January 13, 2010 – Shuaiba, Kuwait
Sarah is asleep in our apartment. The operators in the control room are carrying on empty conversation, the engineers in our trailer are surfing the Internet, but I head out into the plant, alone.
Since we discovered the problem a few days ago, everything has been shut down. I make my way through miles of piping, under giant pressure vessels, past fired heaters the size of houses and pumps the size of a Harley, up several flights of exterior stairs, and into a giant partially-enclosed shed. In front of me is the first-stage compressor, about the size of a large van and costing tens of millions of dollars. We know it’s damaged, but we don’t know how badly. If it’s just the bearings, we’ll start up again in a week or two. If it’s the turbine blades, we’ll all be going home this week. You can’t just buy these things off a shelf – each one is built to order, and that could take a year.
All of my co-workers are giddy as schoolboys to get out of this country, where the call to prayer is heard 5 times every day and prostitutes fling themselves at you in the grocery store, and where the local culture is about as lively as the desert around us. But if we leave Kuwait now, the adoption home study we began 4 months before will be a waste. It presumes that we are residing in Kuwait, with a two-bedroom apartment that has room for children. If we complete it before we leave, then perhaps we can update it later to reflect our new circumstances. But if we leave now for another country, or a cheap hotel back in the USA, we have to start over. And it has been difficult enough just to get this far.
I look around, to be certain no one is there, but the plant is empty. Then I walk to the compressor, place my hands on it, and began to pray.
After a few minutes of pleading, I step back, stare at it briefly, then walk away. I stop and look at my hands. You’re supposed to wear gloves in the field. But everything is cold, no machinery is rotating, and no hydrocarbons are flowing. Just in case, I take my gloves off, walk back, lay my bare hands on the compressor, and pray again.
The compressor narrowly escaped major damage, and we restarted in week. So we stayed in Kuwait, and hope remained. But that was just one of many trials.
There was the first social worker we found, whose credentials weren’t valid in the United States. We had to work with an Australian, living in Bahrain, who contracted with a Pennsylvania-based agency. The director of that agency demanded that we obtain police background checks from all 30+ countries we had visited, and when we questioned this, she nearly terminated our home study.
There were the Kuwait police clearances, which we obtained by meeting a man in a parking lot at night and handing over the equivalent of $350 in cash. Twice. The documents were free, but we needed someone who spoke Arabic and had the clout to get us into the right office.
There were the 3 new requirements suddenly added by Pennsylvania. Sarah called me at work and offered to burn all our documents. I spent most of my shift scrambling to obtain what we needed.
But as my project approached its end, we still lacked one thing: FBI clearances. Every phone call or email resulted in a dead end. Somewhere out there were cards with our full set of prints and all of our personal information. Our home study was fully written, except for those.
Sarah was the first to give up on prayer. We had prayed every day for 8 months, and things had only gotten worse. It was easier to get through her day if she didn’t first spend an hour crying.
We left Kuwait with our hope and our faith hanging by a thread. The unthinkable was becoming more possible each day: that all of this, our prayers and effort and perseverance against so many obstacles, had been in vain. Were we wrong to even start? Had God abandoned us? Were the relentless naysayers right all along? Did we misunderstand the Bible’s proclamation of God’s love for the fatherless?
If we could only get those clearances… No one needed to know (yet) that we left Kuwait. We had no idea how to proceed from there, but with a home study we would have something.
The death blow came with two emails in June. First, the Pennsylvania-based agency conducting our home study refused to work with us since we were now in Illinois. Second, the official possessing our FBI background checks for immigration refused to share them – because she wasn’t required to do so.
At that point, it was I who lost it. My responses varied from comically pathetic to vile. My world had come apart – intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. I had taken some heavy blows already, but on that day I died. Or, more accurately, the God whom I thought I knew died.
Almost precisely a year before, when God had called us to this, our pastor referenced a documentary about sex trafficking, “The Day God Died.” A young women, kidnapped and forced into prostitution, said that when she awoke in a brothel, on that day God died to her. We did not then realize that in order to minister to those for whom God has died, you must have had the experience yourself. Everything we thought we knew about God and prayer and what it meant to follow Jesus, we no longer knew.
All we knew was that it was over.