Jul
11

Visa Update + Summer

Hi Everyone, It’s been a while since our last update/newsletter, and I know I’ve left some things up in the air, especially concerning our visa situation. There’s so much going on here, and I’m not doing a great job sharing it with you all. Please forgive me!

Okay, in an attempt to fill you in, let’s start with the visas. First a (hopefully) short recap. At the end of last year, we went in to apply for our next visa (for this year) and were told that many of the regulations regarding our particular visa had changed, and if we wanted to stay in Ireland, we’d need to file for an extension. The immigration department would review our paperwork and situation and decide if we’d be allowed this special permission.

That information was really unexpected and we were a bit shaken at the thought of the possibility of being sent back to the States suddenly. It was a good opportunity to lean into the Lord! We applied for the extension and waited for a decision.

In really dramatic fashion, and what we considered to be a miraculous intervention, the Lord sorted out the extension and we were not only granted permission to stay in Ireland for another year, but also able to go on two international trips that we’d previously planned! You can read more about that here if you want to know the story – it’s a good one!

After the extension was granted, we learned that we wouldn’t be able to apply for that particular visa again. After talking to other missionaries and doing some research, we found out that we qualified for a different immigration permission called the Minister of Religion visa. The extension we received won’t expire until the fall, but to ensure we’d have enough time to plan, especially if we needed to appeal a decision, we decided to try to apply as soon as possible for next year’s visa.

Looking into the new visa, we learned that it had also been revamped and that the number of documents required had tripled. In addition, we were told specifically by the immigration department that if we wanted to get a visa we’d never held before, we needed to apply as if we didn’t have a visa at all. We’d need to go back to the States, send our documents from there, and wait for their decision. This could take up to two months. We emailed back and forth several times, trying to explain how difficult this would be, but the immigration department here in Ireland was adamant.

So, we began to make preparations. Gathering documents, doing research, sending emails and talking to various people and departments, booking tickets and making arrangements to go home, and at the same time, continuing ministry here in Cork and just mentally trying to settle into the fact that we had no idea what the future held. We could easily be denied and sent home. Something that I’m so thankful for is that, when the Lord called us to Ireland, He was very clear. And the calling was to be without reservation. We have no plan B, no “what if,” no car or house or security in the States, no imaginations about what life would be like away from Ireland. The idea of not being able to stay was scary and heartbreaking.

In the spring, we took our furlough. Four states within the first four weeks, six weeks total! Ireland is our home, wholeheartedly, and we pray earnestly that we’ll get to stay here for a very long time. But there’s also something really special about going back to your first home. You don’t live there anymore, but it’s familiar. You know where everything is, all your food cravings are fulfilled, conversations and interactions have deep roots. I’m learning that “home” is more about people and experiences than location. The month and a half away went by both fast and slow; it was refreshing and exhausting and good!

While we were there, we finalized our paperwork and submitted our application for the Minister of Religion Visa. Soon after, we got an email saying the immigration department in Ireland had received our documents, but that there wasn’t a need for us to have left the country to apply. The person we were emailing with now was saying the opposite of what we’d been repeatedly and adamantly told before. At this point, we were frustrated, but it was just another thing to trust the Lord with. We were doing everything we could, and the realization that things were completely out of our control was well established. The Lord had a plan, and we could trust Him. That’s what we knew. And we were with family and friends that we hadn’t seen in a long while; there was a lot to be thankful for.

We finished our time in the US and headed back to Cork. When we arrived home, we discovered a letter from Immigration that had been waiting for us for a month. It stated that our current visa, which we’d gotten for the extension, was the Minister of Religion Visa, and that if we wanted an answer for next year, we’d need to apply again before it ran out in October.

We’d spent all that time and money, going back to the States, all the paperwork and original, signed documents. Now they were saying our current visa is something it wasn’t. And we still had no answer for after October.

It took me a couple of weeks to stop being upset. But in my time with the Lord, He reminded me of a verse He’d given me from Psalm 37:39-40…

“The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
    He is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    He delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in Him.”

He has our answer in His hand. It’s not in the hands of anyone else. If He wants us here, nothing will be able to take us out. And if His plan means leaving, then it will still be a good plan. He reminded me about the work in front of us – there’s so much! The Lord is doing so many things in our church, in our city! We were about to head into the busiest time of the year ministry wise, and we could not afford to be distracted or have our heads in two places. Hand to the plow. Whatever the answer will be, it will come from the Lord.

Somehow after that, I was able to focus again. It’s like I’d been driving in heavy rain. Blurry vision, windshield wipers racing, the pressure of keeping everything going. But I could let my heart rest a bit now. He was doing His part, and we needed to be faithful with ours.

………………………………………………

And that brings us to the summer! I honestly love summer so much! There’s the possibility of consistent sunshine (although the sporadic sun in Ireland makes us grateful and flexible – you have to change your plans and go outside when there’s Vitamin D to be had!). There’s a well earned break from school for all of us, and the calendar is full of both ministry and family time.

If you’ve made it this far in the post, I’d love to ask you to pray for the things we have going on! Each month in the summer, we have at least one church family event. This year they include a Father’s Day BBQ and a bonfire at the beach in August! We’re also gearing up to begin a small group study for the teenagers in our church in the fall, so we have monthly Youth Group events on for the summer! Please pray for this new, exciting ministry!

The biggest event is definitely our Holiday Bible Club (aka VBS) which is set to happen at the end of this month. The Lord gave us a vision to write one ourselves last summer, and we’re doing the same this year. There’s also a team of 13 coming from the States to help serve – which is incredible! That means that parents and our normal Sunday morning volunteers will get a rest, and the entire church is served!

We have some cool family things on the calendar as well, and we’re making the most of the summer months with sunshine and no school routine!

Please pray for us as we continue preparing for the team and Holiday Bible Club. I would be lying if I didn’t say there has been a fair amount of spiritual warfare already. That coupled with just the normal pressure of putting on a big event – there’s a lot going on! Please pray for the team as they get ready to come, for all the logistical things that happen when 13 people travel, and for what the Lord wants to do in and through them in the ten days they’ll be on the ground here. And most of all, please pray for the kids that are coming to the club! Pray that they will have an amazing time and experience the love and hope we have in Jesus!

I’m excited about the Gospel going out, for God’s Word to be shared, and that we get to be a part of what the Lord is going to do in those three days!

Would you pray too, for our visas? The earliest we can reapply is the third week of August. At the moment, we have peace and are able to focus on the things in front of us. But it has been a very long and difficult process so far, and I know that as we get closer, we’ll need reminders to rest, to trust that God has a good plan.

Thank you for reading and praying and being a part of what the Lord is doing here in Cork! We’re greatly humbled and encouraged that the Lord would use us here, and that people would partner with us, to see the the Gospel go forth and the work done. Jesus has incredible things in store – what a blessing it is to co-labor with Him!

Feb
02

Rest Sister

So, we leave to go back to the States for furlough tomorrow – crazy!!  Crazy because we just started packing today (although, as a friend reminded me, experience has shown we don’t actually need that much time to pack!)  Crazy too, because life has been a bit crazy lately.

You might remember that before the boys and I went to the Philippines with my family, Branden and I had some challenges with renewing our visa.  Well, praise God that visa did get sorted (in an amazing and dramatic last minute display of God’s ability to take of things we can’t!)  We are good to stay in Ireland until the end of October this year.

What is still up in the air is what will happen after that.  In 2018, the Irish government made some major changes to its immigration regulations.  We first found out about them in September when we went to renew the visa we have now.  One of those changes is that there is now a cap on the number of years you can be on this visa.  That cap is three years, which we will complete in October of this year.

Because we can’t apply for it again, we either need to leave the country or get permission to stay under a different visa.  We’ve learned that there is one other visa we could qualify for and, through lots of conversations and weeks and weeks of research, we’ve almost gathered all the documents required to apply.  Most of these documents have never been asked of applicants before and several of them are not easy to obtain.  Among other changes, the immigration department is also requiring that we apply from our country of residence, which is one of the main reasons why we’re headed home for furlough.  Once we land in the U.S., we can mail in our application and documents, along with proof that we’ve left the country.  Then we wait to see what they decide.

To be honest, we’ve been on an emotional roller coaster since September regarding the visa situation.  Sometimes it’s at the forefront of everything, this weight and feelings of things being unfair, along with an overwhelming unsettledness and questions of ‘what if?’  What if we can’t get all these documents?  What if we have to leave the country in October?  What will we do?  What will life look like?

We know others that have had to leave suddenly, because of visa issues.  And some have not been permitted to come at all.  There is so much changing in Ireland.  This process feels cold and deliberate and unyielding.  And yet, I know the Lord is there.  That these ‘what if’s’ don’t keep Him up at night.  And sadly, this situation has revealed both my lack of confidence in Him and His relentless, quiet, kindness as He calls my gaze and heart to find my security in Him alone again.

The other day, I’d sent an email to a friend in the States, asking for help with one of the visa documents.  It was on my seemingly impossible list of to-do’s.  I’d been trying to figure out this particular document for several weeks already, without much progress.  Finally, I sent her the email explaining the situation and what we needed.  A few days passed, and I hadn’t heard back from her.  I sent her a message on Facebook to see if she’d gotten it.  We messaged back an forth a couple of times.  In the end, she said she’d take care of it.  Then she wrote the words “rest sister.”

I went to bed that night with a tiny bit of defensiveness.  When we first found out about all the changes, about all that was going to be required for us to apply for this new visa, I was kind of a mess.  It sounded impossible.  And because the regulations are so new, even many of the local authorities didn’t have any experience with them.  There was no template, no list of things to do and check off; we, and the leadership in our church, just needed to figure it out.  Now over the last few months, we’ve found others that are a little further along in the process, and God has been kind to encourage us in lots of other ways.  So most days now, I’m okay with it, functioning somewhat normally with the things in front of me without crying at the drop of a hat.  But this command, this invitation – “rest sister” – it felt a little rough on my skin.  Like “Calm down!” or “Relax already!”

Going to bed that night, I told Branden, “I want to rest!  I want to not be overwhelmed and truly trust that God is gonna take care of everything.  But I also have an incredibly long list of things that I actually have to do.  I can’t just sit back and drink a cup of tea – or maybe I can, while I start packing my bags to leave the country!”  (Did I say a tiny bit of defensiveness?)

This friend of mine, by the way, with the email, she’s always been a source of truth, a way God has spoken in real ways to Branden and me.  I love her so much.

I felt tired.  Ya’ll I am tired!  Like you know when you’re toddler is crying inconsolably because they just haven’t gotten enough sleep?  Yeah, I’ve been there more times than I care to admit in the last few months.  I’ve been overwhelmed, and at the same time, so grateful for where we are, how the Lord led us here, what we get to do and be a part of, and the relationships God has grown in the last 2+ years.

And can I just take a minute and say that God is so good!  That along with what I think are relatively normal challenges of having two pre-teen boys in our house, there is peace and ease and laughter and safety and genuine love  and discipleship in our home – praise God!  Our marriage is probably the best it’s ever been, we’re healthy, ministry is full, and our church is growing is so many ways – so much to be thankful for!

And perhaps that’s why the thought of everything changing again, us being kicked out of the country, not knowing what’s up ahead, that’s why it’s so overwhelming.

In fairness, this call to rest, the Lord had already said it to me.  I know myself (maybe you’re the same?) when I’m exhausted and feel like things are out of control, it’s because I’m trying to do things on my own, trusting in my own abilities and strength.  It’s like I’m walking a tight rope strung over the Grand Canyon, and more and more objects keep getting handed to me.  I have to walk; I have to balance, I have to keep it together!  I’m just not able!

The day after messaging with my friend, I was brought back to a section of Scripture the Lord has often used to speak to me.  This Psalm has encouraged me, convicted me, held me in so many situations.  And it’s not always the same verse or section.  This time it was this:

“The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; He is their stronghold in times of trouble.  The LORD helps them and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him.”
– Psalm 38:39-40

My answer will come from the Lord.  Yes, there are things I need to do, applications and paperwork to fill out, but ultimately, it was the Lord who brought us here, preparing these works in advance for us to do.  And it will be the Lord that either keeps us here or moves us.  And I can trust that He knows the situation, that He knows our hearts, that He has a good plan, whatever it might be.

In that I can rest.

The person who says the words of this psalm is in need of saving, delivering, and help.  And their part, what they are able for is to hide. Not run away or avoid their circumstances, but tuck in, trust, take refuge in something, Someone who is bigger, more capable than they are.  The situation may not change (not right away anyways) but there is shelter, there is safety, and rest.  And joy in His presence!

“Rest” is a call to look up, to see that He is with us, that it’s okay if we cannot, because He can.  Praise God!

……………………………………………….

So, we’re getting ready for a furlough.  And you know what?  When you leave home (to go home!) for six weeks, it actually requires a lot of planning!  Planning on this side – ministry stuff, house stuff, who will mind our cat – lots!  Planning on that side – we’ll visit four states in those six weeks, seeing family and places and more people we love.  So plane tickets, rental cars, meet ups, hang outs, it’s gonna be good :)

And in an effort to slow down, enjoy people, really see what’s in front of me, I’ve decided to do a little photo challenge :) One picture a day – nothing I’ll pull a muscle over, but just one image every day while we’re on the trip that freezes time and locks in something real.  Photography helps me look at things, be present, be thankful!  So that’s my plan.  Anyone want to join me?  I’m gonna use #seetheday2019.  See what I did there?  Anyways, I’ll keep you posted on Instagram and the old Facebook page.  You probably won’t be on a six week trip, but you can totally join me if you want!  Really just want to be present and capture what the Lord has each day, you know?

………………………………………………….

Okay, one more invitation …would you pray with us?  So much to lay before the Lord.  Would you pray for our visa application?  That we’d be able to get all the documents together, that it would get to the right person on the right day, that God would just go before us (as I know He already has) and we’d be approved, without any hiccups or issues?

Would you pray for our time in the States?  I believe the Lord has so much in store, and I don’t want to miss any of it!  For our time with people, that He would use us to encourage others, that all the logistics would come together, and also that it would be a time of rest.  Please pray for safety and health and that we would abide in the Lord.

And would you pray for our church here in Cork?  For those serving in our stead and the precious kiddos and families in our fellowship?  God is doing a great work in this city, and we’re so thankful and humbled to be a part of it!

Okay, I think those are all the major ones!  Thanks for reading guys, and for praying with us, and for being a part of our family and this ministry.  We’re grateful for each of you, and know that we are not alone!  Keep an eye out for that hashtag!

Love you loads, Ernie

Dec
03

Philippines Pictures – Part 2

This is the seventh, and last, post in a series.  If you haven’t read the others yet, please do so using the links below before continuing.  Things might make more sense that way!  Thanks so much for reading!

Part One – You Should Go

Part Two – It’s Okay

Part Three – Thursday

Part Four – God Is Spoiling Us

Part Five – Together

Part Six – Philippines Pictures – Part 1

………………………………………………………….

I love this picture of my Mom, my Aunt, and me – all together in one image, in one place.
My Aunt and Uncle left the States about twenty years ago and moved to the Philippines to become missionaries.  Now they hold church in the downstairs part of their home and have weekly and monthly outreaches to different parts of the community. My Aunt was such a huge influence in my spiritual life when I was growing up.  Our families lived together until I was about nine years old, so Aunts and Uncles were more like another set of parents and cousins were more like siblings.  Going through the process of being called by the Lord to the field ourselves, her encouragement and words of wisdom from being there already, from persevering and learning to follow the Lord in faith, was so valuable.

This was the first time I got to see the work they are doing and meet the people in their church.  I got to lead worship for the two Sunday morning services we were there.  During the trip, anytime we were on the road or away from home, my Aunt and Uncle made a point to gather everyone each night and open the word together.  My Aunt had me lead worship as well.

When I was growing up, everyone in our family sang.  My grandfather used to say that we should, whether we think we had a good voice or not, because that’s all we’ll be doing when we get to Heaven.  I feel like that strong heritage of worship and music was foundational for me, and for my sisters and cousins.  Being together in the Philippines, worshiping the Lord, hearing the familiar harmonies, that time is something I’ll always be grateful for.

I’m so thankful too, for the precious people in their church.  Getting to be with them, I learned just how fervently they prayed for our visas and for us to be able to come on the trip.  One conversation I’ll never forget, a couple in the church who are very close to my Aunt and Uncle, hung out with us quite a bit while we were there.  The man, Kuya Jimmy (kuya means “big brother” and is term of familiarity and respect) told me towards the end of the trip, that when he first saw the boys and I, he had goosebumps.  He said that they’d been praying weekly for us and that when he saw us, it was a great answer to prayer, not mine, but theirs!  What an incredible, humbling blessing!


Later in the trip, we got to go to a different area with another beautiful beach.  Pictures mean so much I think, because they are tangible (digital) evidence of an experience, like a little portal that takes you back to a moment.  These boys wading in the ocean at sunset, on the other side of the world – we were there!


And this boy, with his very serious eyebrows, and beautiful eyes!  And all the watermelon he could fit in his tiny mouth!


More non-seat belted van pictures :) Can you tell they were tired?


I love this beautiful little face!


My parents, they worked so hard to make this trip happen!  Happy birthday Mom!


We’ve lived on an island for two years now, and for two years the boys have asked me to swim in the ocean with them.  And my answer for the most part has been, “Um…no thanks.  It’s freezing!”  But I had no excuse in the Philippines – the water was like bath water!  I actually really swam there, and we were all very happy!  We were on the beach the entire day here – swimming, eating barbecue in a little hut, then back out into the water!


A somewhat sad attempt at an all cousin picture :)


Lola snuggles


My Aunt taking the babies for a walk.  Time is so precious.


Getting to experience some very elaborate buffets in the city!  My Dad looks so happy and Asian here!


Shabu Shabu


We got to visit this really cool museum to celebrate a different aunt’s birthday while we were there!  All the walls are covered with these incredible murals that you’re supposed to interact with.  You leave your shoes at the front desk and walk the entire building in your socks or bare feet!  Missed Branden a little extra on that day.


Ethan and his love of cats!


This optical illusion set up was the coolest!


Getting pampered!  I definitely left the Philippines with my hair a glowing fuchsia color!


Sweet friends – so blessed


Two and a half weeks went by so quickly


Such amazing travelers


The flights home had their own share of craziness, if you can believe it!  But we eventually made our way back home to Branden.  And to the chilly climate of the northern hemisphere.  I have to admit, that part of me that wakes up when I’m with family, takes a little while to go back to sleep.  It’s bittersweet for sure, but always reminds me that I’m not truly home yet, not in Ireland or the States, or anywhere on this beautiful planet.  One day, goodbyes will be a thing of the past, and our hearts will finally be able to settle.  Until then, we keep on traveling.


Well Guys, you made it – end of the series!  Now I promised an announcement, so here it be…

In the not so distant future, we’ll be on a plane again.  We’ll be taking a furlough in the spring, for most of February and March!  The plan is to visit family outside of Colorado for the first part of our trip, and then be in Denver for a few weeks in March.  So, USA – one of the places we love and call home – we’ll see you in a few months!



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