Love overcomes distance, red tape

Symone Sandiford-Williams reunited with her husband Andre at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. After hugging and kissing him, she told him how much she missed him.

“Did you know I missed my flight?” Symone asked. Even when recounting the experience, Andre’s eyes grew wide thinking about the implications of a missed flight.

For Andre and Symone things such as a missed flight, a perfect copy of their marriage certificate or an athletic scholarship can affect everything.

By the time Andre Sandiford-Williams received a scholarship to play soccer at John Brown University he had already met the girl of his dreams.

They had known each other since he and his family had moved to Bridgetown, Barbados, from England seven years before.

“I’ve heard of friends who break-up with their girlfriends when they get scholarships because it’s easier, but that was never an option or consideration for me,” said Andre.

When a scholarship presented Andre the opportunity to play collegiate soccer, Symone initially expressed mixed feelings. She knew it would mean he would spend the next few years in the U.S. while she stayed in Barbados.

Nightly Skype calls and fixed schedules helped them to stay connected and not dwell on the hours and international borders separating them.

She said her consistent schedule of school and work and his hectic schedule as a student-athlete made it much easier for her to contact Andre than for him to contact her.

“Now that I’m here, I understand how much he had to do,” said Symone. “It’s hard being a student-athlete and having to maintain grades as well.”

Andre asked Symone to marry him on Christmas Day 2011, while flying back from visiting another island. It was not the first time he asked, nor was it the first time she said yes, but now they started planning.

Andre began talking to the International Office about how Symone could become a dependent on his student visa. As they made wedding plans, Symone originally wanted a big wedding with over 100 guests.

But she realized sticking so closely to one’s plans can get in the way of your faith in God. So she let go of some plans for the wedding, to make it smaller and shorten their engagement.

“Everybody was close and it was really intimate,” said Symone.

She said she enjoyed being able to talk and celebrate with their loved ones and the small size made the wedding much more special.

Many of Andre’s past teammates were able to come, but senior captain David Castagne was the only Golden Eagle at the service. He was the best man.

After the wedding, Andre and Symone faced the immigration board. Symone was especially worried because she had already been denied a tourist visa before when she had tried to come see Andre. They practiced interview questions for weeks before.

Andre had faith and continuously said that Symone would come with him to the U.S. and that God would take care of it.

When the day finally came for Symone’s interview, they brought their marriage certificate, pictures of the wedding, a copy of the invitation and even their menu, to prove they had a real marriage.

Since Andre would still have to return to Siloam before Symone, he searched for a connecting flight through Dallas so she could avoid the notoriously tough immigration officers in Miami, but he could not find one.

After Symone landed in Miami, an immigration officer asked her to follow him to a room where everyone spoke Spanish. They took her bags and she was not allowed to make a phone call. She waited for two hours, missing her connecting flight to Dallas.

Finally, the immigration officer informed her that amid all the paperwork her husband read and signed before her arrival, he did not sign her I-20. She was supposed to be sent back.

“If I don’t send you through, it’s going to be more work for me than if I pretended this was signed,” the immigration officer said.

After making her promise her husband would sign the I-20 upon her arrival in Arkansas, Symone was allowed to go on to Dallas to make her flight to XNA.

“God made sure of that,” said Symone.

Just over two weeks ago, Symone watched her husband play collegiate soccer for the first time.

“To finally know I could take a glance at the stands and know she was there…” Andre said, smiling brightly and shaking his head.

Even though the couple is together in Siloam Springs now, things are not suddenly easy. Neither of them are allowed to work because of Andre’s student visa and Symone’s legal standing as his dependent.

“It’s not anything I am use to, doing nothing,” said Symone. “It was a big choice, to let that go, to know that I would not be able to work. But he’s worth it.”

The whole experience has been a lesson in faith and trusting God as she gave up the life she may have planned when she started dating Andre five years ago, she said.

“I still don’t know what to expect,” said Symone. “God knows why he put me here.”