ack in 2002, when I was not a permanent resident much less a citizen of the United States, I had to renew my work permit every year. That year, one week before my permit was to expire, I realized I had to renew it.
I decided to take care of it on Friday. I didn’t want to go alone, knowing that the immigration office was in downtown Los Angeles, but since no one in my family could go with me, I had to make the trip by myself.
What Am I Getting Into?
I woke up at 2:45 in the morning. After asking the Lord to protect and help me, I put about three layers of clothing on my tired body and left my home in Redlands to drive the 60-some miles to downtown L.A. I experienced a few difficulties with directions, but finally found the Immigration Center.
By then it was 4:10 a.m., and I realized I should have been in line 10 minutes earlier. Because the Immigration Center has only a limited number of seats in its waiting area, and because the wait is so long, people often line up as early as 6:00 the previous evening. It’s a bit scary, because there didn’t seem to be many law enforcement personnel present. When I drove past the building at 4:30, there were easily 800 people already in line.
At this point I began to hunt for a parking structure, since at that hour most of the parking lots were closed. I drove around the building, doing U-turns and three-point turns several times while looking for a place to park, all without success. Finally, as much as I hated to, I asked for help from one of the guys sitting outside a gas station. He pointed me in a direction I had not yet explored. Thankfully, when I got there, I spotted a darkly lit fenced-in parking lot that was open. After paying the fee and parking my car, I put on my jacket and walked four blocks, in the dark, in the middle of downtown L.A., to the Immigration Center. My heart pounded and I prayed desperately, pleading for God’s angels to surround me and protect me.
When at last I reached the line, a middle-aged Hispanic woman arrived and stood in line next to me. We began to chat right away. My sister had warned me not to talk to anyone because of the lack of security, but I was so thankful to be next to a nice, motherly woman who was helpful. Most of the people in line spoke Spanish, and it was good to be next to someone who could translate what they were saying. Later her husband joined us and we chatted to stay awake.
After about three and a half hours I walked into the building and got my ticket.
The Waiting Begins
For the next six hours I waited for my number to be called. During this time I could not sleep since I had to listen to the numbers called in order not to miss mine. Finally, the number on my ticket was called.
As I approached the window, I met with a not-so-friendly middle-aged woman. She told me to sit down until she called me back. She also mentioned that I would have to come back another day to actually get my new work permit. When I asked approximately how much time it would take until she’d call my number again, she seemed quite annoyed.
I returned to my seat frustrated and angry at the lack of customer
service. Why do they treat us so badly? I thought. Is it because we’re immigrants? Doesn’t she realize how exhausted I am? How much I’ve already experienced just coming here, even just the driving? Not to mention how long I’ve waited in line in this filthy, stuffy room!
Suddenly, a thought pierced my mind: I should pray for her. I remembered reading in one of Roger Morneau’s books about prayer an experience he’d had when meeting an angry customer. Although he didn’t want to, he decided to pray for the man, and within seconds his attitude drastically improved. Later the man opened his personal life to Morneau, allowing him to begin an interesting and amazing prayer ministry for this man.
So I prayed as Morneau had: “Lord, please bless this woman. Surround her with an atmosphere
of light and peace. Father, You know how hard it’s been for me to come here today. Please, dear Lord, open a door so I can get my work permit today and won’t have to return another day. Thank You, Lord, for listening to and answering my prayer. Amen.”
What a Change!
Although this woman’s attitude didn’t give me much hope, a few moments later she called me back.
When I approached her window the second time, it was as if I was talking to a completely different person. She was now very amiable. “What can I do for you today, young lady?” I probably looked a bit awkward for a second because I was trying to decide if she was the same person I had just talked to. Her attitude had completely changed. I reminded her why I was there, and again she mentioned that I would have to come back another day to actually get my work permit.
At this I decided to be bold and ask a favor. “Ma’am, I came alone, all the way from Redlands. I hate driving in this L.A. traffic, and I was wondering if there is any way I could do it all today? I don’t mind waiting; I just don’t want to have to come back.”
What Do You Think?
1. When was the last time it occurred to you to pray while stuckin traffic, in a doctor's waiting room, or in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles? Be honest.
2. How do you adapt your prayer life to the realities of your daily life? How often does the practical trump the ideal?
3. What recent experience reminded you that God hears and answers prayer? Tell it briefly.
4. Did you catch the connection between prayer and service in this story? How would you describe that connection?
Her response surprised me. “What? You came all the way from Redlands alone? Girl, we have to get you an appointment today! Here, let me see what I can do.”
She started shuffling through her desk looking for a paper. She made a phone call or two, checking to see if there was any way to get me in that day. As soon as she got off the phone, an announcement was made over the intercom system: “If anyone speaks Romanian, please come to window 8; we need a translator.”
I could hardly believe my ears! Romanian is my mother language! As soon as I told her this, she assured me she would help me. She told me to help them while she did my paperwork. I thought it was interesting how God worked
so perfectly that I was able to serve them just as I had asked her for a favor.
After a few minutes of translating for a Romanian woman, I returned to the window to find all my paperwork completed. I paid the $120 fee, thanked the woman, and went downstairs to get my work permit. Within about 15 minutes I had the renewed card in my hand. As I walked out of that now-familiar building, I praised the Lord for the miracle He had just performed for me in changing the clerk’s attitude.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. Just one prayer, one morsel of hope and trust, can do wonders in the hands of our wise and powerful God.
Erdal Estay is a registered nurse who lives in Concord, California.