There is saying that when we pray, we should expect three types of answers from God: Either a “No”, a “Yes” or a “Wait”.
We usually love the first answer: a YES! We generally struggle with the last two options. The “No” is often the most difficult though in many cases, it turns out to be a “wait” as it still gets fulfilled with the passage of time.
I recently applied for a US visa to attend a meeting in Atlanta – an invitation that came up at very short notice to attend a Board of Directors Meeting to share from the experience of having traveled and taught in 15 churches in 10 countries across our four families of churches on the African continent. Getting a visa appointment in Lagos was so challenging that I had to even fly to Abuja to make the deadline; and even that after having requested for and was granted an emergency appointment by the US embassy in Abuja. I had a notarized letter of invitation from the chairman of the body inviting me to the US and all other supporting documents required – that helped to make my request for an emergency appointment successful.
With such a backdrop, everyone praying for me was pretty confident I would be granted the visa, also taking into account that I have been to 19 countries in the past 5 years including countries like Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, Israel, Greece, Turkey, South Africa etc. I’m certainly NOT one to go and not return to my beloved black continent. When I left Germany as a student for the mission in 1994, I gave up two years of residence permit on my passport, which was going to expire in 1996.
While on the queue on the date of the interview (September 13th), I saw quite some drama unfolding at the Abuja embassy. Some families wore the same fabric (asho-ebi), the atmosphere was full of expectation and tension as people waited for their turn. I ended up meeting a young professional who kept me great company through the heavy protocols and multiple queues at the embassy.
Fast-forward about two to three hours later, I was refused the visa. The details or motif didn’t seem to matter. It felt like the decision had been made before I got there and the interviewer simply stirred the discussion towards an outcome that was already predetermined.
The back story is that I went to the embassy that morning with a heavy heart because I would have been gone during the funeral of a very dear brother and friend – Paul Okolo. Before he passed on, I had already applied for the visa. In my prayer that morning, I asked that God’s will be done as concerns the outcome of the visa interview. And His was very clear- A firm “No”.
As I look back now, it is obvious that the impact of my staying back was far greater than the apparent losses of my not travelling to the US. My wife and I had the privilege to host disciples from Ghana, Togo, Abidjan who came to honor the memory of this great man, make airport runs for Sabine’s family (the widow), be there for Paul’s family etc. I can always reapply and travel to the US but I can’t exchange the experience of being there for both families (a one-time opportunity) with having to go attend a meeting in the US. I especially remember holding and consoling Paul’s direct younger sister at a critical time when his body was going to be transported from the family compound to the cemetery in Ogwashu-Ukwu. Paul must have been glad to see me stand by one of his dearest sisters at such a critical time!
Without any iota of doubt, God had me exactly where He wanted with His “No” answer to my visa request (the first in about 8 years). His “NO” truly turned out to be a resounding “YES” for me! May we always seek and submit to His good and perfect will. (James 4:13-16)