I remember Taco Bell’s old commercials that had the motto, “make a run for the border”. These words have a different meaning now. This morning we took what will hopefully be our last “border run”. A “border run” is when missionaries have to renew their visas by crossing the border to get stamped out and stamped back in to the country (giving you another 90 days). We are in the process of receiving our residency which would eliminate the need for such trips, but haven’t yet received this status. This morning was a especially different. It was the first time we have had to do so with our newborn, Argentine daughter, Isla. We left at 5:00 AM to drive 4 hours to the closest border (Uruguay). When we arrived, we gave our passports along with Isla’s Argentine Identification Document and her Argentine Passport. The immigrations officer asked for her birth certificate. We did not bring that with us. This is when things got complicated. Neither Uruguay nor Argentina would allow Isla to cross the border even though we had the proper identification because they wanted proof of her birth. As I tried to calmly discuss that she was obviously born and that the two documents proved her Argentine citizenship I was met with disagreement and then was handed off to other people. I explained what we were trying to do, just get our visas renewed, I insulted the Uruguayan immigrations officer. He took that to mean I didn’t want to have anything to do with his country, only to receive a stamp. I offered to hold our newborn baby outside of the border so that my family could cross, but by this point I had already made all parties mad. After 30 minutes or so of back and forth, asking for the same thing in as many different ways as I could, I finally received a little grace from the Argentine immigrations officer. Then we were met with more problems. My wife crossed the border and made an immediate U-Turn, technically not leaving the border-crossing compound (this was at the request of the immigrations officer). I was informed that she did so illegally. Even though we own the car, even though we have car insurance that covers us in much of South America (including Uruguay), because we do not have residency, we are not permitted to drive an Argentine car on foreign soil. By this point I was beyond aggravated, but I knew any arguing would only make matters worse. I begged for forgiveness, claiming ignorance. They finally stamped our passports and gave us the visas we requested, and led me out of the door.
An important guideline for missionaries to remember is: “I don’t have to understand it, I just have to accept it.” It is beyond ridiculous to ask for a birth certificate to prove someone was born when they are right there and have all the documentation needed to prove her citizenship. She had a passport and her Argentine documentation. She could not receive either of those documents without her birth certificate so by having them it proved that her birth certificate has been verified. But the important thing to remember is that my logic is not their logic. I don’t need to understand why they require her birth certificate, I just need to know that do. Part of culture shock is trying to understand or logically reason why things are the way they are by using “American logic” or reasoning. Today I had to step back and remember, “It is not important that I understand why the immigrations officers are not allowing our daughter to cross the border with her passport, it is important however that I accept that they require her birth certificate along with her Argentine Identification Card and her Argentine Passport. If the foreigner will be kind and keep calm, he will go much further than if he spouts off about how “they” and their “ridiculous rules” don’t make any sense.
The big adjustment here is accepting the culture even though you may not understand the logic behind the way things work.