My denomination recently felt the sting of international travel difficulties. Many church leaders on their way to attend the much-anticipated first gathering of the World Communion of Reformed Churches were denied visas to enter the United States. In all, a whopping seventeen percent of applicants were denied visas to attend the conference:
Martin Wanjala was eager to represent the 1,000 members of his Eastern Africa churches at a global conference of Reformed churches in Grand Rapids. He never got the chance.
Wanjala was denied a visa by the U.S. embassy in Kampala, Uganda, to attend the founding meeting of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). Despite having the required documentation, including his bank account, marriage, and ordination certificates, Wanjala was told he lacked “sufficient ties” that ensured he would return to Uganda….
Wanjala was one of 74 participants denied visas to the mid-June gathering of the WCRC, a new affiliation of 230 Reformed denominations from 108 countries.
As the Christianity Today article notes, U.S. officials have good reasons to be cautious in approving visas for entry into the country. Nobody’s accusing the government of unfairly picking on churches. But this isn’t the first time that church organizations have been hurt by visa difficulties; earlier this year, 20% of registrants for the Baptist World Alliance’s World Congress were denied visas. This issue has even cropped up in my own church when a long-time staff member (a seminarian who moved to the U.S. from Romania) was forced to temporarily leave the country due to difficulties with his visa. It was disruptive to the church and even more so to his wife and young children.
Situations like this may be unavoidable, but it is nonetheless dismaying to note that even as the church becomes more globally interconnected (and more and more churches support international missionaries), problems like this make it difficult to meet face-to-face with brothers and sisters from around the world.
Has your church run into problems like this, and if so, how did things work out? Is there anything a church or denomination can do to anticipate and avoid international travel problems?