This is going to be a very long post, so I would encourage everyone to give it a read, but what I will do is put in a nice little table of contents for this post so that if you want you can skip ahead to what ever interests you the most. This will be a comprehensive rundown of everything since our last update, and honestly there won’t be any new information, but maybe some background information or things that might help you understand the process and our experience and emotions better. Most of what you will read here, especially in the “What Happened In October 2013” section I have only told a few people in fact very few people knew we had been robbed. Again. So please don’t feel bad if you are reading it for the first time, you read on a little later why I just didn’t want to talk about it until now.
The Bullet Points
- Mea Culpa
- What Happened In October? – Why you haven’t heard much from me…
- What’s the deal with the Consulate?
- Some realities about getting a Residency Visa
- What have we done with the money we have raised and what will we do with it?
- What ministry have we been involved with lately?
- What ministry will we be involved in now?
- How did we come across this opportunity?
- What will we be doing at EABC?
- Does that mean you are NOT going to Spain?
- Where do we go from here?
So to start off, I need to apologize for not being consistent in my communications. One of my goals when we started this new phase of ministry was that I would publish more information and updates about our minstry. In the beginning we published at least weekly with a newsletter, blog posts and even videos. Things were exciting and moving forward. After a while it became hard for me to stay motivated, I could only write the same thing over and over again in new ways, and I quickly became frustrated with all the delays and simply repeating the same information week after week, I had hoped to be giving you new information and telling you about all the things we were doing, because, well, we are doers and the not doing was simply killing us! It was my goal and desire to share more and publish more information and I started failing at that, and so I have to apologize for not communicating more, by nature I’m not a big sharer and so if there was nothing new to share it was hard for me to discipline myself to even just say “There’s nothing new to share, please keep praying for us”.
A friend suggested that I just start writing, writing about things we’ve been studying, things we’ve been preaching, things we’ve been reading… That was a good idea and I sat down and wrote out a bunch of topics and really interesting things that I wanted to talk about. It was also good timing because we started working with the church in Safford so we had things to share again.
Like I said I’m not a sharer by nature but at least we were doing something again and we had things to share. Things were going well for a little while until October when I dropped the ball completely. So as I said there is no excuse I could’ve done better, I should’ve done better but I didn’t and here’s why…
What Happened in October 2013?
This is where it gets tough, and maybe I am too hard on myself, but I give no excuses for not keeping everyone posted however I offer explanation and reason. A few months after we started ministering in Safford the shipping company in Mexico (Aeromex if anyone cares to make a note of that for future reference) started acting funny with me. To say company might not be very fair, the representative that I was dealing with, was acting funny. You may or may not know that all this time (about 18 months) we had been keeping our household goods in Mexico with our shipper because we had hoped with in a year or so we would have been in Spain and they were going to ship our things to us. We were trying to avoid the double import/export taxes on bringing things home to the US and then shipping it off to Spain. I paid Aeromex around $100/month to store our shipment in their warehouse until we were ready to ship.
That was a mistake. We came back to the US with four suitcases, my computer, my guitar and the kids each had a carry on bag with toys. Our entire household, my office, ministry sound equipment, the library, the kids clothes and toys, kitchen goods, everything was in that warehouse. I should’ve known better because the day they came to pick up our things the agent raised the price for that service $250. When you are literally on your way out of the country and have no other options and no time to find new options, you just go with it. We stuck with them because the price they quoted was a killer deal, too good to be true. And it was. After we left Mexico and got back to the US he called to let me know he would need a little more per month (not a significant amount) but also that our shipping bill would go from $2000 to close to $7k. The bids we got from American companies were in the same ballpark so I let it slide.
Things went well for a few months but then my skeptical side started to set in and I started getting suspicious of our agent and in the back of my mind something was telling me things weren’t right. At this point our visa process had stalled out a little bit. The kids were certified so no more long trips to LA for them, but Karen and I still needed some documentation from the Spanish Government in Spain and had a few more appointments. FEREDE in Spain took up our case, we paid them a bit of money to get started and they helped move things along a bit more. With all that taking place were were still up in the air and weeks were turning into months, and it looked like months could turn into years, so we decided we should go ahead and give the kids some more stability and get a place of our own. That would also mean getting our things back from Mexico.
On one occasion I had made arrangements with our shipper to meet us in San Ysidro, CA where we would transfer our things from his truck to a Uhaul and bring it out with us, and he just didn’t show up. We waited in San Diego 2 days, when he finally contacted me and said his driver was in an accident and he couldn’t bring our things across. I don’t know if that was true or not, but I doubt that it was. We went home empty handed and a little nervous. I pressed him more and he got more aggressive towards me, finally threatening to throw all our things into the street.
As a point of detail here, some of you may not know that we couldn’t enter Mexico either, the Spanish consulate requested that we not leave the country while our visas were being processed and our lawyer at FEREDE confirmed the same. We asked a friend of ours in Mexico to find this warehouse and recover our things and then in a few weeks my dad and I would come down to get them. In October he and I drove down to Mexico I stayed at the border and he went into Mexico to load up half of our shipment, our friend had already moved the other half across the border to his storage unit. He came back and instantly I could tell the trailer was light, but I had hoped the rest was in the storage unit, when we opened the storage unit, things didn’t look right and I could see that there was a lot missing.
My heart broke and the thought in my mind was that the country we loved for so long had one more kick in the shorts to give us before we left… I know that’s not fair, but that is how I felt and I struggled (and still struggle with that thought to this day) with it the whole way home. We didn’t know how bad it was until we got to unpacking everything and found that anything of value, including the kids treasured toys had been stolen. Our agent had been slowly stealing from us. I don’t guess this, I know it because we found his notes in the empty boxes. I contacted him and his company and accused them of theft and then the sickening realization set in that there was no way legally I could prove they had done it, because our friends picked up the shipment and Aeromex accused him of having stolen from us. Having been robbed in Mexico 8 times we knew there was no hope for justice, that is just the reality of that place and that system.
My office was gone, our sound system for the church we were going to work in was gone (2 wireless mics survived) the kids toys, more than half of Noah’s toys were gone, my tools were gone, pictures, plates, blankets, clothes… all gone, and I had had enough.
For me, bringing our things to the US was an acknowledgement that maybe we weren’t going to be leaving very soon. That is hard to take and anyone who knows me knows I don’t quit and I don’t admit defeat, but pulling that trailer, for me, was a little white flag, one of many, I was afraid I would be raising soon. Karen’s dad had passed away just a few months earlier and so everyone was still emotionally raw. The “things” I could care less about. Most of it was stuff I had won on eBay really cheap, used and I had repaired most of it several times. Their theft was actually a blessing (I’ll get to that later) but the kids toys cut me to my soul.
The only thing I regret, the only thing looking back now that I am disappointed with is that the kids had to give up so much. I could be sitting somewhere watching Noah play with his Pringle’s can full of Legos (a tiny portion of what he had in the shipment) and be so proud of him for being happy and going along with all of this like a champ and yet be heartbroken that he had to even do it at all. We had asked much of them, and they rose to the occasion in a way most adults would never and then they were the ones who were cheated.
They taught us a great lesson in what kids are capable of, and in what is important. They never worried about their things, they were happy just to be with us and be a part of what was going on.
Noah took the theft hard, and I took that hard. I had so much work to do that Karen stepped up and did 90% of the unpacking and as she unpacked she would call crying to let me know what was lost or damaged and she found that much of our library, of which we were both VERY fond of was destroyed by water. I sometimes wonder if there ever was a warehouse. We were tired, we were spent and we had to sort through this last betrayal and we hated every minute of it.
At that point, just to get by, I stopped even caring about whether or not we were moving forward. I knew that everything was in God’s hands, that what we were going through was not out of His control, and He was not taken by surprise and even still the only thing I could do was just throw my hands up and say “I’m not going to worry, I’m not going to stress, I’m just going to put my head down, work hard and when they call we will be ready and will go” but until then I didn’t want to even think about it.
Most everyone knows that we are what are called bi-vocational ministers, or tent makers, that is we work secular jobs to support our ministry much in the same way that Paul worked to support his ministry. That is hard for many people to understand but I have a web development business that pays for our living expenses and also finances most of our ministry. It has been that way since 2007. That is why, where most missionaries have to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in pledges, we could get by with just around $30K because we were not asking the ministry to pay our personal expenses. There is nothing wrong with that by the way, and I wish I could work less, remember that because it’s about to become very important, but we have felt lead by the Holy Spirit to continue to be tent makers because it has been such a blessing to other people.
When we came home it was my hope to cut my work load to around 20 hours a week, and in the beginning it went well, but as we lingered longer and were not in Spain, in ministry, my work load crept up. And up. And up. At that point in time I was working way too much and many of the clients were not willing to pay their bills, often belligerent and really not pleasant to work with. Spending any more time on the internet than I had too, to me was taxing, working long hours to help some rich person get richer, while they yelled, cussed and complained then wouldn’t pay their bills is not good for your mental health. The thought of going on line and doing anything for the ministry… well you know what they say about the carpenter’s house. I looked at our website and our communications as one more chore in a list of tedious keystrokes and math equations. I hardly got out of the house, I gained back the weight I had lost and then some, much more. I tried to stay positive and I lived for the weekends, when we would go to Safford and have just a taste of what life was supposed to be like in community with other Christians, preaching, teaching and leading worship.
So in a toxic combination of the sting of betrayal in Mexico, frustration with work, seeing the struggles of family and friends, fighting illness and loss, I just froze and went dark. Mostly because, as those who know me can attest, I am quite blunt and I don’t mince words, and I feared I would say/write something I would come to regret and I felt it best to stay silent. Not fair to you, our supporters; not right by any means but it is what I did. All the while in Spain our ministry partners were struggling with their health, and their businesses and our outreaches in Sierra Leon were literally starving to death because of the Ebola quarantine and we just had to stand by as spectators in what should have been our lives, with skills that could have contributed sidelined while our friends soldiered on.
Ministering in Safford was good for us. We had a chance to be ourselves again, God continued to speak, the hurt and the pain started to heal. The frustration began to turn back to trust and God worked mightily in us personally. It was a rough patch, very rough. We began to cull back the work hours I changed my business model to be more selective in my clientele and to pass on people who I knew would be jerks (so if you are a client reading this, you must not have been a jerk!) I even worked with my partner in LA to pass on bad jobs.
The church in Safford also blessed us with some extra equipment they had in storage so the Lord restored much of the equipment that was stolen and then some. Through my work I ended up purchasing some photographic equipment that was far better than what was stolen and in the end we got some new, streamlined equipment to replace what was lost.
After several months I began to post sermons on line again, I built some sites I could be proud of and things got back on track, but Spain and the whole process was still a source of frustration and honestly, sometimes embarrassment. Everything is in place and although everyone has been so supportive, and no one has ever brought it up we felt like people would certainly begin losing patience with us, since we were losing patience with ourselves. I still just didn’t even want to talk about it, my attitude was “when they call, we will go.” I learned my lesson in Mexico not to play hardball with foreign governments and so I was just going to let it go and when God opened the door we would walk through it.
What’s The Deal With The Consulate?
I don’t know.
Honestly that is the best answer I can give. Our papers could be misplaced, they could be behind someone’s desk, they could even be leveling a table in the break room for all we know…! I communicate with our lawyer at FEREDE once a month, and with the consulate once a month. Basically I follow up with someone every other week with just a nice polite email and I get the same responses, the lawyer tells me these things can take time, the consulate tells me they will let me know when they have processed our papers. Very helpful.
What’s the deal? I can speculate a few reasons:
- Laid back culture in the Mediterranean area means that they’ll get to it when they feel like it.
- Current political climate may not be conducive to accepting immigrants
- They don’t like my hair do?
What ever their reasons are, I stopped trying to guess a long time ago. I don’t think my attitude that when God opens the door we’ll go through it is wrong. I take comfort in knowing that MANY great figures of the faith had to wait a whole lot longer than we did to get to their “promised land”. Joshua and Caleb had to wait 40 years, Jacob had to wait 14 for his bride, Hannah begged God for a child for an unknown long time, Simeon and Anna waited their whole lives to see Jesus and Paul made plans to go to Spain himself that were never realized (I hope we don’t follow his pattern). For many missionaries an 18-24 month time of deputation or iteneration (depending on what your tradition calls it) is not unusual.
I have looked into this issue to see if we are a unique case, and we are not. I have found many people online with similar struggles, and for many of them even with their employers sponsoring them it has taken some upwards of 3-4 years. It seems the consulate in San Francisco has a decent track record of around a year or so for a residency visa for artists if you have all your ducks in a row. And that seems to be the trouble, different consulates have different standards and everyone’s experience is different and each consulate handles cases differently even in the forms and paper work they request.
I wanted to share some information that I have bored a precious few people with, but I think it is important for everyone to understand what we are facing and what we have to go through. There are 3 paths that WE can take:
- Residency Visa – This is basically gives us the right to live in Spain and conduct personal business in Spain with all the rights and protections of a Spanish citizen except 2; the right to vote and the right to work. This is the most common one for people in our situation and it has different sub categories.
- Investors Visa – There is some debate on this and I have seen 2 different government sources on this one said if you buy €100k (100,000 Euros) worth of property in cash you can get a residency visa immediately another one said €500k to invest in a business. Maybe they are 2 different visas, maybe they are subclasses I don’t know, but I also don’t have an extra $150K laying around to get one.
- Tourist Visa – As US citizens we can enter Spain and transact personal business there for 6 months (we can not open a bank account however) then we have to leave for either 3 or 6 months the sources disagree.
Number 1 is the path we must take. Honestly we could do number 3 and live 6 months in Spain and 6 months literally anywhere else in the EU or outside of it for that matter, but we can’t do that to the kids. We could also overstay our visas but that would be very foolish and illegal. There is a 4th if I wanted to go back to school but as soon as school was out I would have to leave and we don’t want to go through that either.
So the process for the visa we are applying for in a nutshell is this:
- File paperwork for all 4 of us. Our file is about 8″ thick of just paperwork and applications.
- We must have 4 copies, certified with an Apostile of the Hague and translated to Spanish with an Apostile of the Hague of our birth certificates, passports, medical certificate, FBI Level II clearance, proof of insurance, proof of income, letter of sponsorship, letter of invitation, letter of determination (the infamous letter we waited many many months on) and certification of professional qualifications.
- The Medical certificate is only valid 6 months so we have to renew and re-submit that every 6 months.
- The FBI Level II clearance expires every 3 months so we have to renew and re-submit that every 3 months.
- The proof of insurance is a special international insurance with 0 Deductable & 0 Co-pay and has to be paid in full year by year.
- The proof of income is a letter certifying ownership in any business or investment dividends over the past year PLUS a bank statement showing a minimum balance of €57.06 a day per applicant and €28.53 per dependent (When we started it was roughly €48 and €24) for a total of €62,480 or $68,434.34 at the time of this post.
That last one is important, you’ll want to remember that for the next section.
All of this paperwork plus literally anything else they may ask you for, plus a prepayment of your import tax (ours was around $620) has to be turned in to even begin the process, then they verify it all, call you in and then after the interview they take your real passport and make sure it matches up with the copies you submitted (That’s why we couldn’t leave the US) and send it off for your visa which theoretically comes in 2 weeks. At that point you have 60 days to check in with your local Spanish Police department and get your resident alien card valid for a year, and then you can renew it from the Police department every year.
So realistically if we got the call today, and I don’t want to be pessimistic but, our papers have a very good chance of being rejected for one very silly reason that no one has thought of and that there is nothing we can do about: Our Photos. None of us look even remotely like our pictures that we submitted almost 3 years ago now. (Remember this it will be important later too).
What have we done with the money we have raised and what will we do with it?
So looking over that list above you can see how important that financial aspect is in preparing for a trip like this, but even more so in obtaining a visa. We were blessed that we were able to raise our money fairly quickly, and we had an “angel donor” donate the majority of it… God. He gave me a lot of work and very low expenses and for a while I was able to stock away almost all of my paychecks. I don’t say that to be prideful, in fact only about half a dozen people knew that fact before today. I have never said it publicly but most of the money we raised came from my business. Honestly I couldn’t have done it if I had planned to, God worked it out that way and that is a principle I live by, often God’s blessings come in the form of opportunity, not just free money. We are very grateful for all of the people who do support us, they are few but so very important.
I have tried to pay for the above expenses out of pocket with out having to reimburse myself from the ministry money, mainly because with our letters of investment and business interests we just barely meet the cash in the bank requirements and I don’t want us to miss out on getting visas because we are a little short on cash. So in other words that cash has to stay in the bank so that when we do get the call from the consulate it is there for them to verify. What we have reimbursed ourselves for is mainly insurance ($5,000 per year). The FBI clearance costs $40 for the fingerprint service that we have to drive to Phoenix for and then around $5 for postage and $36 for the fee, and we have to do this every 3 months. The medical certificates are free from our doctor, but the translations for updated documents usually run around $75 a document (x6 average documents).
So the money we have raised is in a separate account, that isn’t even in AZ, it’s in our bank in CA. The idea is that when we get the visas we will transfer the money to our regular account for easy access. All of the donations we have received have been deposited into that account or transferred to it from our local bank and continue to do so now.
The money we have raised will sit in that account because it has to be there when the consulate calls for us to get our visas.
So that begs the big question, how long will we wait for the visa? We have talked about this and we will wait another 2 years before we go to plan B which will be to use the funds raised for several short term missions trips to Spain and Sierra Leon and then we’ll start all over again. But I will explain more on that later.
What ministry have we been involved with lately?
As of this writing we have been back in the USA exactly 3 years and 33 days and for the first 6 months or so we were out visiting churches and talking about the ministry. Then after a few months we began ministering in Safford for nearly 2 years. In January of this year Safford got a full time pastor and we spent the spring working on ourselves as a family, ministering to each other and having church at home for a few months while we considered what we would do.
We have been working through the Bible as a family from cover to cover and working with the kids on the fundamentals of theology. We also worked with them to help learn their new musical instruments. We conscientiously took a step back and out to build up the kids and work on things that we were going through as a family while we waited for another way to be used in God’s Service while we waited.
What ministry will we be involved in now?
Near the end of the school year we were approached by Pastor Matt Sharpe at Evanston Ave. Baptist Church. We first met Pastor Matt our first year in Mexico when he brought a group from Freedom In Christ Ministries. One of the leaders of that ministry, Dave Park, was really involved in my church where I was growing up and we found we had a lot in common.
Every year Matt would come down to Mexico, once on his own to scout things out and once with a team. We always enjoyed his groups and we were glad when he invited us out to Illinois when we first came home. As time passed we learned that he had a change of position and had become the Senior pastor at Evanston Ave. Baptist Church (EABC). A few months later he approached me and asked if we would be interested in coming out and helping their church with their music ministry.
We gave the idea several months of prayer and consideration before they even asked us to come out and candidate at the church. We took the trip up to Michigan and with the kids led worship and met with the church people. They then made the invitation for us to move out and minister with them at their church.
We accepted their invitation and will be moving out to Muskegon, Michigan in a few weeks. Through the process we had several opportunities to talk with the church leadership and for them to ask us questions and have a full understanding of where we are and what our ministry plans are. They were very supportive and were quite excited to have us come out and join their team.
One of the main reasons Pastor Matt wanted us to come out was because of our particular gifting to discipling and encouraging leadership in others. Besides leading worship they will be looking to us to help develop leaders in the ministry, people who can step up and take initiative to help build the church and advance the kingdom.
Does that mean you are NOT going to Spain?
No. We Are Still Going To Spain. We have made a one year commitment to EABC and our history has been that when we make a time commitment we usually exceed it (3 years in Mexico = 8 years). EABC understands that part of our job will be to replace ourselves, and build their leadership so that when the time comes for us to finally get our visas we can go knowing that we leave behind a group of leaders to take our place.
One of the side benefits of moving to Michigan is that we will have to change consulates, and we are hoping that this change will shake things lose on their end. Looking at the very real possibility that the consulate in LA could throw out our application and make us start all over for something as silly as our photos (I know it is remote, but it wouldn’t surprise me) doing a reset and starting all over may be the best thing we can do right now. And with the best case scenario being a one year process we actually feel that this is the right move, although risky.
We had to weigh the risk of whether the consulate will call us a week after we move to Michigan with the very real possibility that they won’t call or even more likely find another reason to reject us so it is better we start all over fresh with a new consulate. Much of the paper work will be the same but there will be many things we will need to update and now would be as good a time as any to do that.
Where do we go from here?
We deeply appreciate everyone’s support and prayers. If you want to continue to financially support the ministry you don’t have to stop, it will be used for our ministry in Spain in one way or another. However if you would like to use your support money in a different way please feel free to do so, we will not be hurt or offended. Not having the support will not negatively effect us as the money we live on is separate from the money given to the ministry, and as of right now we will be able to maintain that cash reserve for another 2 years with out having to reimburse ourselves for insurance or the FBI costs. You can still support us through your prayers and through your moral support, that is worth so much more than money any day.
We will be moving to Muskegon MI August 18th, so if you are local (in Arizona) and want to see us before then, give a holler.
If you have any questions please feel free to email us or reach out on Facebook. This website will still be here and we will update it as often as we can. I will do my best not to be a crybaby and start posting the interesting things I had intended to post before I had my melt down and we will post any new sermons and hopefully some recordings of the worship band soon.