“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” When I entered the U.S., they told me I would have to renew my R-1 within six months. As I was preparing this extension of my visa today, I had some of the same feelings that I had during the pandemic when I was waiting in India for my visa. Yes, I had a long, long wait before reaching my mission country. After ordination, I had waited three months before the American embassy in India approved my R-1 visa. That was in September 2020. But the approval was useless without my interview, and I didn’t get my interview because of the Covid shut-down.
I waited for a while with our superior delegate. But I was restless, so in December 2020,I decided to do some mission work. Fr. Soney arranged for me to stay with the central province provincial at Dahod, Gujarat, where there was an English-speaking parish and school. There I taught in the high school and got involved in the parish ministry, especially youth animation.
When the new year began in 2021,the pandemic had receded to the extent that the Embassy felt it was safe to open again. I was extremely lucky to get an appointment for my interview on March 27 and 28, 2021. But then, without warning, in February 2021the second wave of Covid swept in. And the very day before my interview was to be held, it got cancelled. After that the US embassy shut down their visa department for almost a year. When it reopened, I got another appointment, this time on February 1, 2022. But my joy didn’t last long because that, too, was quickly cancelled for some other reason.
During this whole time I was very discouraged, and I kept wondering if the pandemic would ever end or if the US embassy would ever open again. My US mission appointment had been cancelled or delayed so many times that I wondered if I would ever get there. Since my childhood in a very Catholic family I had always been taught to trust in the Lord and believe in His plans. But this trust or belief had never really been severely tested until now. I was beginning to lose hope. So I prayed and prayed. But my prayer was dry and strained. I couldn’t see any good coming from it.
Then, out of the blue, hope suddenly returned. I received another appointment on the 25th and 28thofMarch. These dates were not cancelled but it took almost three months more before the whole process was completed. I spent these last months back at the parish in Dahod. Then, on April 28, I cleared my visa process and booked my ticket to my mission in California USA. And on Friday, May 13,2022, I arrived in Los Angeles—which disproves the old superstition about misfortune. That day I felt like the most fortunate man alive.
Overall, I had spent two full years just waiting. But shouldn’t complain. Moses, too, waited a long time for his promised land. Now my joy is complete, and I am eternally thankful because I see that it wasn’t me alone who waited. The community in Dahod encouraged me and waited along with me; and I thank them. Fr. Soney, the former provincial, and Fr Jon the present provincial of USW, were also waiting, and consoled me. And I thank them too. But most especially, I thank the Lord who was also waiting there behind the scenes urging me on: “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy, 31:6).
– Akhil Thomas, SVD