Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reservation Complete!

Praise the Lord, our reservation for a space in the maternity hospital has been completed & confirmed! We are very thankful to our colleagues in Prague who've persevered with this process. We also appreciate everyone who has been praying over this situation.

One more thing we can cross off of our "Czech List"!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Weekends Aren't Unlimited

We had another scheduling scramble this weekend. One of the churches in which we were supposed to speak called us up to say that Sunday wasn't a good day for us to come. They could make space for us next weekend. What did we think?

Thankfully my gracious husband fielded the call, because had I been the one on the line, I'm not sure I could have given them my thoughts as diplomatically as I can write them here. We had been on their calendar for over a month. We had set aside that Sunday for that church according to their specifications. I thought they should have honored that commitment.

Life is unpredictable, yes. Flexibility in ministry is vital, yes. Sundays should be about rest, reflection & worship, no question. However, support-based workers often have very little time in which to accomplish our fund raising. If we're working full-time while trying to expand our support network, Sundays are often our best days for connecting with potential sponsors.

I realize that churches receive hundreds - if not thousands - of requests every year, from all sorts of people/projects/programs seeking support. By all means, churches must be discerning about who they endorse with their time or finances. I am in no way suggesting that churches are obligated to accommodate every request which comes their way, but might I gently share some perspectives of a support-based worker with pastors, deacons & committee chairs as they consider such requests?
  • Please don't assume that it's "not worth our time" to come & speak to your church. God alone knows the hearts which are receptive to our cause. We don't view a crowd as who is or isn't willing to support us - we simply want to share about the work to which we've been called.
  • Sunday morning speaking engagements are like prime real estate - there is no surplus. Even if we only have five minutes with which to connect with your congregation, this time is priceless to us.
  • We are incredibly honored to be given the opportunity to speak in your church. On average, we receive only one invitation for every four contacts we make, so we don't take this day for granted.
  • We will GLADLY accept a Sunday night or Wednesday evening time slot, if you have one to offer. It's okay if the crowd isn't as big as Sunday mornings - it's about the opportunity, not the attendance.
  • For every 5 minutes that we're actually in front of a group, we've spent at least 2 hours in phone calls/e-mails, presentation assembly & prayer in preparation for this time. (Double or triple that if we had to travel to get to you...)
  • If you can give us more than 5-10 minutes, chances are you'll be blessed as much as we would be. There is SO MUCH we'd like to tell you about the place we are headed, and the work which we anticipate doing.
  • Please don't make this all about the money. Yes, we have to raise our support, yes, we're going to ask for your participation, but we also want to share with you about the work we are doing. We need your prayers even more than we need your pledges, so please don't tune out the 98% of our presentation that talks about our ministry.
  • We connected with you because you were our home church before we left for the field, or our pastor(s) from our childhood, or the pastor of one of our close family members, or a long-time friend, or someone who expressed a sincere interest in what we were doing. We didn't drive through town and pick your church at random.
  • The amount of time in which we have to meet our financial goals is limited. If we're among those who have been on a Stateside assignment, we might have a 6 month window (9-12 if we're exceptionally blessed.) If we're "home" for the summer, we've got about 4 weeks.
  • Once you have us on your calendar, and we have you on ours, we consider this Sunday booked. We won't leave every other weekend open in case you change your mind.
  • If you have scheduled us several weeks in advance, will you be kind to also let your congregation know that we'll be coming?
  • If it really does become absolutely necessary to cancel our visit, would you please try to give us more than a day's notice so we can try to line up something else for that weekend?
  • We cherish the relationships we have with you, and we sincerely appreciate all that you provide for us. 
Thankfully, God provided a last-minute engagement for our suddenly-vacant-Sunday, and we were warmly welcomed by the congregation. Did we receive several large support pledges as a result of our time? No. Were we obedient in sharing what God had placed on our hearts? Yes. Were we blessed by this opportunity? Absolutely.

We have 12 Sundays between now & our targeted departure date for Prague. The time will pass all too quickly. We're asking the Lord to continue to open doors for us.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Another Answered Prayer

We mentioned in a previous post that we hope to be able to have Baby B in Prague, once we arrive. One of the big hurdles we need to clear in order for this to be a reality is to secure a "reservation" in our preferred maternity hospital. If we were already living in the Czech Republic, this probably wouldn't be such a big deal, but trying to accomplish this from several thousand miles away is a little daunting. 

Thankfully, we have two amazing colleagues who have been working on this for us. They both delivered their children in Prague, and they're both familiar with the system. Today was the target day for doing the preliminary (online) registration, and though they did everything correctly, they failed to secure our much-needed slot. (There are only so many reservations accepted at each maternity hospital.)

This was the news we awoke to this morning - "registration unsuccessful". It was disappointing, to say the least. However, we knew that we had prayed over this process; we knew there were many others praying for this process. Christiana sent a quick e-mail just letting our friends know that we were continuing to pray for them as they attempted to register us.

Just before 11 p.m. today (Prague time), one of the ladies logged back onto the hospital's site and noticed that it looked "different" from her earlier attempts today. She plugged in Christiana's vital info again and - Viola! The registration went through without any further complications! What an answer to prayer!

All they must do now is appear at the hospital in person, and present copies of our identification & proof of insurance in order to finalize our reservation. Please continue to pray that they will not have any problems completing the paperwork on our behalf. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Yes, We Are Expecting

It's been a busy week. We sent out our latest newsletter by e-mail and the USPS. We mailed some more requests for support. We finally dispatched our visa applications. Somehow, we forgot to post about our most exciting development - we're expecting!

Since this has raised as many questions as it has congratulations, here are some of the FAQs & Answers:

When are you due?
Baby B's ETA is November 16, 2013. 

Do you know what you're having?
Not yet, but we'll find out sometime in June. Yes, we'll tell you the gender. We need to know how to pack!

What will you name him/her?
We have no idea at this point. We might not know until November. We both take names pretty seriously, so this is something we'll be mulling over for quite some time. We probably won't reveal the name until the birth. 

How are you feeling? 
Phil's great; Christiana's green. There is no such thing as "morning sickness" around here - nausea lasts all day, and frequently through the night. Some days are better than others; some foods help and others don't. We're hopeful this will pass as we end the first trimester, but if it doesn't, we'll roll with it.

What will this do to your plans to move to Prague?
Right now, not a thing. If all continues to go well, Baby B will be born there after we arrive.
As we've researched maternity & child care in Prague, we really like what we're learning. The Czech Republic has some of the best birth statistics in the world (even stronger than the US.) One of our future colleagues at CISP had her first child in Prague, and she's been incredibly helpful as we've been making plans. We've already made connections with a doctor there (who speaks English!) and we're prayerful that we'll be able to register in our maternity hospital of choice.

What will this do to your plans for ministry?
Phil will still teach English & Bible at CISP; Christiana will continue to serve RCE (though she obviously won't be traveling this fall) as staff care & recruitment coordinator. Naturally we will have to adjust our schedules/levels of involvement once we have a baby, but we'll take those as they come. 

Does this mean you'll have to increase your budget?
Our estimates were made with the hopes of starting a family. We didn't know if we'd be adding Brandes by birth or through adoption, but we knew we wanted our home to include children.

Are your parents/families excited?
OH.MY.WORD, that's the understatement of the year! It's hard to gauge who had the better reaction, Christiana's mom, or Phil's dad. Baby B will be the first grandchild/niece-or-nephew on both sides, so yes, everyone is very excited.

What do you need most?
PRAYER! Please pray for health & safety for Christiana & Baby B. Pray for us to have wisdom as we continue to make plans as a family. Pray that we'll be able to register in our maternity hospital of choice. Pray for us to have patience as we deal with (more!) document demands. 

We appreciate all of the encouraging notes, e-mails, phone calls & texts we've been receiving. Thank you for sharing in our joy!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Support Springs from the Heart

Christiana's Corner: I've had a rough day, work wise.
That's not something I say very often these days - most of the time, I love my roles in staff care, development & recruitment. Yet every once in awhile, I have an unfortunate phone call that just leaves me feeling drained, wounded, and totally ineffective. Today I had to deal with an irate sponsor.

(Before I go any further, I just want to clarify that this was not one of OUR sponsors - this was a call I had to field on someone's behalf.)

I will not go into great detail, but the crux of the call was that the couple was unhappy with the direction in which the sponsored staff  was headed with service. Although they were asking me to give explanations & justifications, they didn't really want to hear them. It was irrelevant that this worker has the full backing & support of the agency. They had already made up their minds about what they were going to do:  they couldn't control the actions of their sponsored staff member, so they were just going to stop giving.

Sadly, this isn't the first time something like this has happened. Ordinarily I'd dust off the phone & go on, but today's encounter has continued to weigh heavily on my heart. (Perhaps it's the pregnancy hormones?) I ache not only for this particular individual who will lose this support, I'm hurting for the sponsors, who are so misguided & angry.

Since writing is the way I often reclaim my calm, I decided to channel today into something which might eventually be of use to someone, rather than allow it to continue to eat at me. Here, in no particular order, are some things I'd like to ask all supporters of missionaries- no matter who you are or who you support- to please hold in mind:

  • You have been *asked* to give. Asked is the key word - you are never obligated to support anyone, even if we're relatives. We love you anyway.
  • The size of your gift is secondary to the sincerity with which you give it. Those of us who've been on the field for many, many years know that the $5 per month donations sent with love & heartfelt prayers are every bit as precious as the $100 checks.
  • Pray carefully about your decision to give before you fill out a commitment card. We will count every card toward our monthly/annual budget. If you're sending in a card just to be "nice", but have no intention of really giving those gifts, it's that much harder for us to stay on budget.
  • It's okay to change your mind!  We understand that circumstances can change, but please communicate these changes with us. 
  • Unless you've been called to the exact same culture/country/circumstance, please don't assume to know what we're going through. Please remember that every worker is unique, and that there's not always a "perfect" answer to the problem.
  • Choose to sponsor us because we're called by God for a purpose. Although it may be attractive to support a particular project or cause, remember that plans sometimes change, and not of our own decision. We might not get to build the bridge we intended; it won't stop us from working just as hard to dig a well somewhere else.
  • If you're concerned or confused about how we're doing, please connect with US! If you can't talk by phone, e-mail or send a letter. Don't call up the home office and demand a full report, because the person on the phone isn't the one on the field.
  • Please give out of love. If you're giving to try to gain control of something, you're giving for the wrong reason. 
  • Your support springs from your heart, not your wallet or your trust fund. If there's a day when you resent writing that support check, that's the day you should stop giving. 

My heart is still sore from the earlier event of today, but it's not nearly so heavy. Thank you for allowing me to share some of my thoughts here.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

And They're OFF!

Three months, multiple agencies, and 32 pages later - we're FINALLY submitting our visa applications! They were dispatched not 20 minutes ago, to the Czech Embassy via Express Mail.

32 pages, 4 pictures, 2 passports and 2 payments

Here's an itemized list (per person) of everything that was just stuffed (and we do mean STUFFED) into the envelopes:

5 pages of visa application
4 pages of bank documents (+ translation into Czech)
2 pages of Russian background checks (+ translation into Czech)
1 letter of invitation from CISP (thankfully, already in Czech!)
1 letter verifying place of residence
1 notarized affidavit for the Czech Embassy
1 letter of employment verification from RCE
1 passport
1 copy of passport data page
2 visa pictures (thank you, Walgreens, for having the technology to format pictures according to European standards!)
1 money order for $127 dollars to cover the application fee
(not pictured, the return envelopes which also had to be sent with the documentation)

Please continue to pray for us as these documents go forward. The embassy claims that it can take anywhere from 90-120 days for them to process our applications. Pray that we might somehow gain favor and speedy processing time, allowing us to have our visas no later than the first of August.