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Category Archives: Event report

This is for reports of events that happened that I may not necessarily have been part of, hence it is a little more distant reporting than the category “Report on Event”

It is good to hear a terrible (to you) sermon now and then

One Sunday recently when I was in Central America I attended an English (Gringo) service hosted by the Spanish (Tico) congregation my brother and his wife and other gringo missionaries in the area are part of.

These Gringos (mainly my brother’s family and another family) are involved with setting up a Christian Private school, and have roles in running an addiction treatment ministry, and helping out in a ministry that takes young girls out of the sex trade and teaches them English so they can get jobs in the regular tourist trade and support their families that way instead. It is all great ministry and all three are growing. The lady who was in charge of the Addiction treatment facility has been there 10 years, and clearly has deep connections, relationship and respect from the Ticos. She showed me the Saturday market, and it took us quite some time to walk from one end to the other with all the hello’s and greetings and meetings we had on the way. That respect seems to be the fruit of a combination of her personality and a factor of having put in a long time in the community. All three missions, and even the Gringo congregation, had stories about the difficulty of getting government permits in writing. The more I heard and saw, the more I think it has to do with an innocent, well-meaning arrogance Gringos bring with them, that the Ticos see and smell but that is inodible (I made that word up spellchecker) to the carriers of it. I have developed this radar that is always asking “What am I communicating that I am blind to” and that radar leads me to that awareness.

Back to the worship service. When you are not at home you expect to experience something different. I did. I was not prepared to be so disturbed by a sermon though.

The ‘pattern’ of worship there is to start with a set of worship songs that move from enthusiastic, to pensive, to a ‘pentecostal’ mood and then finishing with a rousing chorus repeated multiple times. After that came announcements, offering, and then the message to close the service.

It began with the obvious challenge of musicians leading us in worship using their second language. I was deeply appreciative of the musicians (the great drummer was only 12 and had been drumming since he was 4) being willing to risk this as hosts. When you are worshiping in a second language, and you get to the part of worship where you usually lose yourself in adoration and pentecostal praise, reverting to your mother tongue is understandable. Meaning it’s ok with me as a Gringo, even if I can’t understand. And yes, the irony of reverting to one’s first language in a “Pentecost” moment is rich and wonderful for a Reformed guy to observe.
The musicians finished and left.
At that point the congregated are all older but-able-to-travel-and-be-active Americans, and my brother’s young family, and the lady from the addiction treatment center and her young son and teen daughter.
Then some announcements.
Then the pastor asks someone to come forward to tell of some mission work they do. It’s a near 60 yr old builder guy from Tennessee or some place like that, who tells of his conversion 6 years before, and how he a year later felt God telling him to go to poor countries and build houses to North American specs (double pane windows) and ready for plumbing and electric if the people want to put them in later (but no one does) to give them away. He tells of how it has grown, and how they’ve done 12 houses now, and if you want support or be part of a team etc etc etc. And I was wondering how helpful that kind of thing really is, but when he asked for questions I stayed quiet. I’m a guest. I don’t want to make trouble for my brother and his wife’s reputation. I had already asked some pointed questions at the open house for the new home some of the same people had built that was to be a group home for the girls who had been rescued from their pimps. Questions like “What do you do to be careful to respect their cultural patterns, like their more lax approach to time, (which I admire and envy) and not turn them into little American Northern Europeans? And in fact could that be one of the resistance factors in getting government permits?” Like that. It’s what I do. But I began to realize these people were not used to thinking that way, and didn’t really understand what was behind the question… they are convinced they are doing a good thing (and they are) and don’t understand why not everyone rushes in to support it.
So I stayed still in church.
Then the scripture was read.
Hebrews 11:6, which we were told was a context where the writer was talking about faith: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
The word “earnestly” or “diligently” became the focal point of a sermon that substantially was a contrasting of lazy and diligent, with a long string of “definition of lazy” jokes being the counterpoint to the diligence. “When the remote is 10 feet away and you decide you like the rerun after all… that’s laziness and not diligence” that kind of thing.
The theme statement or big idea seemed to be “Work hard, don’t be lazy, and you will please God enough that things will work out for you” with the caveat that a prosperity gospel was not what was being preached. There was no caveat about works righteousness.
Very soon I began realizing that my experience of the faith journey, and my understanding of the passage, was completely different than his. My experience was that a certain kind of ‘trying hard’ that he was describing, for me almost always led to problems, and that a recognition that my effort was not the key but my relaxing into God’s will for the moment led to all kinds of great results my efforts had little to do with. I saw and heard the passage saying “Faith in God leads to God being pleased, coming to God in belief leads to pleasing God, earnestly seeking relationship with God leads to rewards that are freaky and wonderful and amazing and unimaginable beforehand.
So there I was, believing the complete opposite of what he was preaching. And I was seeing how a message like this was perpetuating the inodible problems and barriers. And I was frustrated.
Now, that all would have been workable, if this was not a “call for response” insecure preacher. But, alas, he kept asking “are you with me? Let me hear an Amen!” and at my toughest point he directly asked “Do you agree with me? I need to hear if you agree with me!” and I made myself look over at my brother’s family and think about what damage I might do to their work there if I told out loud what I was thinking and feeling, and I kept quiet.
Later, when I had time at the poolside to reflect, I came to realize how important it is to hear a bad sermon now and then, how it can sharpen your awareness of God’s ways.

 

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Coach or Prophet? What do churches in discernment need?

This week I attended a training session for those learning to serve as coaches to churches discerning God’s leading for future direction. The time was good and worthwhile. Coaches do not become the pastor. They work from the sidelines.  We have some great tools and material being developed that will help churches be reflective by prayerfully looking into the mirror of data-derived charts and self-told narrative as they dream about what they might become. For this post I plan to stay with the metaphor of a person/congregation looking in the mirror to see what they can see, and to dream what they can be.

Those few days of presentation and interaction have seriously stirred in me the question I have made the title for this post. For me, to work out a question, I either need to talk it through – which my dog is not interested in – or write.So here goes my first thought-dump on the topic.

The biblical narrative that well images and parallels the congregational discernment process is the “time in the wilderness.” The Exodus account is a great descriptor that is used in the training. Leaving bondage that came out of past flight to safety, deliberately crossing a dangerous threshold safely to enter a no man’s land of uncertainty and testing, learning new rules of engaging God and other, then deliberately crossing another threshold to enter the future that has been collectively discerned, all as Israel did, is a wonderful narrative map for the journey. As a Specialized Transitional Minister I’ve even likened my role to that of Moses (and John the Baptizer). I will say to a congregation “I’m here to walk you through the journey, to be your navigator in helping you figure out where you discern God is promising you a better life, but I can’t enter that life with you.” I’m even preaching through Exodus as a guide to “Transitions.” But here’s my difficulty. As I relive Exodus, I don’t see the biblical Moses “coaching” a whole lot. Moses is not known as a coach. He’s known as a prophet, even as John is supposedly the last of such prophets.

So, bluntly put, the coaching approach may be too kind. It feels like yet another current cultural ethos we’ve enthusiastically embraced, leaving out the more chaffing role of one who speaks harder truth out of love, who speaks or applies denial-shriveling discernments God has revealed.

When congregational politics ends up ignoring the coached process’s results and having the gang return to Egypt — to the good food and predictability of life there while confined — instead of facing the uncertainty of new territory, is that maybe because a prophet did not speak?

When I look in the mirror, there is tons of delusion and denial and headgaming going on in how I interpret what I see. Same with a congregation. I have learned that I need people around me yet somehow ‘outside of me’ who will — in the direct way of a prophet, for I don’t hear coaching hints well — help me see through the fog I create for myself. Is that not also true for congregations?

This snippet from Dr. David Schnarch crossed my screen earlier today, and I’ve bolded part of it:

“Conventional wisdom in couples therapy says troubled couples have to get more securely attached before they can differentiate. But repeatedly I see troubled couples differentiate first—which leads to stabler marriages. I believe couples have to stop manipulating their stories and tampering with facts to keep their relationship together. Far from being impossible or improbable, this is the way relationships really work. Realizing this yields a different kind of experience in therapy—not one of safety and hovering support, but one in which higher anxiety and pressure and faster pace of change emerge, as people realize their full capacity to meet the adult challenges of life.”

I read him speaking about the very same thing I am trying to sort out. What he describes as needed and more effective is similar to how I see a prophet playing a role.

In the end, for now, I’m not done with this. I have resolved my own dilemma somewhat by deciding to pay more attention to how Prophetic truth might be spoken in love, not “at” people as blunt commands or propositions, but as couched coaching: inquisitive questions and indirect revealing narrative (Eugene Peterson’s “Telling it Slant), like Nathan the prophet did with David.

 

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“Site Visit” completed

In terms of what is happening while I wait, I served as pulpit supply in Saskatoon for 3 weeks and am now in High River. I preach and occasionally help renovate the parsonage in preparation for their new pastor and family. This picture is NOT that parsonage, but another interesting house I found in the countryside.

Abandoned farmhouse near Brant Alberta

But neither the High River parsonage nor the abandoned house are the site visit I set out to report on. No, the important one is the one a gov’t representative made to the church in Oskaloosa Iowa as part of the R-1 visa application process’s next steps. I’ll simply share what the church put in their bulletin to report on it:

USCIS SITE VISIT:
An officer from the US Citizenship & Immigration field office in Des Moines completed a Site Visit at Bethel on Wednesday, June 29. [Three members] met with the officer. He explained that site visits are now required for all first-time R-1 visa petitioners, since there have been many fraudulent R-1 visa applications made in the past. We were pleased to learn that the site visit was acceptable. This is encouraging with respect to the processing of our petition by the USCIS Service Center in California. Unfortunately, the officer was unable to shed any light on the amount of time it will take after the visit for clearance for Pastor Pete to begin his work at Bethel. We remain hopeful that we’ll soon receive word that the process is complete.

So, things are moving along. Still, we do not have a clear idea yet after more than 3 months as to how long exactly there is to wait.

 

Reflections on being delayed.

I was recently asked to reflect on what I’m learning from the experience of being delayed from crossing the border by the same people (CRC Network) who asked me to tell the story of the delay so others could be warned (This is the same information as in the blog post previous to this one). I won’t reprint the whole thing here, but simply give you a link.

 

R-1 (US non-immigrant Religious Worker) Visa Delay for Canadians.

I’m a Canadian CRC pastor transitioning into becoming a Specialized Transitional Minister (STM) who has accepted an invitation to cross the border to serve a church in Iowa. The crossing-the-border part of that has not gone well, so I am currently in limbo, having been refused entry to the US as a Canadian because my R-1 Visa was not complete at the time I tried to cross. This left me homeless and unemployed for, at the time of writing, almost 2 months already. Anyone planning to make a similar crossing will benefit from knowing the difficulty and delays the church and I have encountered. Sharing the story here, it is my hope to prevent others from experiencing the same disappointing delays.

Since I previously had an R-1 in 2007 when I worked as an Interim Pastor in Washington State for 6 months, I thought I had a good idea what was going to be expected to get a new one. But I later learned that in late fall 2010 the process was changed to become more complicated and require more detailed application filing and information about both the person wanting to come in, but also from the church applying to have a Canadian come work with them. The biggest change though is in the time it takes to process the application.

If what you have read so far feels like it may be relevant for you or someone you know, then you will be interested in reading a full account of the most pertinent steps and details here below. I will likely also create a separate, more personalized and reflective blog posting about the experience of such a delay.

Late in the fall of 2010, living in the Nanaimo area of Vancouver Island, I began conversing with a church in Iowa about coming to serve there as an STM. In January 2011 I visited there, and by March 2 had accepted their invitation to come. I found a website guide to the process of getting the requisite R-1 (Religious worker) Visa,* purchased the forms, sent the church their copy and we began the process of applying.

* I should note that I later realized this was not an official government site. I don’t think it had bearing on what we encountered, but it is worth knowing. I don’t recall ever finding an official government site from which to obtain the forms and a process guide. If someone knows one, it would be good to provide a link to it via a comment.

I’d had an R-1 in 2007 so I had some vague idea what we did then to get it, mainly getting some official letters and presenting them at the US border as I crossed, where an R-1 card was stapled into my passport. This website showed a somewhat more involved process, as the requirements had been changed late in 2010. By mid-March I had the parts of the application (I-129) that related to me done (one of the specific details you need to track down is exactly how your parents’ names are printed on their passports! So it can take some time to gather it all), and by March 28 the government offices in California had received the more than a dozen page completed application (I -129) from the congregation along with it’s numerous supporting documents.

Along the way of completing this process, we ran into both vague information and information that appeared to be wrong, though we only realize that in hindsight. The vagueness came from there being very little information – or varying information – as to how long the steps of the process would take and exactly what steps were required. The wrong information was in things like the documents indicating I had to make an appointment with the nearest US Embassy once all applications were in, so that the process could be finalized in an interview. When I tried to set up the appointment with the nearest US Embassy in Canada, both online and through the automated calling system, I was told that the R-1 Visa did not call for an in-person interview. However, it did not tell me what was needed. Here is a screen capture of the page I was led to from the US Embassy site in Vancouver on March 29, 2011:

I found a way to phone the Embassy and speak to a person, and was told to take my documents and present them at the border. The man I spoke to reviewed with me the list of required documents. I had all those documents already. I do recall him mentioning a “government packet of information” I should be receiving related to the church’s application, but not that it was an important part of what I needed. Wanting to verify doubly, I called the folks at the border (US Customs and Border Protection) and the lady I spoke to verified that what I had in hand was enough to cross.

So, believing all was good to go, I packed a U-Haul and left my home April 9th. But when I got to the border south of Lethbridge Alberta around mid April I was denied entry to the US because the church’s application needs to be approved before I cross and I need to have the resulting document, called an I-797 proving that when I cross. One shock had already come when I was underway. In that time we got access to an “application tracking” website, and were astonished to see that they projected it would take 2 months for the application received March 28th to be processed!Below is a screen capture of the top part of the tracking page. I’ve created an empty block to cover our receipt number (we don’t need a whole continent of CRCers checking it). I do not have a capture of when it showed a 2 month wait on the bottom half.

The result was that I was now homeless and incomeless, with no idea exact idea how long it would take to finalize this process, but knowing it was now likely to be another month and a half of waiting at the veryleast.
As I write this, I’ve been in this holding pattern for a month and a half already. Meanwhile, I noticed a change in the tracking site information to
worse news sometime in mid-May when it began to look like this:

Our application is at the California Service Center, and where it had shown a time expectation of 2 months, it was now showing 5!

We don’t know exactly how to interpret this. It is debatable if it means our application is now expected to take 5 months to process from the March 28th receipt date or if it means applications that came in after March 31, 2011 can expect 5 months, but ours still is under the 2 it used to show. It is hard to assess how long we have yet to wait.

I have family near where I got turned back, so I became the homeless, unemployed boomerang Dad-with-dog on my son’s couch for a time, and also at my brother’s place.

Fortunately and providentially, right now, I have found a couple of pastorless churches to do some preaching at that should keep me busy serving the Kingdom and the CRC and being useful in some small capacity until sometime into June and possibly July if it takes that long.

After encountering several different anecdotal accounts of similar trials – it seems lots of people have heard of a pastor who this kind of thing has happened to – I feel a strong need to get the word out about my delay so that others can be better informed than I was and can avoid such problems. If even one person can avoid this problem because they read my story here on the Network, it will have been worthwhile to share it.

If anyone reading this has either a similar experience or has some better information or advice, your input via comments will be appreciated by anyone investigating such a move from Canada to the US.

Pastor Pete VanderBeek, June 6, 2011 — Currently biding God’s and the US government’s and his time in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.


 

George Holecz and God

There are stories nestled within stories here. I mainly feel compelled to tell the story of a man named George Holecz who I came to know briefly and somewhat indirectly.
George’s story unfolds within a context of a group of men who were a big part of my journey and that group of men — self-described and nicknamed as “Zealous for the Word” existed in a context of a church in Nanaimo BC.
I can see no way of sharing George’s story without telling about the context, since God used the context to create the story.
If you can visualize a story as an egg, Christ Community Church (CCC) in Nanaimo is the shell, the men’s group is the egg white, and George’s story is the yolk in the center.
I like to use yolk, because it can easily sound like joke (especially coming off the tongues of folks with Dutch accents). And there is a good measure of God’s joke here — God’s playful sense of humour. George mirrored some of that playful sense in his character. The outer context loop or shell is a story that shows me that in the Kingdom of God “what goes around comes around” or “you never know where an obedient, faith-driven action will lead.” George’s journey came into that shell and if you know a bit about how God sometimes works these loop stories, it makes sense there and brings glory to God even more because of the context. One central narrative line is how George went from recipient in the story, to participant and contributor, but the most striking one to me is how he has gone from being perpetually homeless-by-choice to going to his eternal-chosen-home. I hope I’ve not given it all away in this brief description and that you will still enjoy a tale of how God can work to bring people home.

Either of these links should take to you to the story: or else just click on the underlined text here:

http://wp.me/P4R5s-6o

https://pastorpete.wordpress.com/lifelessons/homeless-by-choice-george-holecz-and-his-journey-home/

 

Rolling

After two days of loading and deciding what came and what stayed, the rig was ready to roll. The picture was taken just before I hopped in and we drove off.

Loaded and ready to leave Moorecroft

Last pic before leaving