I haven't written on this topic for a few months, but my perspective is definitely changing as rules come into effect. Last year it was "wait and see." Now we're seeing.
When we used to visit Russia back in the 90's, I remember people talking about Russia "closing again" someday. To missionary activity, at least. Get in while you can, they said.
Everything seemed calm for awhile. I'm always aware of things going on behind the scenes-churches being denied registration, having to pay fines, things like that. The occasional arrest of someone doing "illegal" missionary activity. But it hasn't affected me much.
And now, for the first time, the political situation is making me a little nervous. I can't even explain the feeling, but I sense something coming. Obama is going to be inaugurated about the time I will (hopefully) be entering Russia next, and I wonder what foreign relations will be like at that time. I guess it's the next "wait and see."
This is the first time I've had to leave because of the new 90-day visa laws. I might have gone home anyway in December, but it feels quite unpleasant to be leaving by force. I understand that in many countries (like the U.S.), laws are just as strict. Now I can put myself in the shoes of immigrants who've had to leave certain family members behind, or faced deportation. It's unsettling when the length of your visitation is dictated. Especially when that visitation doesn't feel like you're a guest anymore.
I'm trying to do everything by the rules, but they don't make it easy. It seemed to make sense to get a work visa, but it takes so long. I know that a lot of missionaries are choosing the "study" option, but I'm not sure if it's the right one for me. Maybe my Russian could use some polishing, but I don't devote a lot of time to studying it, so I don't know if that could be used as justification. And if I went to study some other subject... am I ready to be a full-time student again?
I know one missionary who got so frustrated with the visa situation that he's looking into getting temporary residence, which is a VERY complicated process. When you live in a place long-term, it makes sense that you have the proper documentation. But it helps to know what that proper documentation consists of. And the thing is, that most of the missionaries I'm acquainted with are fairly careful of their activity. That is, it's not even a question of carrying out a "religious" or "evangelistic" agenda. It's a question of foreigners being able to stay in Russia. Period.
Some activities go on as usual. Short-term teams come and go. But change is in the air.
And for me, change is a plane ride away. In 12 hours or less, I'll be sitting in the airport in Germany, waiting for my flight to the U.S.A.
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