we have not had any replacements assigned to take their places. We are hopeful there are senior couples who will be willing to serve in the Europe East Mission and will come and have a very rewarding experience. We are enjoying our mission and grateful we have been called to serve in Russia.

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