Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Visas Obtained! (and Yes, we're back to executing "Plan A")

I checked the incoming emails last evening, and, lo and behold, one was received: an email from our abogados, (law firm) entitled "VISAS."

Merci, our receptionist there at Coloaustro, let us know we were able to obtain our long awaited permanent pensionado Visas.  We were informed as to the payment to be made to our Facilitator Joseph Guznay's bank account in Quito, and by what date (this coming Friday).  Once that payment is made, the Visas will be sent to Coloaustro in Cuenca for presentation to us.  That should occur on the following Friday.  

So. . . we will be able to travel to the USA this August with our permanent Visas in hand placed in our USA Passports after all!  We praised God above for this news and sang the Doxology.  

The Cedula cards, a kind of national identification card here in Ecuador, will be issued two days after we obtain our Visas in our hands, according to everything we've read here on the subject from fellow expats.  We will be wise to laminate them after making photocopies of them according to our usual expat sources on the 'Net.  Losing your original Cedula card can be a pain to replace.  Worth it as well to make copies of your permanent Visa and carry it with you for everyday activities - easier and less hassle to lose it than your original US passport/Visa.  Traveling internationally, of course, one needs - and must have - their original Visa and passport.  The airlines check them before you board your flight.  Very important to keep your original documents in a secure place where you know where they are located, and to use the photocopies for everyday business. . . for example, when you purchase items.  Now I will be able to finally show my Cedula card to the store clerks and not look like a green "just off the boat" extranjero. Progress at last!    

Thanks to everyone who has faithfully prayed for us concerning us obtaining our Visas.  We walk by faith, not by feelings, or sight, or trust in mere mortal men.  Obedience to what God has called us to do here in Cuenca and in Ecuador is what matters.  We have much work to do teaching and volunteering among the poblacion - population - here, and we need to be about that work.  First, however, we have plans for that trip back to the US.  We wisely did not change our return airline tickets to Quito and hotel reservation in Houston, and have those details set.

We immediately realized that we can - and should - go back to our original plans, arriving in mid August and leaving in late September, as originally envisioned.  Sorry to everyone we won't have time to see. . . but we have our life to live here in Ecuador.  We'll be back sooner rather than later with a trip centered around Michigan folks with California possibly visited as well.  We'll undoubtably place plenty of cell phone calls outside of California while we are back Stateside in our visit.

So if you live in California, it means we are still likely to see you in person, if at all possible, schedules permitting on both parties' sides.  If you live in Michigan or outside of California, we hope to at least place a phone call to you.  We don't have the extended time envisioned by "Plan B" to visit in person this trip.  Next visit is much more likely, however. . . don't lose hope!

The big lesson in living in Ecuador we have learned is to, above all, be patient, flexible. . . and don't lose hope!  Things do get done in Ecuador, though not on your time schedule.  If you cannot adapt to these facts, you are frankly better off living somewhere else.  But hey. . . we're adapters here in Ecuador!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Running the Race with Endurance. . . and, Announcing "Plan B!"

Once again, an update on our permanent pensionado Visa process: I went to our abogado/law firm here in Cuenca, Coloaustro, Tuesday the 14th to inquire of Jonathan, our bilingual assistant attorney, as to the status of our long awaited permanent Visas.  They see how we have been patiently waiting, and not becoming emotional and visibly upset about the delay. . . it pays to keep a cool head here in the calm (at least on the surface) Ecuadorian culture.  Our bilingual receptionist, Merci, flatly stated the process, especially being performed at Ministario de Relaciones Exteriores y Movilidad Humana's Quito office, should have only taken a month.  She had a dismayed look on her face. . . even she knows we have been patient and that Ministario is dragging their feet. 

I asked for a consultation with Jonathan, and she obliged.  Jonathan too was dismayed at the situation.  He has been in contact - as I have - with our Visa Facilitator, Joseph Guznay in Quito, and Jonathan has been made aware among other things that the Ministario woman official who has our file has been out of the office quite a bit lately.  That doesn't help us, but even so, both of us knew there is no valid reason for the delay.  "I'll put some more pressure on her from here," Jonathan told me.  "Not any kind that would create further problems!" I shot back.  The *last* thing I want to do is to create ill will or even more problems in getting our Visas granted to us and in our hands. 

Needless to say, please pray.  I heard from one of our church friends at Iglesia Verbo Cristiana here in Cuenca that one such Visa case took *ten* months!  Ouch!  Lessee. . . We began our consultations with our abogados/law firm in February.  That might indicate a granting of the Visas in. . . December.  That leads me to our next topic.

I discussed with Jonathan what we realistically can plan to do given that we plan to be visiting friends and family in the United States beginning mid August.  Our 180 day Resident Visa Extensions expire on September 1, during the time we will be Stateside.  How do we get back into Ecuador, nuestro hogar?  To our condo in Cuenca and our little dog, too?  The answer: a T-3 Tourist Visa, which is a stamp received in one's US Passport.  We've done that before, twice already.  The catch here this time is that we will be required - due to Ecuadorian Immigration laws - to stay out of Ecuador for 90 days.  OK, a furlough of sorts.  We can return. . . but we will need to be patient in doing so.  Maybe in the intervening time we could hear from Jonathan and Coloaustro that the Visas are ready to be received. . . come on home to Ecuador!  One step at a time, though.  

So, with this confirmation, which I have seen discussed elsewhere on Facebook Ecuador expat group pages, btw (one fellow who does the Visa paperwork for a living on behalf of fellow expats confirmed the 90 day out of Ecuador rule in a reply to another person in our same situation. . . now I don't feel so bad about it) we now know what to expect.  We may now reasonably expect to act on alternate plans during our trip Stateside.  Call it Plan B.  

Plan B is an enhancement and extension of what we had planned previously.  It also incorporates some added activities and travel we had anticipated would occur during the following flight back to the USA.  We will need to be economical in doing it, though. . . we sold our house and cars, and will need to rely on some more available economical alternatives to keep costs - over and above our normal living expenses - in line with what is appropriate for us. 

Carolyn Anne and I have discussed at some length a set of lists we have saved to our desktop computer here.  Lists include What to Bring, What to do/Who to see, and What to Bring Back(!).  On who to see, after we attend my 40th High School Reunion in Oceanside, California, we will prep ourselves for a trip to Carolyn Anne's many friends and surviving family in Michigan, before colder temperatures settle in there in snow country.  Instead of flying to Michigan and renting a car, we will drive there - we have the available time - and buy a (hopefully) well maintained quality used car that gets great gas mileage, especially given the extremely high California gas prices this Summer.  A Toyota Prius fits the bill nicely, to name one example, and we can purchase a good used one for ~$6,000 to $10,000 easily in SoCal.  Ditch the rental car and off we go!  45 mpg sounds fantastic!

It's likely we take several days to get to Michigan. . . taking each day as it comes and being flexible where we stay, etc.  That way, we won't be unrealistic or overtired (more of a Carolyn Anne concern than one of mine - I travel well, especially once I am in a driving mode).  Several days back. . . leaving around three weeks free in Michigan to do visiting.  We'll start in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan first, and work our way southward to Detroit.  I haven't seen this part of the United States in decades and Michigan not at all, so it will look new to me.  Another exploration and time for adventure!

Once back in California, we anticipate more visiting, and time to visit Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Orange County (El Toro area) where the headquarters of Celebrate Recovery is at, as Saddleback started it some years ago.  It's now an international ministry in many parts of the world, including our Ecuador, and we want to spend time with the leaders and get appropriate materials, etc. especially if any are available in Spanish to use here in Cuenca.  It would be useful to be of assistance and support to our local Celebrando la Recuperacion group at Iglesia Verbo Cristiana in Cuenca, and the pastors and leaders in Verbo know our heart in this matter. 

There's also time to actually take time for a Men's Retreat at Hume Lake with our Grace Chapel folks in Lancaster, too, as the calendar - and a timely email from a pastor - points out.  Neat bonus, as I hope to visit Howard Scholl, who served as a missionary to a Christian retreat center in the Quito area and does a lot of the same outdoor ministry activities at Hume.  Howard is a good sounding board, and as I related here before months ago, gave us wise advice on how to approach living in Ecuador in terms of the use of Spanish language and its acquisition.  In short, you *will* need to speak Spanish while living there, on at least a conversational level.  So true!  Tanto verdad en las palabras de mi hermano en Cristo. 

Visiting more friends and relatives, Grace Chapel in Lancaster, California friends, and. . . shopping for supplies to bring back to Cuenca (avoiding import taxes when you bring them yourself vs. having them shipped to you). . . and that just about completes the list of things we want to do.  Sell the used car before we fly out, hopefully for around the same amount that we paid for it, and we're off again to Ecuador!  God willing in all of this, of course.

By then, hopefully we'll have those permanent Visas in hand or will have them shortly after our arrival to Cuenca.  So. . . we'll execute Plan B.  Time well spent for Eternal things while waiting on this present Earth for a temporal one.  A good trade, eh?  (smile)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Stories. . . on Ecuadorians Leaving the Past Behind

A quick update on our Visa/Cedula process: we are presently waiting on the Ministario de Relaciones Exteriores y Movilidad Humana office in Quito to grant us our Visas and Cedulas.  We hope to get them *before* we leave Ecuador for our visit back to the United States next month.  We have been -ahem - patiently waiting since late April for them.  We'll see if Ministario truly delivers this time. . . supposedly there is a lot of applications to process by them at that office lately according to our Facilitator, Joseph Guznay.  Please continue to pray.

The following vignettes will also serve as reminders to pray for the Ecuadorian people who are lost, hurting, and without the hope available in our ever powerful, Risen, and strong God, Jesus Christ.

We have gotten to know Elizabeth, an Azogues native (Azogues is about an hour's drive northward from Cuenca), through our attendance at Iglesia Verbo Cristiana in Cuenca.  She is presently awaiting obtaining a US Visa from the US Consulate in Guayaquil, which will allow her to legally travel from Ecuador to her fiancĂ©e Mark in Wisconsin.  Quite a patient lady waiting on the Visa situation, too.  Anyways, she has a brother and sister who live nearby whom she sees regularly.  (Her mother is dead and buried, as is the custom here in Ecuador.  Her father has disowned the family and is not in contact.) 

One day not long ago she invited them to attend worship services with us at Verbo.  Their background is Roman Catholic, which is virtually standard in Latin America in general.  That association with Catholicism may often be a nominal one with many Ecuadorians, but in the case of these two, they actually have recent attendance in that institution.  

It turned out that her brother really appreciated the services and the message by the pastor present at Verbo that day (they rotate turns at the pulpit so as to provide a shared ministry to the congregation).  So much so that he said he wanted to return back. . . and leave his Catholicism behind.  It is obvious that the Word of God given in song and in the message and prayers is drawing him to the True Risen Lord Jesus Christ.  His enthusiasm is evident despite his using Spanish as his home language, and us native English speakers not always understanding exactly what he is excited at getting across to his sister(s) and us. 

Liberty and freedom in Jesus Christ. . . having your sins forgiven by Him directly, not by a priest. . . understanding relationships in the family the way God wants them to be from His Word, not the way so many here have experienced in confusion and brokenness. . . it's better than a drug, that's for sure!  The Holy Spirit is truly drawing all men to himself, including this one who is heeding the call to follow Jesus.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth's sister was dismayed by the lack of liturgy and pro forma utterances, etc. during the same worship service at Verbo.  She stated to Elizabeth that she was going back to the Roman Catholic Church, and that she was shocked at all the new things that were going on at Verbo during the service (the sister's view).  Breaks Elizabeth's heart to hear that from her own sister, but that's the way some people respond to the Word of God actually lived out and shared amongst the people.  Spiritually dead, and not responding to the offer of Everlasting Life made so plainly each and every worship service at Verbo.  The Evil One is keeping her from knowing the true lost spiritual state she is in before the Father.  Ouch!

Here's another: Fabian, the father of three lovely elementary age daughters, who we have gotten to know through attending Celebrando la Recuperacion (Celebrate Recovery) at Iglesia Verbo Cristiana in Cuenca, is a relatively new believer in the one True Jesus Christ.  Roman Catholic background once again.  He practiced his very good English (learned in Toronto, Canada while working there) with us as we were being driven back in his car from a Celebrando la Recuperacion family outing during the day at a fellow member's vacation home in the Yunguilla Valley two hour's westward from Cuenca at around 5200 feet (lower) elevation.  It was nice to enjoy the bit of warmer weather there and shed our coats at host Juan Carlos' place, where he had a swimming pool and a sand volleyball court for the kids to especially enjoy.  Cuenca that previous week had suffered a cold (for Cuenca) snap - this is Cuenca and Ecuador's "winter" season, though it's known as "summer."

Back to Fabian again.  He asked me in English - he wanted the practice - how we had found Verbo.  "The Internet," I replied.  No family here, or friends when we first arrived.  Not the usual answer, to be sure, in such a family oriented culture as Ecuador.  "How did you find Verbo, Fabian?" I asked back.  Oh, boy!  I had opened up the proverbial "can of worms."  

He related - in English, of course - how he had questions of the Roman Catholic priest at his church.  They didn't listen to him and his questions, didn't respect the situation or the relational pain he was suffering, didn't counsel him from the Scriptures, and gave him a perfunctory kind of answer.  This was evidently over a period of time - not all at once.  Eventually he had made up his mind that the Roman Church could not be trusted with his questions, much less his life.  So he left.  He found out about Verbo from a friend.  Friendship Evangelism works after all, even across cultures and languages!

Fabian has a very evident heart for the Lord.  His wife does not believe the same way he does, which provides a certain amount of misunderstanding and tension within the home.  He is allowed by his wife to bring their three daughters to Verbo regularly, which is a significant praise.  He wants them to learn more English too, which incidentally may well end up with giving me some tutoring work.  Please pray with us for his wife, that she too comes to the Truth that is in the One True Risen Christ Jesus.   

The following story comes via Cuenca High Life, which is an English language Internet site for expats in Cuenca.  They originally sourced it via Yahoo News.  It tells a similar story to my above vignettes, but involves the Quichua, an indigeneous people usually found in the Amazon, although some live here in Cuenca.  The women have a very distinctive (and expensive - ~$100 USD) traditional skirt that they wear, along with their traditional brimmed hats.  I think you will benefit from the perspective given there.