Visa Update: We’re Getting Close!

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Back in February, I never would have imagined that the process of getting a visa is so complicated! Jeremy and I first started getting our documents together to send to Brazil on February 13. Yesterday (204 days later!!), we received the official publication that states that Brazil approved our visa! This is VERY exciting news! Praise the Lord!

The official publication of our visa approval (modified for only our school).

The official publication of our visa approval (modified for only our school).

However, getting the approval doesn’t mean that we can go to Brazil yet. It means that we are now permitted to apply for our visa with our regional Brazilian consulate (in New York City). We started preparing for this process at the end of last week when we received unofficial word that our visas were approved. As with every stage of the process, we were met with some challenges.


Short Story: Despite many challenges, we are now ready to make an appointment with the consulate.

Long Story: Our consulate requires an FBI clearance when applying for a visa; based on the information we were given, we thought we only needed a state background check. For those of you who haven’t needed an FBI clearance before, it takes a LONG time; we were panicking a little bit. The FBI’s website stated that it would take a minimum of 30 days to process after receiving a person’s fingerprints, so we decided to use one of their “approved channelers,” a company that will do it quicker. Unfortunately, Cogent is the only one with locations in PA, and it only gives results to PA agencies (like Department of Education). Consequently, we had to use a channeler from another state; this required us to get our fingerprints done on our own and mail them to the channeler. This wouldn’t be a problem except that our local police department in Pine Township doesn’t supply fingerprint cards. We went on the hunt for fingerprint cards and found them on eBay and Amazon, so we ordered some. While waiting for the cards to ship, we looked for any other option. We came across Pittsburgh Fingerprinting Services, a mobile ink fingerprinting company run by a retired Pittsburgh police officer. We ended up meeting him at a Starbucks and getting our fingerprints done. Then, we overnighted them to the channeler and got the results back yesterday. This worked out well considering the fingerprint cards we ordered were not shipped on time.


The new challenge is making an appointment with the Brazilian consulate. Their website states that you must have an appointment to apply for a visa, but the website doesn’t provide information about how to make an appointment. We have called the consulate a few times, but as soon as you say the word “visa,” they immediately transfer you to the visa department’s voicemail. We have also emailed them, but they have not responded yet.

Despite the fact that the visa process has been beyond frustrating, we continually tell ourselves that God is in control! In fact, last night in my daily reading, I read Ecclesiastes 7:13: “Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked?” This was a great reminder that it is best to submit to God’s will.


Prayer Requests and Praises

Prayer Requests (new ones in pink)    

  • We get our visas! (We are a GIANT step closer but not there yet!)
    • We are able to communicate with someone at the consulate to set up a time to apply for our visa
    • The consulate is able to process our visa quickly!
    • Safe travels when going to NYC (2x) to apply for a visa and to pick up our visa
  • God prepares us to effectively do His work
  • Financial support will be raised (Jeremy will be providing an update very soon!)
  • Being nomads–adjusting to not having a place of our own and living with family

Praises

  • We received approval to apply for our visa!!!!
  • We have had a lot of free time to spend with family, friends, and each other.
  • We have gotten a positive response from some friends and family regarding our financial needs.
  • We have a free place to stay while waiting for our visa.
  • Living with my dad and stepmom has been going really well.
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Tick Tock Tick Tock

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Recently, I went on a bike ride with friends. At one point, we were riding up a giant hill. At first, things were good, and I wasn’t having much of a problem. Then, I saw ahead that a car had parked in the bike lane. Since there was car in the lane beside me, I had to stop and wait to go around the car. Once around the car, I started pumping again, but before long, there was another car parked in the bike lane. The same thing happened again…and again. By the time I reached the top of the hill, I was exhausted from having to regain momentum after each time I had to stop.

Looking back at the past few months, my life feels a lot like that hill. Some days, Jeremy and I feel like we have endless tasks to complete, and we are “pumping” as hard as we can to complete everything. Other days, we run out of things to do and people and see—we are just sitting behind a car in the bike lane. It’s hard to believe that it has been about a month since Jeremy and I returned back to Pennsylvania after PFO. Up until a few days ago, we had been busy, busy, busy visiting family and friends as well as making preparations to leave. However, lately, we haven’t had much to do, so the passing of time has weighed greatly on us. Each day, we check our emails hoping that we will have good news regarding our visas. However, we have not heard anything new and are quite disappointed that nothing has changed in the status of our visa (still waiting for processing and confirmation of visa approval). Consequently, we will unfortunately not be able to attend in-service, which started yesterday and goes through next Wednesday. Also, our hope is fading that we will be there for the first day of school, next Thursday, August 14.

With the realization that we are missing in-service and will most likely miss the beginning of the school year, it has been an emotional week. We are sad that we aren’t in Brazil getting to meet everyone when it sounds like everyone is settling in, bonding, and having fun. We are wondering about how we will transition when we won’t have any time to adjust before starting to work. I’m anxious about how I’m going to plan for my classes (especially ones that I haven’t taught before—World History and 7th/8th grade English), prepare my new classroom, and catch up on everything from a week’s worth of in-service when I will have students as soon as I arrive in country. Plus, we both feel stuck; we can’t make plans for more than a few days in advance when we don’t know when we are leaving.

However, with all of the uncertainty in our lives, I remind myself that I need to turn my eyes upward. There are many truths that won’t change regardless of my situation. Here are some of the truths that I have been clinging to recently:

  • God is in control! (Romans 8:28, Proverbs 21:1)
  • God’s love is unfailing and abundant! (Psalm 143:8, I John 3:1)
  • Nothing is impossible with God! (Matthew 19:26, Luke 1:37)
  • God made me for a purpose! (Ephesians 2:10, Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 28:18-20)
  • God is always with us! (Zephaniah 3:17, Deuteronomy 31:8, Matthew 28:18-20)
  • God has promised us eternity with him in heaven! (1 John 2:25, John 3:16)

In general, I need to remember that God is good all the time…not just when I’m coasting downhill.

Visa and Support Update

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We wanted to give an update on our visas and support. During PFO, our school director, Chris Fryar, told us that the school hired an expediting service to help get our visas. We received an update from Chris that said, “All documents have been submitted as we await the processing and confirmation of a visa approval.” So, all that is left for us to do is pray for quick processing.

While God has blessed us in almost every other area, we are struggling with reaching our goals in raising support. Currently, we only have received a little over $2000 towards our $6000 Initial Start-Up Expenses, and we have received commitments that will provide $50/month of the $250/month we hope to have. We will continue to trust that God will provide.

PFO: Pre-Field Orientation or Priceless, Fun Opportunity?

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When thinking about how to describe our lives during the past month, “crazy” and “change” come to mind. We completely moved out of our apartment and drove back to the Pittsburgh area on June 22nd. I wish we had taken a picture of our vehicle; nothing else could fit anywhere in it. When we got to my dad’s house at around 10pm, we had to completely unload everything in the driveway since we were leaving the next morning for Memphis. We were so exhausted when it was time to go to sleep.

We spent the next two weeks in Southaven, MS (about 20 minutes south of Memphis, TN) for Pre-Field Orientation (PFO).  PFO is held at Broadway Baptist Church’s Northpoint Christian School.

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Broadway Baptist Church–they have really big churches in Mississippi.

One of the speakers compared PFO to trying to get a sip of water from a fire hose. After 62 hours of sessions, I completely agree with that speaker. While I wasn’t a fan of having to sit that much, we feel a lot better about our upcoming transition. Some of the sessions we enjoyed the most were on transition, the DiSC personality assessment, conflict, TCKs (third culture kids—more on this another time), moral purity, and safety; we also learned about our organization, NICS.

However, my favorite part was meeting people. We met everyone who works for the NICS home office in Southaven, MS (including president, Joe Hale) during our home office tour. Here are some pictures from that visit.

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When you walk in the front door of the NICS home office, you see this collection of statues and carvings all around a statue of Jesus. Above is Revelations 7:9–After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…

NICS Schools map

This is a map in the president’s office that shows where all of the current NICS/Oasis schools are as well as potential new schools.

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Sick bag collection

This is one employee’s impressive collection of sick bags from around the world.

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GO BRAZIL!

Joe Hale

Joe Hale wearing clothing from Afghanistan at closing dinner

We also met several other people that will be working with us at Brasilia International School; we got to know these people very well since we had most of our meals together, sat in the sessions together, and had some fun.  We even got to meet our director, Chris Fryar, and his family! He took our whole school group to Olive Garden; needless to say, we like him already. ☺

Here is a picture of our new staff and the director and his wife:

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From left to right: Fran (special education), Lydia (elementary), Chris (director), Beverly (Chris’ wife and science), Dekota (teacher’s aid), Scott (admin), me, Jeremy, Leah (elementary), and Caleb (business manager)

Later in the first week, many of us went to a Memphis Redbirds baseball game.  Here are a few pictures from that night.

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In addition, Leah accompanied us into Memphis on our free Saturday night. We saw the Mississippi River for the first time, walked down Beale Street, and ate barbecue at award winning Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous.

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Outside of Rendezvous — We almost didn’t find the place because the entrance is in an alley.

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Finally, we want to thank our host family, the Marchbanks, for their generosity during our time in Mississippi. Randy and Judy as well as their precious grandkids (Reese, Cash, and Meadow) definitely showed us southern hospitality during our stay! We had the pleasure of accompanying them to their church, HeartLand Church, and meeting many of their bible study members. They also took us out for some good Southern food (we had catfish for the first time!) and took us to Graceland!   Since we knew very little about Elvis, we had a great time seeing his house and hearing stories about him.

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Although PFO was tiring at times, it was an invaluable experience that we won’t soon forget!

Prayer Requests and Praises

Prayer Requests (new ones in pink)    

  • We get our visas!
  • God prepares us to effectively do His work
  • Our families processing and adjusting to the idea of us leaving and living far away
  • Financial support will be raised
  • Being nomads–adjusting to not having a place of our own and living with family

Praises

  • During our trip to New Hampshire, we were able to spend time with Jeremy’s father’s side of the family and to say goodbye to them.
  • We feel a lot better about moving to Brazil after meeting many of our fellow BIS staff and learning a lot at PFO.
  • We have gotten a positive response from some friends and family regarding our financial needs
  • Moving went fairly smoothly! It is such a relief to be done with moving!
  • We have had so many people offer to let us stay with them!

Our Last Weeks in Harrisburg

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It’s only been about 2.5 weeks since my last post, but A LOT has happened in that time! God has definitely been answering some of our prayers and helping us to trust Him for the rest. I have Romans 8:28 as my computer screen background, so when I start to get anxious or frustrated, I remind myself that God is good all the time!

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Here are some of the highlights from the past couple weeks:

The thing I am most excited about is that we ordered our prayer cards! Thanks to Jen Wick and Michelle Kidman, they turned out way better than I ever imagined! A little over a month ago, I realized that I had forgotten about making them, and I panicked! I had no idea how to make them on my own, and the companies that NICS recommended for making them were SO EXPENSIVE! Jen graciously offered her assistance in designing them. A couple days later, our pastor, Alan Rathbun, hooked us up with Michelle Kidman who offered to take pictures for us. She met us at Fort Hunter Mansion and Park for the pictures. Both Michelle and Jen did an amazing job; God has definitely blessed both of them with artistic talent! Jeremy and I are SO THANKFUL to them for helping us out!   Here’s a sneak peak:

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Next, with our move-out date rapidly approaching, we are making progress in clearing out our apartment. We have been able to sell most of our stuff including our cars. In fact, we sold our Mazda 3 TODAY! It is such a relief to have that burden lifted! As for our Toyota RAV4, my brother, Jayson, is buying it from us. This is a blessing because we will be able to keep it until we leave. In addition, my Gram has offered to let us store the stuff we are leaving behind in her house! This is also a blessing because we will not have to pay for storage!

Additionally, Jeremy and I have been able to have a lot of fun together during this busy, stressful time! First, we went to one of our favorite restaurants—Gabriella’s Italian Restaurant. I highly recommend their pink sauce! We also went to Artsfest in Harrisburg. It was a little disappointing to not be able to buy some things, but I was able to find some cute earrings. Plus, the food definitely made up for it! We bought a HUGE whoopie pie. It weighed 1.25 lbs., and Jeremy and I enjoyed every bite…over the course of a week!

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In addition, we went to a Harrisburg Senator’s baseball game. It was a beautiful night for a game! Plus, they won 8-2, and there were fireworks!  Here are a few pictures from our night:

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Then, we were finally able to use our Christmas gift from my dad—a gift certificate for the Spa at the Hotel Hershey! It was a calm, relaxing day. We got the Couples Cocoa Massage, enjoyed relaxing by the pool, ate some chocolate muffins, and drank hot chocolate!

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While Jeremy and I have had a lot of fun together, we have also had some good times with others. We had dinner with my dad and Nancy in Harrisburg as they were driving through the area. I also went back to the Pittsburgh area this past weekend to celebrate father’s day early. Additionally, Jeremy and I had dinner with the Fletcher family in Palmyra, PA. It was great to catch up with them! Finally, we spent some time with our church family at Bryan Rathbun’s graduation party and the CAC Coffeehouse!


Looking to the next couple weeks, we will be traveling this weekend to New Hampshire for Jeremy’s grandmother’s memorial service. Although it is under sad circumstances, it will be good to see Jeremy’s Dad’s side of the family one more time. Next week, Jeremy will be traveling again (he spent last week in Tracy, CA); he will be in Texarkana, Texas this time. While Jeremy started cleaning the apartment some, I will spend the week preparing the apartment for move-out on Sunday. Between Jeremy being gone and having to clean, this coming week will not be very exciting. However, we are both SO excited about PFO (Pre-Field Orientation) in Southaven, Mississippi—it’s less than two weeks away!


Prayer Requests and Praises

Prayer Requests (new ones in pink)    

  • We get our visas!—still no update on when they will be processed in Brazil
  • Safe travels for Jeremy next week
  • God prepares us to effectively do His work
  • Moving goes smoothly…among other things, pray that:
    • we continue to be able to sell the rest of our stuff
    • we are OK with getting rid of some sentimental items
    • we are able to get it all done in time (Jeremy will be gone all next week)
    • we enjoy our last week in the area
  • Our families’ processing and adjusting to the idea of us leaving and living far away
  • BIS (our school) staff and students
  • Financial support will be raised

Praises

  • We sold a lot of our furniture, our cars, and other stuff
  • We found a place to store some belongings that we want to keep but not bring to Brazil
  • We had some good times together with family and friends
  • We have gotten a positive response from some friends and family regarding our financial needs
  • We had pictures taken and prayer cards designed and ordered
  • Jeremy had a good week in Tracy, CA and made it safely home
  • Sarah had a good last week of teaching at East Pennsboro

End of the School Year!

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I finished my fourth year of teaching! It was definitely the best year yet! I really enjoyed having such great students, and I was sad to see them go. I will miss teaching at East Pennsboro Area High School. The school faculty gave me a gift that will help me to remember everyone.

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It was also great to have some time to talk with co-workers. I had lunch with some of the English department last Friday. On Monday, the English department had a dessert social for me. Ann Vazquez definitely knows how to bake! Speaking of Ann, she has been an invaluable resource to me since I started. As the department head, she patiently and gracefully helped me by answering my endless questions, providing encouragement during rough patches, and celebrating my successes! I can’t thank her enough for her role in helping me over the years. Finally, the foreign language department took me out for lunch to Olive Garden yesterday. It was such a treat to spend some time with them since I haven’t seen them as much this year.  I hope everyone from East Pennsboro has a relaxing summer—you deserve it!

Our First Real Post: Update of the Last 3.5 Months

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Jeremy and I wanted to give everyone an update on everything going on in our lives right now. Sorry for how long it is, but we have a lot going on right now :).


Our Plans

Short version: We are leaving the Harrisburg area on June 23, and we are leaving the country sometime at the end of July/beginning of August.

Long version: We are moving out of our apartment in Harrisburg by June 23. Technically, our lease ends at the end of June. However, we leave for Pre-Field Orientation (PFO) on June 23, so we have to be moved out by then. We will be at PFO until July 4th. Then, we plan to visit with family and friends until we leave. Right now, we don’t have a date set to leave because we can’t buy plane tickets until we have our visas. Our first day of work is August 6th, so we hope to be in Brazil by then!


Visas

Short version: We are hoping to have our visas soon! We are done with our end of things, and our school is working on getting our visas in Brazil.

Long version: After about three months of getting all of our documents (IDs, passports, diplomas, certifications, background checks, employment verifications, resumes, birth certificates, marriage license…the list seemed endless!) together, one trip to a notary, two trips to the PA Dept. of State for authentication, three calls to the Brazilian Consulate, four trips to the post office to mail documents to the consulate, we went to Fedex to mail everything to Brazil. Recently, Daniel (the HR guy at our school in Brazil) told us he is almost finished translating our documents into Portuguese and is ready to take them to Brazil’s Ministry of Labor to get our visa.


Packing and Moving

Short version: We hate packing and moving!

Long version: Because we have known for a while that we are moving, we have been trying to do a little at a time. Part of me is glad that we have had so much time. Part of me wishes we were moving out tomorrow, so the misery of packing and moving would end! Fortunately, all of our furniture is old from growing up, cheap stuff we bought in college, or bought on Craigslist. Also, because we always thought we would be moving after a year because of uncertainties with my work, we haven’t bought much of anything. Consequently, we are just selling, donating, or trashing most of our stuff. If there is one redeeming aspect of moving, it’s that we are getting rid of a LOT of STUFF that we don’t need; it is really quite refreshing! As for the stuff we are keeping (but not bringing to Brazil), we are trying to figure out what to do with it. For the stuff we are keeping (and taking to Brazil), it is hopefully going to fit into 6 large suitcases. Our dog, Lacey, seems very concerned that we are going to leave her, so she keeps trying to jump in boxes with our stuff.


Raising Support

Short version: We trust that God will provide! If you would like to support us financially, see our page: Support Us Through NICS!

Long version: As missionaries through NICS, we are only receiving partial salaries that will cover our bare necessities, so we are hoping to raise about $250 each month to help supplement our salaries. We are also hoping to raise $6000 for our initial startup costs (flights, visa process, setting up our apartment in Brazil, etc.). If you would like to give each month or just make a one-time gift, information is available on our page, Support Us Through NICS!


Prayer Requests

Here are our current prayer requests:

  • God prepares us to effectively do His work
  • Moving goes smoothly…among other things, pray that:
    • we are able to sell our car and other stuff
    • we are OK with getting rid of some sentimental items
    • we are able to get it all done in time (since Jeremy will be gone for two weeks on business trips in June)
    • we enjoy our last month with friends in the area
  • Our families’ processing and adjusting to the idea of us leaving and living far away
  • BIS (our school) staff and students
  • Financial support will be raised

We will provide updates as these prayer requests are answered or as new ones arise.