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Category Archives: Learnings

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/

 

I just wanted to… and it became a faith conversation!!! Argh!!!

One of the things I think God has been showing me over many years is that opportunities for what we call outreach or evangelism present themselves all the time – at least that is the case for me – but they are often inconvenient, and you have to learn to recognize them.

I have a string of stories of my experiences that point in that direction. In most of them I was just trying to do something ordinary: help a customer out, buy a vehicle, have it serviced, buy a Ferry ticket, watch a Hockey game in a bar, and hire a dog trainer. In each of these situations, some going back to the 1980’s, I was just “being me” or “doing my job” and a  faith or spirituality conversation intruded into what I was trying to do. I need to admit that these are only the ones I remember, and that with most of these I was kind of annoyed, saying to God under my breath “I just wanted to… why is this intruding?” Preaching, in my experience, is sooooo much safer than such conversations, because I get confronted with questions from perspectives I’m not used to encountering. I am educated and equipped to address dangers of slight variations of nuances near or within the Theological perspective I was raised in, but these people ask things that are hard.

So this post is my going public with my intent to compile these stories. If I don’t do so in the next few weeks and months, feel free to hold me accountable to this commitment. As I complete the stories, I will go back an link it to it’s listing above, so eventually all the stories will be findable from this post.

Well, back to packing.

Pastor Pete

 

I am not good at not wielding power!

I currently feed myself by being the caretaker in a summer Camp run by a church. I was the chaplain last summer and am biding my time until that role kicks in for 2010 again.

Recently, delegated regional leaders from the various congregations met and decided to put the Camp up for sale, hoping they can find a buyer who will commit to protecting the increasingly rare environmental treasure the camp is, and who will let Christian camp ministry continue. If both are accomplished there is no doubt God will have had to be active.

I was witness to this process as an employee. I was not an active delegate, not an appointed clergy person, I was merely an employee of the camp witnessing others undertaking the process of making a choice. It was agony! Being powerless to the point even of being voiceless pushed many of my buried inner buttons. And in that there was a lot of hard learning for me.

I need to admit that I failed to remain powerless. I “used” my knowledge with words and process and cashed in on my awareness that I had some respect – some ‘trust equity’ in the room – to finagle a chance to address the decision making body. So I failed to accept my powerlessness and clutched and grabbed for power anyway. I largely knew what I was doing. I didn’t strategize to accomplish it, but when little opportunities presented themselves, I instinctively leveraged them, I pried them bigger, so I could have a voice and feel empowered. Others did not have the opportunity. They were kept powerless. How frustrating that must be.

I didn’t know until this series of events how much I need to have power and voice. Alternatively also, I became freshly aware how much as a clergy person I was used having extra power and was accustomed to ‘managing’ such processes. In the past I “presumed” it was my responsibility to maneuver every step of things in a certain direction. If I were up on the podium, I would believe I was “doing my job” in that manipulation. So I was not angry so much at the leaders. I was astounded at how it felt to be on the receiving end of that kind of treatment, and astonished at how badly I needed to be the one dishing it out rather than receiving it. I don’t believe these words I’m typing can adequately share how frightening that is and how afraid of my sick need for power makes me. It does.

 

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Twist of faith

The last Saturday of November started out as one of those kinda aimless days. I had a bit of work-work to do and I had some house work also. Deep down I was an unhappy camper for reasons I can’t always get at. I just know what I feel, not why.

Earlier, I had come to the awareness I am content with my work situation, but I am not fulfilled in it.

In conversing with God about this the way I do, I made pretty clear I was discouraged, and I desperately needed something to strengthen my confidence and hope for the future. And just in case the wireless heaven-line was busy that first time, I repeated it. “Hello: I need a new sign of hope.” It was said in various ways with various levels of lament or gate-of-heaven smashing defiance. A few requests found the happy humbler middle.

I went about my day, tugging my proverbial bootstraps as if by moving the boots I was motivating me.

It worked. I got busy and my request for new hope – for a sign from God – became a vague darkness in the back of my mind and depths of my heart. I remained alert for signals, looking for them to come in ways I expected: an email from a church inquiring further about hiring me; or a phone call from the bank saying there’d been an error in calculations for all my life and they had $10,000 for me… that kind of thing. Nada. None of that happened. I was watching carefully, remember!

During the week I had written a report to the board in of the camp I live and work in, a report in which among the good things I had to share I had mentioned two things I was dissatisfied with, two things that frustrated me in my work. One was an extremely slow desk computer, the other was a lack of a reversible drill, either corded or cordless to make some of my repair tasks more efficient. Numerous times I had done repetitive screw turning by hand. Reporting these irritants was more about venting and getting things known. It was done without serious expectation of change. Maybe it was even a precursor to the glum feelings Saturday morning. It likely had some self-pity in it. I’m good at that (He said with insecurity-covering-ego-pride, another thing he’s good at).

Well, I need to tell you that it wasn’t until this morning, the day of writing this, Sunday, when I picked something up from where I had set it down yesterday that I realized very unusual, non-coincidental, sign-like things had happened, and I missed them completely, even though I was part of it. I made no connection in the moment.

Saturday a lady came to the camp to do some cleaning as a volunteer. As I went over to check if there was anything she needed and to describe what I’d done to prepare for her arrival, she opened her trunk and said “could you use a cordless drill? And I have a cordless screwdriver here too. Here, take them. I don’t have a use for them.” And so I picked them up, duly thanked her dully and started walking toward the camp workshop to put them away. She said: “No no no, keep them in your house, use them for yourself” and so, my steps a little lighter with a load that was now mine, I dropped them off in my back room and went back out into the dull weather to do some things.

Later, the two guys from the camp board who do the property work came. They said “We’re here to see if we can speed up your computer with new memory chips and a cleanup, and Pete, we brought you a cordless drill” to which I replied “I already got one” and I fetched it and enjoyed seeing their tool envy. I can’t remember ever having others envy tools I had. But still, I was nonchalant in the bigger picture sense of things. No lights were going on for me.

Nothing registered until Sunday, when I pulled the cordless drill out of it’s neatly compartmentalized box with bits and attachments each with their own cubby, and I realized it had two batteries with the charger, it was a 14.4 volt Mastercraft (newer units, I knew, had voltages in the teens, older ones were below 10), a nice darker blue colour that I like with bright yellow buttons, it had an adjustable clutch for if you were either drilling or driving screws, it was not only reversible but had two speeds and, most significant, it looked like it had probably been used once on a Sunday afternoon it was so clean and unscathed. And I held it in my hand, and felt the heft and balance of it and imagined the torque and whine of it, and the ability to reverse and to adjust the clutch… and I realized something unique had indeed happened the day before.

For this lady to show up with a drill, particularly not knowing anything of my whine in my report, and then for those guys to arrive ready to address my concerns when I didn’t expect it, well I had to admit it was notable or remarkable at the very least, and worth a silent restrained-Reformed “thank you Lord” (Hallelujahs are too charismatic in such situations, as is Holy Celebration Dance). And for it all to happen that same day, within hours of my lament! Quite something. I’m not sure how to interpret the sign though. I’m reluctant to give it too much meaning. I’m watching my email still, and waiting for the bank to call…

Somewhere in me I know my problem is that I’m missing the billboard message. I’m missing it because I’m not liking it. It doesn’t fit my plan, my agenda, my hopes and aspirations. God seems, at least at the time of writing, to be reinforcing me where I am with hope signals on request. My problem is my agenda is not the same as Gods.
Who’s going to change agenda’s first?
Stay tuned. The batteries are charging. Will a green light go on for Pete, or will it stay red?

 

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Would Jesus paintball?

That thought came up in the context of church-related youth activity planning. Personally, I don’t think he would. But it’s no fun to just state that and shut a door to a exploratory learning opportunity. And just because I believe Jesus might not, does not mean it should be forbidden.

Playing Paintball (which I have not done myself, my childhood was in the Cowboys-and-Indians days – I played Indian – and before capture the flag, which I have done once) is basically combat play, like checkers, chess, cards, and many video games and lots of activities in between. Paintball, from what I understand from my own offspring who are well versed on it and many virtual combat methods, is about as close as you can get to actual warfare without death or propelled-metal-projectile injury. As such, it is a game in which one can feel very alive. There is nothing like the nearness of immanent death to make you feel vividly the living moment you are in now. The thrill of the danger, the excitement of coming so close to having the power of death over “the enemy” or the enemy having it over you makes it all very very exciting. It remains fun because the kills are not “real.” However, be aware that the feelings, the passions, are real. And those feelings, and the desperation they bring out, and the things that desperation get you to do in order to win, or to “live” on in the game are the teachable moment of the contest.

Where Jesus once said something like “look at the flowers and birds, they don’t fret or compete, they just exist, appreciating the Creator’s care for them” if he were talking with paintballers I can readily imagine him saying to them, after they come out all splattered with near-death experiences “Why do you find such a thrill in playing at killing? What does that thrill do to you? Where does it take you? Does it make you more human and humane, or something else? Would you have played differently if the power of death was real?” And I imagine much more, and I imagine what I would ask, and what I would point out. The fact is — and this was proven in experiments done long ago which would be unethical now — that most people, given slight but consistent encouragement, would in fact “take it to the limit” much quicker than they believe they would. I might talk about how the thrill is part of “the flesh” and how Jesus was all about getting us to see how it is the passions of the flesh, exercised in this way, that take us to committing acts of inter-human destruction, whether they be flesh wounds or heart wounds.

Jesus knows. He’s seen it happen. Up close and personal! Ordinary people who considered themselves properly religious were incited to call for a death by infuriated and threatened religious leadership. And it happened.

Which is why it was so striking, that in the conversation about Paintball I was privy to, another story came up, a story about an ordinary man who was deeply moved when he was simply constructing a cross to be put up as a symbol in a Christian camp, and he had chills to think that someone in Jesus’ time had actually done that, and now he was repeating it. And he felt he was contributing to a death all over again. Wow! He had learned to pay attention!

All of this is to say that by all means let Christian youth paintball! But then let them explore what they’ve learned about themselves afterward. To simply go to black-and-white, right/wrong thinking and forbid it would be to lose a chance to learn about the real power of the latent desire to win and kill and survive. This is the power Jesus gave up for us, so we could learn something about ourselves.  And reflecting on that part of Painball, or video gaming, they can begin to recognize how we tick, and how our natural way is likely not the way of Jesus.

 

Drama and symbolism in church

So today, in an internet discussion group, the above mentioned subject came up. And the discussion prompted a memory for me, and since I’m in the mood to explore my writing, I wrote up a memory I have about an event that happened in church when I was a child, an event which was part of what shaped my views of what should happen in church.

It’s called “Getting wound up about superficial symbolism” If you’d like to read it you can click on the title, or cut and paste the link below into your browser, or find it in the list of pages to the right.

https://pastorpete.wordpress.com/lifelessons/getting-wound-up-about-superficial-symbolism/

 

Confession and Birth

My job, put into simplistic common descriptors, is to be a midhusband to confession.
I had no idea going into this what a privileged role that would be. Beforehand, I worried about what I might hear from gang-member addict dealers, from PTSD suffering military personnel, from spoiled irresponsible cocaine dependent rich kids, from addicted anesthesiologists and from hulking bulking policemen and sports figures, from ordinary seeming mothers of young children and supposedly doting successful husbands. I worried I’d be loaded up with ‘crap’ that they’d offloaded onto me.
It doesn’t work that way at all! With one or two exceptions God lets me ‘forget’ or certainly not carry the burden of someone else’s erroneous behaviour. That does not mean that my naive ears don’t feel they’re losing their virginity though. They do. It is painful. I am repeatedly deeply troubled by the height, the breadth and the depth of self-and-other destroying behaviour the human creature is capable of creating and enduring and persisting in.
My job is to assist patients in writing their 4th step and then to ‘hear’ their 5th.
The process has such wisdom to it. Its wisdom affects me, has me feeling privileged, feeling part of something ageless and not bound to earth. The longer I am in it the stronger is my grief of over how the ‘church’ handles the same issues. There is a better way.
Step 4 consists of taking a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of oneself. Its best chance of working well is if the inventory maker has accepted they — believing they are the makers of their own destiny — are not running their life well at all and had allowed a substance or activity to take over their lives, creating unbelievable chaos and destruction. They then need to turn to some power outside of and greater than themselves for help and turn their destiny and life over into that power’s control.
Then they look at their life, and get a GPS fix on where they are and where they have been and what exactly life has been like. They write it all down: their believing they know best, their not being in touch with their true feelings or corking them and presenting something more pleasant so people will like them more (or so they believe), their unrealistic expectations that cause them to let themselves down and be let down by others, the fears they hold (most often fear of rejection or abandonment), the things they feel guilty for, the grudges they hold and carefully nurse by restating their case to anyone — grudges that bottle up anger inside them. And then the way they always end up feeling sorry for themselves. ALWAYS, no matter what they try differently, they end up hating themselves and those around them and in the despair of misguided understanding of life they turn to a chemical or gambling or sex or work or exercise for relief. It doesn’t come.
So they come to us chaplains when they do their 5th step and share all that. They know they are sharing it with God as they understand God as well. It takes 2 hours on average. And in the process many are completely astonished to find they’ve lost heaviness. They come in hunched, anxious, jittery, eye-averting, burdened, fearful and sometimes still playing sleight of word distraction games. Protecting their disease, not even seeing they are doing it. They leave lighter and enlighted to have found that confession is good, that holding is unhealthy.
And that result is the tremendous privilege of it! It is akin to the being born again that Nicodemous could not understand. The inner child who’s emotional and psychological growth was halted when it learned it’s feelings did not seem to fit being expressed in their world, FINALLY makes contact, and begins to stir the person toward Life abundant, Life as God intended.
The process works for Atheist, Agnostic and Hindu alike. It works for Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim and Buddhist. And it works for both excommunicated and righteous Christians. A salvation process is born in a place we don’t expect it. A spiritual journey is undertaken. God is connected with a sinner, and freedom is found. The sinner is taught to be open to let God be known to them. The barren place becomes fertile again, the place of shame transforms to a place of Glory.
It is truly a wonder to be a midhusband in Confession and ReBirth

 

Personalized Word from God?

I’m not from a tradition that puts much stock in direct or indirect personal revelation from God. The Bible itself, approached rationally, will tell you what God wants you to know. That’s what we were taught. But I’ve had several experiences that had me open to other options. So, when a person came to me with a “word” they said God gave them to give me, I was respectful and open.

This link takes you to the pages where I’ll tell that story:

https://pastorpete.wordpress.com/lifelessons/personalized-prophecy/

 

Sin: more a list violation or a relationship break?

I was involved with a discussion about what sin is. Someone spoke of a “list” form of identifying sin and a “relational” understanding. This was my input into the dialogue:

I want to know the list of things that are sin, for my own sake and for the sake of helping others keep out of it. I want to know actions to avoid. It comes naturally for me. Because of that, I’m drawn to people who can definitively give me the list, saying God helped them figure it out.

I want to know the list of good things to do as well.
That’s why my heart beats faster and my mind pays attention when someone asks: “What do I have to do to obtain eternal life?” When I hear that, I expect to be able to add to my do and don’t lists.

But the way my Saviour handled this very question is giving me reason to re-evaluate the approach that comes naturally. When Jesus was asked the question, he painted a word picture in response in which the list-oriented people used the rule book to avoid showing compassion, and the list-less person ended up being the good example. Hmmmm. What might he be showing me, a list-wanting person?
I’m still working it out.
But the more I struggle and reflect, the more a relational approach to sin makes sense. It humbles me in its grace and it’s simplicity. Something in me wants it to be harder than it appears.
It looks more and more like evandadam* broke relationship by trying to be equal to God, then hiding.
I can relate. I want to be God in my life and in the lives of others. I don’t want to submit or take responsibility for what I have done that broke relationship.

Sin is now less about violating a list item and more about internal attitude for me.
So, profoundly, the message God left is more a message of how hard God has worked to relate to me and to others and the price God has paid to make relationship possible again. God has made a way for list item violations that I do so readily to be dismissed, to no longer be a barrier between God and me, if I just accept that God loves me that much, stop being God myself, and admit them. I come out of hiding, accept God’s outstretched mighty hand, and walk the Way.

A story I’ve been told from my toddlerhood came back to me recently. I came in from playing outside, and my mother figured it was time to try teach me to wash my own face. So she held me up in front of the bathroom mirror and pointed out the boy in the mirror, and after some coaching got me to see that he had dirt on his face. She asked me what we could do to fix it, handing me a warm wet “Doekie” while she asked.
What did I do?
I started washing the face of the boy in the mirror of course!

The story is such a wonderful illustration of what I still tend to do naturally. I try to clean the logs out of other people’s eyes and am in danger of obsessing about them and their logs and dirt, all the while avoiding cleaning my own eyes and heart, or having them cleaned. People are drawn to me as a good leader and teacher and one who “tells it like it is” if I do that, but meanwhile crud builds in me. It’s frightening.

Pete, searching out the godly way.

* just a creative way of saying Eve and Adam, partly because it can be turned into E. Vandadam which sounds like a Dutch origin name