words: Bunnie Watts-Adams
images: courtesy Roselle Scott
It began in February of 2012, on a Wednesday evening in the living room of friends. One of our newer members asked prayer for his dad, Barry Adams, who lived in New Zealand and was struggling after a 6.3 earthquake had hit his city of ChristChurch on the southern island of New Zealand the previous year. The quake left multitudes homeless and destroyed many of the city’s beautiful landmarks. The hotel, Chateau Blanc Suites, where Barry was working at the time, had been hit hard and had to be demolished, which meant he no longer had a job. Later that evening I approached Jeff, his son, and out of curiosity asked about his dad – what did his dad like to do, how old was he, did he email? I felt compassion for this man who also was a widower and my age and was going through such a sad time in the country he loved so much. A few days later Jeff handed me his business card. On the back he had written his dad’s email address. I had been a widow for almost three and a half years and was not looking for someone, but I had decided that if the right person were to come along I would be open to a relationship. After mulling over this new development and having this business card at my desk for nearly two weeks, I sent the first email to Barry in ChristChurch, New Zealand. Thus began a most unusual journey.
I received an answer back and we continued emailing each other for about five months. For two people who lived on opposite ends of the earth, we found that we had so much in common. He made plans to make a visit to Fort Smith, Arkansas in late September, seven months after we began emailing. His five-week visit here was beyond what we both expected. Long walks in the park, coffee at Sweet Bay, visits with my family, visits with his family, and baring our souls to each other.
Within several weeks of his return to New Zealand, we knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.
With his son Jeff and I both here in Fort Smith and Barry 15,000 miles away, we began Barry’s immigration process, filling out a number of forms, so that he could come to America. Jeff was the one I leaned on most during the process, the one I ran to when I didn’t understand a term or what was going on.
On December 10, 2012, we were notified that our forms had been received by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in the state of Vermont, which was the first step in a long process. So began the months of waiting and wondering. It was a time of stress for both of us. We’d heard horror stories of people who had waited for two or three years to immigrate and this added to our frustration. At our age we simply didn’t have years to wait.
A lovely interlude came a few days later when I stepped on a United Airlines aircraft leaving Tulsa, Oklahoma on December 27, bound for LAX. Later that day, I boarded Air Pacific, flying all night and reaching Nadi, Fiji for a six-hour stopover. Then on into Auckland, New Zealand, where I flew Air New Zealand to ChristChurch. Barry met me at the airport with roses in hand. The following two weeks were like a wonderful dream spent meeting the rest of his family and his friends and seeing his beautiful country of New Zealand. A country that he was born in and had lived in his entire life. Even as I write this I am humbled that this man would leave all that he has known to come to Fort Smith to marry me and live with me for the rest of his life. In April of 2013, Barry surprised me by conspiring with his son and daughter-in-law and flew in for a two-week visit.
After hearing nothing for almost six months from Vermont, we received an official letter from the USCIS stating our forms had been sent to their center at Mesquite, Texas to be processed. Apparently the Vermont center was overloaded and in order to reach a deadline they were sending a number of applications to other USCIS locations. On the morning of July 2, 2013, I received a jubilant phone call at 5:00 A.M. from Barry (it was 10:00 P.M. in New Zealand) telling me that he had checked the USCIS website. He just happened to have gotten online and checked his status just before retiring for the night and saw the word “Approved.” It was a day of celebration for us and a day of sharing with those who had, along with us, waited for so long.
However, in all of our innocence we assumed that we were nearly at the end. We knew that the next step was for our papers to be sent to the National Visa Center (State Department) in New Hampshire and from there they would be sent to the consulate in Auckland, New Zealand, who in turn would get in touch with Barry and arrange for him to go for an interview, followed by the issuing of a Visa so he could come to the U.S. to live. We were naïve in thinking that in a few weeks we would be finished. It was another three months of waiting until we heard that the papers had finally been received at Auckland.
Barry had his interview on October 17. On November 9, 2013, we both flew into LAX – me on American Airlines from Fort Smith and Barry on Air New Zealand from Auckland and met again. It had been six months since our last visit. Our planes landed about forty-five minutes apart. We traveled on together to Phoenix to spend a few days with my brother and his wife before heading home to Fort Smith.
On Saturday, November 23, 2013, we gathered with family to say our vows, followed by a reception with those who had been on the “journey” with us. The realization that we had reached our goal was a little surreal for two people from opposite ends of the earth. But we had done it. We had met, married and were so happy and comfortable with each other. Our day was not only a celebration of our marriage but also a celebration of the completion of the immigration process and Barry’s arrival in the U.S. to live as a permanent resident. The theme of our wedding and reception was “Bridging two families and two countries.” New Zealand and American flags graced our venue and Pavlova, the national dessert of New Zealand, was served as the groom’s “cake” along with a wedding cake that my daughter made with a cake topper, which was a replica of a bridge designed and made by an architect friend of mine.
I now realize that immigration has become a big thing. Over a million people from other countries apply for immigration into the U.S. each year. We entered into this process knowing literally nothing about it. In retrospect, ours went very smoothly and came to an end in less than a year. We feel very blessed.
And even as I write this story, we are filling out a new wave of forms because Barry’s status here in the U.S. has now changed following his marriage to a U.S. citizen. And so the journey, a happy journey filled with so much love and so many miles, continues.