Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Gringo Churches. . . and Gringos and Churches

Heads up to our faithful readers: no new  developments regarding our FBI Criminal Background Check reports already submitted to our FBI approved Channeler.  I'll be checking on that situation hopefully later today.

So much I've learned, so little time to write about it all. . .   (sigh)

Today's focus will be on Gringos and churches.  Or, if you will, extranjeros y Iglesias, especialmente las Iglesias de los extranjeros.  That is to say, foreigners and churches, especially expat churches. 

The church - the Bride of Christ - is called out of the world, but still presently in the world.  In, but not of, as the Apostle John so wisely put it.  The expat church in a foreign country (like Ecuador is to us in our case) is a double dose of that spiritual and relational reality: in a new country, with a different language, culture, set of customs, and geography, but not of the things that make up that country.  We are, instead, as the Apostle Peter so aptly illustrates, aliens and strangers - extranjeros - to this present world.  We long for our True Home and country, Heaven, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us. 

Now, presently speaking here in Ecuador, or in any country around the world, there is no perfect church, experientially speaking.  That's because we practically speaking are all sinners and still sin, and have imperfectness in our thoughts, perceptions, and actions.  We all miss the mark presently.  By God's marvelous Grace, however, He sees is positionally as fully sanctified, pure and holy, and thus perfect.  We don't deserve such a gift, but we may humbly receive it and claim it as ours according to what God has promised in His word, the Bible. 

We likewise are not presently perfect.  We still sin, fall short of the high and perfect standard that God alone in Jesus Christ is able to perform.  May God be merciful to us, sinners. . . saved by His evergreen and rich Grace afforded us by the price paid at the Cross.

All that said, I have been looking for a church - indigenous and Ecuadorian or expat and North American to begin teaching English, whether paid or volunteer.  Never mind that among the secular community(ies) present here in Cuenca there are abundant opportunities to teach English - ESL, or English as a Second Language as a volunteer.  Iglesia Verbo Cristiana, our current church home, is in its Arco Language Institute service arm not yet set to hire any new ESL teachers until July at the earliest, I have been informed this past Friday.  So it may be appropriate to begin by volunteering elsewhere in the meantime.

I have enjoyed these past several weeks a Men's Breakfast sponsored by and for Cuenca Christian Church, an expat English speaking church, and have gotten to know some of the men that attend.  I seem to be the only one that attends that is not a Sunday morning worshipper of that congregation, yet I am still welcome.  Thanks, my brothers in Christ for that.  Anyways, it became known to me through one of the attendees of that Men's Breakfast that a new ministry in the El Centro of Cuenca is in need of volunteer ESL teachers to converse and spend time with the local population that comes in on written schedule (trying to pair up willing volunteers with those who wish assistance in a coordinated way).  I had some time this past Saturday morning to give, and so off I went with one of the men to find this hole-in-the-wall place on a very busy main street in the thick of El Centro.

I enjoyed my time with my friend and a 79 year old grandmother who just wanted to learn English in order to converse and understand her Gringo neighbors. . . God Bless her in her efforts at such an advanced age!  Afterwards, I had some unstructured time with the founder of the ministry who is from the United States, who did quite a bit of talking. . . and talking. . . and talking. 

I don't get the sense I was truly listened to, which reminded me of other places and other times in the US when this same thing happened.  The common thread here is the Signs and Wonders movement, which places emphasis on experience, imho, versus really truly understanding what the Bible is all about in its true context, and naturally, what God is all about. . . His Divine purposes and plans for humankind, and for us each individually.

I believe God is grieved when fellow Believers don't agree when they should, and be guided together in the Scriptures with the Holy Spirit guiding them into all Truth.  My host was right, however, in saying that "if you get Doctrine (teaching) right, you get everything else right."  Problem is, his Doctrine does not line up or agree with my Doctrine. . . what I would term the Essentials of the Christian faith.  What I would die for rather than recant in order to live longer on this transitory sphere called Earth (witness the beheadings of Christian believers from Egypt by ISIS in Libya lately).  

Insisting that his ministry is going to raise the dead?  Recounting several unsubstantiated instances of alleged miracles/healings?  No proof.  Please be reasonable and produce the people and the testimonies - verifiable, please - to back up the claims.  It's one thing to say it, but it's another thing to produce it, imho.  "I am now balanced in my ministry," says my host.  Yeah.  Having the icing of the cake before the Essentials of the Faith - the main meal - is hardly balanced.  

Yes, he's got relationships forming and people dropping into his storefront ministry.  I understand the concept and the practice.  And it's neat to have local Cuencanos and Cuencanas come by for the Engish conversations and readings - and sometimes in the Bible, too!  I wanna support this kind of English learning friendship ministry.  But I noticed I wasn't listened to - respected - by the main guy who started the place.  

I am torn.  I am saddened.  

I dunno what decision I will make about where to teach English for the interim at the moment.  I am presently leaning against returning to this particular place to volunteer my English teaching skills.  

I wish the True Church - all those who truly are in Jesus by Faith alone - would be more united.  Ecuador, like a lot of Latin America, has a "Wild West" mentality where anything and everything goes.

Please pray for God's Wisdom in how to proceed given my teaching gifts and skills.           

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Pasando la prueba/Passing the test

We are now hopefully at the final stages of getting our Indefinite Pensionado Visas.  Here's the latest in this long adventure to acquire permanent residency in Ecuador.

The week of March 29 to April 4 was spent in large part traveling from Cuenca to Quito and return beginning with a flight with LAN Airlines - a first for us in country and just 45 minutes from takeoff to touchdown, getting an airport taxi to our Hostal in the Antigua/Historical sector of Quito, and getting to our appointment at Ministario de Relaciones Exteriores the next day.  We met our Visa facilitator from our abogado office, Coloaustro in Cuenca, Joseph Guznay who as it turns out was a former employee of the Ministario office in Quito, making him well versed in knowing each employee there by name and face, as well as knowing the procedures of the Ministario office.  He speaks fluent English and Spanish, and even - as it turns out - has his own Facebook page!  He put us at ease in that very busy office and took care of matters, submitting our official documents so laboriously assembled to date and getting the necessary to date portion of the Visa fee paid.  Our Cedula photos were also taken, which we were told would be appropriate looking - not making us out to look like criminals - and we were done with the submission. 

Except for one thing: Ministario still insists there is a requirement - new since December, 2014 - for a FBI Criminal Background Check as well as the (in our case) State of California DOJ Criminal Background Check Report, which we have already obtained and apostilled.  We submitted a previous FBI report request last Fall, and it resulted in a negative result for the both of us.  Age and work performed (such as teaching by using chalk, which is abrasive to fingers, and nursing by using equipment that similarly wears down the fingers) works to reduce the ability to get good fingerprint identifications.  Despite this, and despite the fact that each state report contains information that is sent to the FBI by the States anyway, Ministario still insists on this requirement being met.  Hence the title of this post: Passing the Test.

Joseph Guznay, a Quito based Visa facilitator that works on behalf of several law firms and facilitators throughout Ecuador, and probably one of the two most knowledgeable people in Ecuador helping Visa applicants of late - the other is a woman who is based in Guayaquil - has an inside perspective on how it is to be played out, however.  Simply stated, it's do what Ministario asks us to do - get the FBI Background Check performed.  If we pass it (and of course have the US State Department in Washington, D.C. apostille the documents), great and wonderful!  We get our indefinite Visas and Cedulas.  If we do not - which is quite likely in our situation - don't sweat it.  Simply consult with Joseph and Ministario for how to proceed.  If they say to resubmit a new FBI Check application, do it.  At some point sooner rather than later - most likely sooner - Ministario will say we have done our part to the best of our ability, and with Joseph's ministrations and negotiation abilities, will grant us our Visas and Cedula cards.  So it's not about getting a positive FBI check result - it's about going through the motions and process of doing what Ministario is asking for. 

I wish more expats in and moving to Ecuador would get that last part through their heads: one lady here in Cuenca posted on a Facebook group that they have tried and failed several times with the FBI check process, and their Tourist Visa six month extension is running out.  She is under the impression they actually have to move out of Ecuador.  To be conservative about it, yes, I can see that.  But practically speaking, she should have had a well versed attorney or facilitator like Joseph Guznay working for her.  The situation in her case cries out for a merciful end, and a granting of the Visa. 

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Here's the steps needed to get the FBI Criminal Background Check submitted, while in Ecuador.  They are more time consuming and difficult than if one was in their home country of the United States, which I will try to elaborate on in the hopes it may help others down the road as well as give a perspective on "what do those two do all day?  They sure don't communicate much lately."  Here goes. . . 

(1) Print out FBI FD-258 forms from the Internet.  The forms are easy to find, but without a printer with ink cartridges, requires the use of someone else's printer.  We used our law firm's printer, necessitating a trip there. 

Time spent: 2 hours on Monday, April 6th.  Cost: None.

(2)  Locate/get directions for the local Law Enforcement Agency appropriate to our fingerprinting needs here in Ecuador.  in our case, we found that (and confirmed by our law firm's assistant, Javier) that the Policia Nacional is the agency that we should deal with, specifically the unit known as Criminalistica.  *Where* in Cuenca is their location, however?  I researched and found that they were on a street I hadn't heard of before, in a sector of Cuenca - southwest - I hadn't been to before, with no street address number or streets intersecting nearby.  A mystery.  Javier found out where, and how to get there.  We were to meet him at Coloaustro law firm this past Thursday, April 9th to take a taxi to Criminalistica to have the fingerprints taken on the newly printed forms.  We did so, and that took the better part of the afternoon. 

Cost of taxi and color copies of our passports (again): $15.  Time in waiting to get task done: Monday, April 6 through Thursday, April 9.  

(3) Send FBI FD-258 documents (we made two sets so in case one fails, we have another that may be processed for free) to our FBI Channeler of choice, National Background Check, Inc. (NCBI) of Columbus, Ohio.  Easier said than done.  We had to fill in the FBI FD-258 form(s), already partially filled out to have approval by Criminalistica's use. Had to run a block down the street one block to our local Internet CafĂ© and 10 cents a minute International telephone kiosk to call NCBI to clarify how to fill in the FBI FD 258 forms.  Then had to return there yet again to copy the NBCI application forms.  Then had to run to Iglesia Verbo Cristiana's Arco Institute where Carolyn Anne was taking her Spanish class to get her signature on the NBCI application form.  Home to check over all the paperwork. . . everything filled out correctly and completely?  Then on to FedEx in Cuenca via taxi to get to their office hopefully before they close for almuerzo, which I later found out at their office is from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM (FedEx's Internet site for Ecuador didn't mention that).  Made it at 12:40 and filled out the shipping form and dropped it all into a FedEx envelope (from the USA - all words in English) and dealt with the clerks there, especially Sonia and her 10 year old daughter, Victoria by speaking Spanish only the whole time.  I know I made a few new friends by being an extranjero who was willing to use the native language of Ecuador!  Got several smiles too. . . Thank you Lord for showing the way and helping me do Your Will among these people you love.  Your strength is surely made perfect in weakness.

Time involved: morning of Monday, April 13th.  Cost involved: $95 x 2 (applications) = $190 for the NCBI FBI Background Checks, plus $53 (cash only) at FedEx for the shipping, Next Day Air arriving in Ohio, USA Wednesday.  So $243 total this day.  

Total Costs, Steps 1 - 3: $258    
Total Time, Steps 1 - 3: one calendar week

Total Costs/Quito Trip:
     Taxi to CUE Airport  $3.50
     LAN Airlines CUE to UIO  $181
     Taxi to Hostal in Quito  $30 (no change from chofer - my bad)
     Hostal lodging  $150/3 nights
     Food/beverages  7 + 13 + 21 + 11 + 9 = $61
     Taxi around town/sightseeing @Mitad del Mundo 5 + 33 + 3.50 + 7 + 14 = $ 62.50
     Express Sucre intercity bus Terminal Terrestre sur/Quitumbe - Terminal Terrestre/Cuenca $20

Total Costs/Quito Trip: $508
Total Costs, Steps 1 - 3: $258


As you can see, there is a time and, especially financial expense involved with getting a Visa here in Ecuador for retiree pensionados like us jubilados.  When Jesus said to Count the Cost, he wasn't joking!

So we have finally submitted the dreaded FBI Criminal Background Check application forms to the appropriate people in the USA per Ministario's requirements.  Will we Pass the Test?  Will we have to repeat the application process and spend additional time and expense to do so?  Will we finally get our Pensioner's Visas?  Our facilitator in Quito, Joseph Guznay, says we will. . . all a matter of time.

Meanwhile, Brethren, pray for us.