Thursday, December 11, 2014

We have a VISA!!!

Wonder of wonders, Miracle of Miracles!!! Our little girl has her VISA!

Christiana went with our agent today to apply for a temporary permit which would allow us to travel to the United States over Christmas. Instead, when they approached the desk, the agent told them Susanna Jane's application had finally been APPROVED!
Phil thinks it's because Susanna Jane was there in person - who can refuse a visa to this cute face?

Christiana was able to finalize all of the details & complete the formalities for Susanna Jane's residency card. We can't pick it up until January, but PRAISE GOD for granting us this very important document.

Thank you for all of your prayers for us over these many months!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Susanna Jane turns ONE!

Hard to believe that this "Baby B" is a year old today! We love you, Susanna Jane - it's a joy to have you in our lives. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

No News is...Aggravating.

We're still waiting for news on Susanna Jane's long-term visa. The same one we started applying for last January.

About a month ago, Christiana met with our visa agent to give him the latest round of documents, including new letters from our insurance company and a lease with Susanna Jane's name on it. However, when Christiana handed that particular document over to our agent, she was told it was merely an amendment to our original lease. She would have to return home with Susanna, locate the original lease, and bring it back to our agent the same day if we were to meet the deadline we'd been given.  Why? Because all of the previous copies of our original lease had "expired".

True story - documents have expiration dates. If we were to go a certain number of days past the date stamped by the notary, we have to start again. It's the same lease, the exact same information, with the same original date of occupancy. The only difference is it has a fresh new stamp on it. 

More documents = more trips to the notary = more MONEY to be paid! 

People have insinuated that our visa agent is to blame - he isn't. He's merely the messenger, so don't shoot him. (As a matter of fact, he doesn't get paid until our daughter gets the visa so he's every bit as anxious to see this completed! The extra fees go to the document center & the notary.) Unfortunately, we've gotten caught in a corrupt loop somewhere in the office of the foreign police. Someone is sitting on our daughter's case file, probably expecting a bribe. 

Our baby girl turns ONE next week - we'd love to give her a VISA for her birthday! Will you continue to pray with us to see that this matter is finally resolved?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

That Lump in My Throat is Gratitude

We didn't go "home" this summer, since our daughter lacks a valid VISA allowing her to come & go. I've missed the opportunities to see family & friends, but I've also been thankful for the opportunity to remain in Prague because it's meant we could stay in one place and not have to travel so much.

A major drawback to staying overseas for a summer means that we don't get to connect with our supporting churches & sponsors. It means that there are no large one-time donations, no "love offerings" taken after we speak. It means that our support can start to dwindle.

Sometimes I wonder if some of our sponsors have forgotten about us. I know it's not intentional - I really think it's more of an "out of sight, out of mind" type of thing. Goodness knows we all have tremendous demands on our attention. Some of it is perhaps our fault too, because we've had a terrible time keeping up with this blog, and with our newsletters. (Speaking of demands on attention, have you ever tried to blog with an 8-month-old on your lap?)

When I logged in to our mission account register last month, my heart sank, because we were $1000 short of our monthly goal. I found myself thinking that if we'd been stateside, if we'd made the appearances, if I'd been more faithful with newsletters, we wouldn't have fallen short. I told myself I'd get a newsletter out the very next week, but then we started Czech class...and had friends come to visit...and I had four applications to process...

Another few weeks went by, and I'd failed to let anyone hear from us. I hadn't communicated our financial needs. I logged in mid-month, and I was crushed. We were now over $2500 behind. Again, I vowed to get a newsletter out immediately. And then we needed to say farewell to some very dear colleagues...and we had a meeting with the school director...and we had three doctors' appointments...and we had another meeting with our VISA agent...

I really didn't want to check in at the end of the month, knowing that my lack of communication was going to be reflected in our account balance. However, when I opened our ledger this month, I was astounded to see that we were only $483 short of our month's goal. There were some large, one-time gifts that had been sent in.

Once again, God has shown me that His care for us is not dependent on my striving, my shortcoming, or even my best intentions. I'm so very, very thankful. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Denied AGAIN

Phil met our agent yesterday afternoon, for another trip to the foreign police in the ongoing quest for Susanna Jane's VISA. It was a short trip - her paperwork was denied, AGAIN.

We've been giving several possible explanations as to why her application didn't go through this time, the biggest one being that her name isn't on our lease. Yes, you did read that correctly.

I hardly have the words to describe how I'm feeling at this point. We've spent nearly 7 months in this process, we've produced countless documents (at significant cost!) for new applications, and we're back at square one.

Prayers are appreciated.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Nerozumím česky

We're in the middle of an intensive Czech class - a *very* intensive Czech class. We've had four classes so far, and I'm told we've covered at least half a semester's worth of material. I don't doubt it. I feel as though we're moving at the speed of light.

This has been a frustrating week for me, I think primarily because I'm the only person in the class who hasn't studied some Czech prior to enrolling. (Phil attended classes at CISP last fall; two of the other girls in the class have already done most of the workbook pages we've been assigned.) I'm also discouraged because I don't have the time to give it my undivided attention like I did when I studied Russian. I'd love to spend three solid hours on my homework, but I have a very busy 8-month-old (who's still nursing,) and a job with RCE.

Some have assumed I'd have an easier time with Czech because I already spoke Russian. I've been told that Czech & Russian have a 60% crossover, but I'm seriously starting to doubt this. For every word that I recognize that actually means the same thing in Czech as it did in Russian, there have to be at least 5 more that sound the same, but mean exactly the opposite. While the grammar structure is fairly similar, the verb endings are throwing me for a loop.

I'm not wanting to sound disgruntled - I'm thankful to finally have the opportunity to study! I do want to give everyone fair warning that I'm not going to come home speaking in full paragraphs. Grace is appreciated. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Summer Conundrum

It seems to be rare for missionary teachers to spend the summers in their countries of service. Why? Because they are usually "home" for the summers, visiting family and trying to raise support. That's certainly been our experience in the past.

The pros of going stateside for six weeks or so are fairly obvious: 
  • Getting to see precious family members and dear friends
  • Opportunities to reconnect with sending churches & sponsors
  • Chances to buy affordable clothing, books & coffee
  • Air conditioning, iced drinks & free refills
However, if we're in the US, then we're not here in the Czech Republic, which means that we miss out on the following:
  • Chances to build relationships with our neighbors, co-workers & students
  • Ability to assist with ongoing school improvement projects
  • Engaging in summer outreach such as English camp
  • Opportunities to study Czech
The decision to remain in Prague this summer was really out of our hands, since we cannot leave the EU until Susanna Jane has a long-term visa. We'd love to introduce our daughter to family members and dear friends; we'd love to visit our supporting churches and let everyone know how very thankful we are. On the other hand, it's a tremendous blessing to remain in the Czech Republic this summer, and we're looking forward to what God has in store for us here. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Christian International School of Prague Celebrates TEN Years!

This video was shown at the CISP 10th Anniversary Celebration this past weekend. Although we've only been a part of this community for one year, we rejoice with our friends, students & co-workers in all God has provided!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Normal Life

A dear friend of ours posted this Facebook status:
"What would it take for me to have a 'normal' life? Just curious."
and the answers she received were everything from the ubiquitous "normal is a dryer setting" to "we can't have normal lives."

The funny thing is, as a fellow missionary, her life seems perfectly normal to me. I get where she's coming from - it would be great to feel like you actually had a home in your "home country." It would be nice to be back home and not feel as though you need to constantly explain/describe/defend why you do what you do. The idea of a dependable salary seems oh-so-appealing when you've spent the majority of your home time on the road raising support, and you're still only at 42% of your goal.

My speculation is that her quest for a normal life really isn't about her wanting to trade in her calling for a desk job and a mortgage so much as it's a desire to be understood, to belong. Really, I think that's what every one of us longs for.

This is something I've been pondering a great deal as I've struggled to keep up with correspondence. "How can I compose a letter that accurately describes what we're dealing with here? How can I keep it under 5,000 words? How can I make people understand?" But I haven't really come up with an answer.

When God called us to serve overseas, it meant leaving behind what the majority of our friends & family considered to be a "normal" life, and embracing the uniqueness and the uncertainties of life in missions. While there *are* days I wish I could trade it in for a home in the suburbs and a 9-5 job which really ended at 5, most of the time I'm grateful for this tremendous opportunity to serve Him, wherever that may take us.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Round 3 (or 4? or 7?) for Susanna Jane's Visa

We really do have the best intentions to blog on a more regular basis. There are at least 10 blog posts we've started over the last 6 months which have never been published. There's nothing like a good VISA crisis to get us writing again. If you're tired of reading about our VISA woes, imagine how tired we are of dealing with them!

Christiana received a call this morning from our VISA agent, informing her that the office has once again denied Susanna Jane a long-term residency permit. Considering that we submitted the exact same documents for Susanna Jane which we used for our applications, and given the fact that we now have our long-term permits in hand, there is absolutely no reason that our daughter shouldn't also be granted a permit, but here we go again.

We've been given a 30 day extension to provide them with proof of service with RCE (again), proof of comprehensive medical insurance (again) and a copy of Susanna Jane's insurance card (again).

If, at the end of this next round of documents, they still refuse to grant our daughter her residency permit, then we'll have to hire a lawyer and begin a lengthy & costly appeal process. We have already spent more than double what we had budgeted for this process, and we really cannot afford to have this drag out any longer.

WE NEED YOUR CONTINUED PRAYERS, for many aspects of our service in Prague, and especially now as we continue to do battle at the VISA office. Thanks for standing with us.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Big Week for Susanna Jane

Our little girl is now six months old! She's a busy little girl, who is always on the move, even in her sleep. We had a good six-month check-up this week, and we're now starting solid foods. Below are a few pictures of the big event.
Sitting up like a big girl - we like the chair!
First bite of solid foods...
Mom! What is this?!? Are you trying to poison me?
 Fortunately her disgust was short-lived, and she now enjoys a variety of pumpkin, squash, carrot & pear.

We're so thankful for this precious little girl!
Susanna Jane Brande - 6 months old

Thursday, May 8, 2014

One Day I'll Know What to Say

It's never ceased to amaze me how frequently I'll be stopped and asked questions here. I'm not sure if I seem knowledgeable, or non-threatening, or if it's because I stand out as a foreigner and people are curious to hear how I'll reply. (It happened all the time in Moscow too, so it's not just because I'm now walking around with a baby in a stroller.)

This picture was floating around Facebook the other day, and I couldn't help but laugh. Some days, this is exactly how I feel:
I wish I had the same ability to communicate in Czech as I could in Russian.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Our Very Own "Biometric" Cards

We are now "card-carrying" residents of the Czech Republic! We received our Biometric cards (sort of like a driver's license, but about 10 times more expensive) this afternoon, which means we're good until July of 2015.

One small hiccup - while we were given our long term residency permits, Susanna Jane's application hasn't even gone through yet. We're not sure why there seems to be this delay, since we applied as a family, but we'd appreciate your ongoing prayers for this situation.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Job Description

     We know that you all have been praying for us and for the ministry at CISP, so I thought I would use this update to tell you more details about my specific classes, and how those classes are going. 

When we first arrived in Prague, I was told that my class would be 7th-9th grade English and 7th grade Bible.  That changed very quickly to 8th grade Bible as the decision was made to let another teacher take the 7th grade class.  After about a week or so, I decided to swap the 8th grade Bible class for 8th grade Ancient Civilizations.  The four classes keep me quite busy as much of the material I am teaching is new.  I often feel like a first year teacher all over again with the planning and preparing of my classes.  But overall I am enjoying the subject matter and the students.

7th Grade – There are 6 students in this class, which is probably the smallest class I have ever taught, but the students are lots of fun and they seem to enjoy learning.  In this class, there are 4 Americans, 1 Italian/Spanish, and 1 Greek/French.  The class is made up of 5 boys and 1 girl.  I spend a lot of time trying to vary the subject matter to include grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing, and poetry.  Please pray for these students as 3 of them do not come from Christian homes.  Pray that God would be working in their lives to change them and bring them to Himself.  Also, there are 2 students who struggle with strong learning difficulties.  Pray that I (and the other teachers at CISP) would know how to best meet their specific needs.

8th Grade – This class has 11 students – 4 girls and 7 boys – and is also quite international.  There are 6 Americans, 1 Ukrainian, 1 Czech, 1 Nigerian, 1 Italian/Spanish, and 1 Greek.  Much of the English class - like the 7th grade – covers reading, vocabulary, writing, and grammar.  The Ancient Civilizations class has already gone through the beginnings of civilization, and Egypt.  This next semester the students will study Greece and Rome.  Pray for me as I spend a lot of time with these students that I will be able to model Christ to them, and that I will have a lot of patience with them, as they are a very high energy/high maintenance class.  Pray also for Christiana and me as we will be taking 6 of these students to Rome in April and there is still much planning to do for that.  Lastly pray for some of the boys in this class who have very little motivation and desire to study that God will change their hearts as well.


9th Grade – This is the largest class at CISP.  There are 14 students – 5 girls and 8 boys – and their nationalities include 10 Americans, 1 Ukrainian, 1 Czech, and 1 Indian.  This class is also high energy, but also a lot of fun to interact with and to teach.  Most of them are well motivated and seem to enjoy learning.  Please pray for God to raise up Godly student leaders from this class that will lead others to Christ.  


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Before We Even Ask

Our sweet baby girl - who is TWO months old! - is suffering from reflux. While it's not considered severe enough for medication, it's troublesome enough to have caused us a few sleepless nights, and several uncomfortable afternoons.
Susanna Jane Brande - two months old
When we packed our container with baby gear, we thought we had all the infant essentials we could need. But with the onset of reflux, I was kicking myself for not having included a recliner or bouncy seat - any sort of place where I might secure her in a more upright position. I can't remember if I ever voiced these longings aloud, but I certainly thought about it.

Just before we classes resumed this week, one of our colleagues called Phil to say he was bringing over some old baby toys for us to use. The domafon rang, and Phil went down to collect our gifts. When he walked in the door, my eyes filled with tears - in his hands was a bouncy seat!

Another reminder that God is providing not only for our needs, but also for the needs of our baby girl, even before we ask.
Susanna Jane enjoying her new bouncy seat.

Relief from reflux at last.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

40 Somethings

I read an article today entitled "40 things I can do at 40 that I couldn't do at 20."  It piqued my interest because I am turning 40 next week.  Some of the things on the list I could relate to and some I couldn't (since it was written by a woman.) So I decided to come up with my own list of 40 somethings.  I thought about using that title; I thought about "40 things God has taught me" or "40 ways I have been blessed" or "40 most influential people in my life." I even thought about a list of 40 lists that I could write.  In the end I decided on this: "40 things I know now that I didn't know or understand when I was 20." These may also be the first of many pieces of wisdom that I leave for my daughter. These are in no particular order, just listed as they came to mind.
So here we go:
1. It really is "a small world after all" and getting smaller.
2. The world is not completely black and white.  There are a lot more grays than I want to admit.
3. The Christian community/culture is far more unforgiving than it claims to be.
4. Coffee is amazing!
5. As much as I may plan, life never goes the way I expect.
6. Teaching is not merely about the content; it is as much about the contacts and the connections.
7. Middle-schoolers are not as scary as they appear.
8. 2nd graders are scarier because they are cuter.
9. Just because someone is a Christian doesn't mean they believe everything exactly as I do.
10. In light of eternity, "Denomination" is irrelevant.
11. Marriage is not as scary as people make it out to be.
12. Fear is never a reason not to do something (except maybe bungee jumping or snake wrangling).
13. Friendships are worth more than any amount of money in the world. Don't let them fall by the wayside.
14. The world we live in is a messed up, screwed up, evil place; and far too often good people get caught in the wake of that evil.
15. We cannot know true love without risk and vulnerability.
16. Trust must be an everyday choice.
17. Beauty doesn't always look the way I expect it to.
18. People won't always understand your humor, but it's still ok to be weird sometimes.
19. There are some dragons worth fighting and some that are not ours to slay.
20. Life is much better when you have someone to laugh with.
21. My body can and will adjust to temperatures below freezing.
22. You know it's cold when your nose hairs freeze.
23. Sometimes it's necessary to curse.
24. Drinking alcohol won't send you to hell.
25. America is not the greatest country in the world.
26. You can never have too many pillows.
27. The ministry that God gives us to do should never become more important than the ministry to our spouse and our children.
28. People are stupid. Love them anyway.
29. It's ok to cry at movies.
30. It's ok to ask for help.
31. Control is an illusion.
32. After the written word, music is the most powerful medium on the planet.
33. There is always something to be thankful for.
34. Grace must be fully accepted to be truly impacting.
35. There is nothing more valuable (and priceless) to God than we are.
36. Our parents made many mistakes, but they did the best job they could with what they were given.
37. The American church is not THE church that the rest of the world should be patterned after.
38. If your life has no adventure, you aren't really living.
39. Changing diapers really isn't that bad.
40. I write because it is the best way to express what is in me, not just because I want to tell a story.

And... 1 to grow on... Life really does imitate art.