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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

 

Summer Employment

Phase “next” in my journey has opened up. Oh how I love (misguidedly) to try figure out what God is doing with me! I really don’t know, but I am called to trust and travel the journey opened up for me.

So now I will be the camp chaplain at MooreCroft Camp starting June 15th. See Moorecroft.net for a bit of an idea of what the camp is about. The pictures do not give you the full sense of the place. You have to come see!  The buildings are authentic heritage camp habitations! The natural setting is amazing, with a sheltered-from-the ocean bay so the campers can swim and kayak, and some not so far away Islands for the more skilled to venture out to and explore. From the shoreline I could hear sea-lions barking the first time I visited! The pond has beavers! Deer are abundant… and so on. I’ll insert a few pictures I took here and then continue the post:

(if you click on the picture you get a bigger version)

My role is, as far as I understand at this time, to be a spiritual support for campers and staff, to provide morning devotionals that mesh with the theme of the particular camp edition happening that week. Beyond that I don’t know exactly how the position has traction yet, but I’m eager to learn and connect with the obviously energetic and eager and enthusiastic staff.

I’ll be living in the camp, in a house on the property. I’ll eat there as well. Handy! Sunday afternoon, when I went to meet the board there, a youth group was cooking steak, and gave me one! It was simply meat flavoured butter with some spices! Awesome.

The position runs to the end of August. Beyond then I’m hoping for something to have worked out from all the networking I did with churches who do not have a pastor. My aim is to get some kind of interim position. Of course, God may have other plans! I just cast my bread on the waters that make sense to me, and somehow, as in both last positions, God provides something out of the perifery to employ me in Kindgom work and grow me at the same time.

 

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Layoff

Well, I’m going to have some time to put things up here again. The addiction treatment facility I was working at the past 8 months has been affected by the economy and had to lay off a number of employees, myself included.

 

Hope-filled developments

First, some quick catching up.

My job search techniques were not getting results, so in June I took a government sponsored course in writing a professional resume, cover letters, and all things job search related, such as doing interviews.

In July I went to work applying that new learning.

I had produced a professional looking, focused set of resumes and cover letter styles and 10 target employers I would like to work for and where my skills should transfer well. For instance, the Salvation Army’s halfway houses and addction recovery facilities were one of those targets (#3).

The good news!? I have been invited to an informal and then formal interview on Thursday July 24th with the place that was at the top of my list! The resume and cover letter and other efforts, including prayer and stretched patience have done their work. Last Friday I had a surprise phone interview–which we had been warned could happen and so I was somewhat prepared–and the longer I talked with the person, the more enthused I became, and I was already pretty excited about the option. 2 hrs after that the lady called me to invite me for the visiting interview.

The position is called Chaplain/Spiritual Director, and the place is an Addiction treatment facility on Vancouver Island. They take a 12-step, holistic, systems, individual responsibility approach. That means there are doctors, psychologists, counselors and chaplains on the team that deals with the person from detox to release and afterward, which treats the family system as well, all the while expecting the individual to take increasing responsibility. I am extremely pleased to have gotten this far in the process (the place intimidates me a bit, it is high-end, or, as my recovering addict buddy said when I asked him of he knew of it “Oh, the Country Club.”) and I would be thrilled to be invited to join the team and try my gifts, experience and knowledge in that setting. We shall see.

I am also talking with the Salvation Army about working at one of their halfway houses, so I feel I have a fallback option.

That’s as brief as I could make this update.

Here are some links to pages where I reflect on other things that happened in the job search itself or in the group:

Community forming around common need.

Doctrine of Election an advantage in the job interview?

I have a few other thoughts that I hope to put in other postings here in the next little while.

 

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Moved

The word “moved” is true of my situation at several levels.

First, there is obvious application to the fact that I am now physically moved out of the parsonage. That has been not only a physically challenging thing in terms of the work of reducing a household (geared for two parents and their five children and what the future normally brings) to a mobile housing situation for one, but the emotional challenge of finding things representing memories and deciding what to do with them was another level of “movement.” I have seen again that I am not good at those choices (tending to favour keeping things “to help tell the story” or “in case” instead of getting rid of them, so I often turned piles over to family members to make the decisions for me, hoping the stories and meaning would remain without the things that prompt the memories) and having to acknowledge that I am not at all efficient at that kind of work.

Then there is the moving-along-in-life aspect of this change realistically-or-possibly representing several different “endings” and it is no wonder I am tired. In all this I have no doubt and in fact a hard to describe inner sense – confirmed by discerning people who ‘follow’ my life – that God is in this whirlwind. That sense allows my foundation to remain firm and safe, and believe me, it is good to have something feel stable in such a moving time.

On Tuesday I was informed by email that I did not make the short list for the prison chaplain’s position. The reason was that I do not have the required supervised Clinical Pastoral Education training component on my resume.

So today — the first day in a month that I did not pack or move stuff — has been a good break. I am moved, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I plan to take the weekend off, so to speak, and rest and regroup and on Monday begin afresh with renewed energy.

I will preach for the first time in a few months this coming Sunday, and I hope I’m not too “rusty” (that’s not likely).

thatsallfornow

Pete

 

Late May Late Update

Life’s been weird.

For instance, I’ve been employed only in job searching since the end of February. You’d think that would make for lots of blog posting, but no. I, like many people – I presume – always had along list of things to do on a rainy day when I ‘had time.’ Things like scan pictures into the computer, edit video collected over the years, journal, reflect, sort out my thinking, sort my books, transfer cassette tapes into digital format, write, travel, climb a mountain… you get the picture. But the disorientation and destabilization and uncertainty of my current situation have robbed me of the incentive for doing most of those things. It’s odd.

So here’s the best humorous way of summing up my situation right now: The way it still looks today as I write, at the end of May I will be unemployed and homeless to boot. The most likely solution on my horizon is prison. Yes, I have an application in to be a prison chaplain in the Canadian Federal Corrections System. They were going to start processing the applications on May 12th. I don’t know when I’ll hear if I made any short lists. The application process is huge, in the sense that I had to do paperwork for both the Chaplaincy department of my denomination (who hold the contract if I am offered a position and so need to decide if they want to support my doing this) and for CSC (Corrections Services Canada’s Chaplain division). If I get offered an interview and am likely to be offered a job, I need to quickly find a church to call me to that ministry near where the prisons are (Matsqui and Kent).

So I don’t really know if I should move out to Abottsford/Aggassi on a chance I’ll get one of those jobs, or should stay near Vancouver in case one of the other resume’s put out there gets a bite. I’ve applied for everything from “Responsible Gambling Information Officer” to “Staff Writer” to “Employment Services Coordinator” and various others. Anything which seems a good place to put my skills experience and interests to good use. The Chaplaincy still holds the most hope and continuity as it is work in ministry that I believe I’m equipped to do effectively.

I’ve made temporary arrangements to bunk at my son’s house for June, hoping and determined that by the end of that month I’ll have employment that I can use as a geographic base from which to find a place to live.

Now you are just a little more up to date.

Further Reflections:

In this time I have been rereading the story of Jacob and particularly of Job, as stories of people who’s lives seemed to have collapsed but who found God still with them despite it all, and even had it work out to the greater good in the end. I have also done a lot of thinking about not only what went wrong in general, but what I could have done differently – what I did wrong – in my last charge. It feels and sounds really arrogant to think, say or write, but although there are a few identifiable things, I really still feel I was by-en-large on track with why God called me where I was. So you can then understand how I like to read of Job’s insistence — in the face of so-called friends who insist he MUST have done something to deserve God treating him this way and he better admit it soon or it will continue — how Job declares his basic innocence of wrongdoing. Last night, as God tapped me on the shoulder (figuratively) at 3:30 am and reminded me I had not talked things over in my mind with him listening in for a while, after pondering life for a bit, I read the next piece I was at in Job. It was chapter 23, and these words of Job in response to his insistent advisers reassured me: “But God knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” The next few verses flesh that out more. That phrase brought not only comfort, but memories, memories which weave together and help make sense of things. See, the first sermon I ever wrote as a Seminarian was on 1 Peter 1:6-9 and for it I researched the process of the refining of gold through heating so the impurities could be skimmed off. I don’t at all equate my struggles with those spoken of in 1 Peter, but it is still somehow comforting to know that I am likely in a refining process. Another thing that came to mind – and has often as an accurate yet simple statement of my life – are what my father spoke at my ordination service. He said “There are two words that describe Pete: Testing and Tested” and he went on to describe how I have a need to test everything and because of that I get tested a lot.

Isn’t it amazing how your life-walk can accumulate memories that can cumulatively trigger on a phrase like “But God knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold“?!!!

Thatsallfornow