Here are a few blogs that I find encouraging. Some of them are extremely helpful and educational for those of us who are new at it and those that want to get started but all of them are very uplifting.
“Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house; and test me out, please, in this regard,” Jehovah of armies says, “to see whether I will not open to you the floodgates of the heavens and pour out on you a blessing until there is nothing lacking.” – Malachi 3:10
If I put our experiences about how we arrived here, I might encourage another couple to serve where the need is greater too. I have received a few messages from others telling me that they have the same goal. I also read blogs of other needgreaters to stay encouraged. It’s amazing to learn how Jehovah is blessing their efforts. When we started this journey we got to see it first hand and it feels amazing. So this post is a list of how Jehovah has helped us, just so that you can see how he will help you too. We are aware that this is what Jehovah has done for all that make sacrifices in their lives to do his will. Prayer is at the forefront of every new step.
- Choosing Portugal
When we both decided that serving in another country would be our goal, we began to think about places we’ve already been and investigate places we’ve heard about. I’m the researcher of the two of us so I was writing people and asking lots of questions, etc. Jehovah was obviously guiding our search because I began chatting with my cousin who is a needgreater in Thailand and she told me to get in touch with Margarida, who then gave a load of information about Portugal. It was then we decided to come here. So without delay we put forth the effort to prepare, which allowed us to see and know if Jehovah was on board.
- Making steps to save money
After we decided that Portugal was the goal we needed to save money. Jehovah helped us find a large town home for about $200 less than what we were paying for a smaller apartment. It was very important to us to be able to continue to entertain, because we saw that as our way of encouraging the friends. Our prayers were answered. We knew that this was Jehovah’s answer because we were told that the owner of the town home was very picky and many before us were turned down. Also, when we spotted the home it was being priced $25 higher but when we were approved the price was lowered, putting the rate right at the price we desired and prayed about.
- A better paying job
I remember sitting at my desk and doing the math to figure out how many hours I needed to work to make ends meet for the both of us while in Portugal. The job I had was not paying much. I said a prayer to Jehovah about how I needed a better-paying job and as soon as I looked at my Instagram I saw a message from my friend sending my a post from two needgreaters mentioning that their company was hiring teachers. She had no clue that I was looking. I had just said a prayer and she almost didn’t send it because she knew I already had a job. She said something made her send it to me. The brother helped me get the job even after I messed up big time on my interview, I have been working with them since September. They pay double of what I was getting paid and they pay in Euros.
- Changing our leave date
We already knew that this was the correct move because of everything that had been happening. Our original date was set for September/October. When we spoke to the Velozes they gave us some food for thought, “If you start now, you can get here by April!” We arrived on April 22. But how did we manage that when we had a lease that wasn’t up till June, money that we still needed to save and planning to be made?
- More money
We were moving to Portugal no matter what. That was the goal with all trust in Jehovah. We needed to save money and we were working at it. Then suddenly my husband was offered a severance from his job if he chose not relocate with the company. We received what we needed to be able to start over in a new country.
- Transferring our lease
I began telling everyone that if we don’t find someone to take over the lease, we wouldn’t be leaving till June. Then I found out that Alfredo was telling people that We were definitely leaving in April no matter what, so I had to change my message. (just a small lack of communication… lol). This required us to trust fully that Jehovah would find someone for us or make it so that even if we have to pay the final three months it wouldn’t feel like we lost any money. We were all in, and we decided to buy our tickets even before we had our visas! (The tickets were super cheap). We were leaving anyway. Weeks and months went by. Some came to see the place and even said they liked it and then we never heard from them again. We were nervous, but we new it was going to be ok. Finally a sister came by with a workmate who loved it and got approved about a week before we left. A sigh of relief and many thanks to Jehovah, we were financially and legally freed from the lease. On top of all of this, our complete deposit was returned to us.
- Our visas
As I mentioned, We bought our tickets before we sent in our visa applications. They were so cheap that we needed to take advantage of the deals. The consulate on the website stated that if you live less than 2 hours away, you would need to present for an interview before approval or denial. We lived an hour and a half away. It took only 3 weeks to get approved with no interview. Our passports were stamped and returned to us in the mail. I even put the wrong visa request by accident and the consular corrected it and gave us the one we actually needed.
- Getting rid of everything
This was by far the hardest part–the attachment to things and the physical work involved. We had some wonderful friends that helped us and they are true blessings from Jehovah. If it were not for them, we could not have gotten it all done. One sister and her niece cleaned our entire apartment alone while I was out running errands. It was spotless. Those friends that helped and encouraged us were sent from Jehovah. We are sure of it.
- Finding an apartment
Our visas were approved in February and it gave us only 4 months to get here and present to immigration. We got here with one month to spare. We needed to find a place quickly and we did. Within a week we chose a place and in two weeks we were all moved in. We did not need a co-signer, as most places were asking for, and we did not need a financial number as is usually needed. Our landlords are sweethearts. Our place is spacious enough for company and within our budget.
- Our car
We realized sometime before we arrived that we could not rely very heavily on public transportation. So we decided that we would need a car. We had a budget set to buy a used car and we found one before one month was finished. It can take a group of 5 in the territory and it gets us from one place to another.
- Alfredo’s job
A few months before we came a brother reached out to me about a job online. My husband is now in training for that position. He’ll be working part-time on the same days as I am. Even if this gig doesn’t work for him, we know that financially Jehovah will care for us and he will provide something else.
- The Elders here in Portugal
I have to add them to this list of blessings because they have been so refreshing since we got here. Moving to another country can be extremely daunting, but they have given us the reassurance that we needed. They welcomed us immediately. I see that Jehovah provided us comfort and what we needed when we needed it.
We are not special or privileged, it’s just that Jehovah keeps his promises.
“All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you because you keep listening to the voice of Jehovah your God…” Deuteronomy 28:2
Wow! it’s been two months already!
We just finished our second month here in Portugal. It went by so quickly. Until recently, I was still telling people that we’ve only been here for a month. Alfredo and I both feel good in Portugal. He feels amazed with being in Portugal, while I feel as if I am nowhere in the world, as if I am only somewhere but not far away from anywhere. Things are noticeably different, but for some reason I don’t feel it. I feel like I am alive in the world. I haven’t felt that “wow!” feeling, but I also haven’t felt like I hate it here. It just feels like life. I see this as positive because I can say I feel at home. I don’t know if that makes sense , but what I mean is, I feel as normal here as I feel in Connecticut.
“So, how’s your Portuguese coming along?”
Question of the year… I knew that Portuguese wasn’t going to be easy but I think Alfredo was expecting it to be easier. I was in the Portuguese congregation for one year after being in Spanish for seven years, so I had some experience with the language. Although I was commenting, giving talks, and going out in service I never got to the point of fluency. I was still learning when I returned to Spanish and unfortunately I forgot everything! As soon as we got here my husband realized that learning this language was not going to be easy. We both have a desire to learn but the problem is we don’t have enough opportunity to practice. Our meetings are all in Spanish. We spend time with the Spanish group. We work in English and Spanish only and most people speak English or understand Spanish. This has made learning somewhat slow for us. I try to use what I know. I would like to give myself a year to get settled in and then maybe take a class of Portuguese. One thing that scares me is that I will begin to mix my Spanish with Portuguese. This was one of the main reasons I switched back to Spanish in the first place. My brain speaks Spanish as a second language, not as a first. So it doesn’t recognize that it is learning a new language. I began to mix Spanish with Portuguese and vise versa. Honestly, Spanish is very important to me and if I have to sacrifice a language it will have to be Portuguese. I am going to do my best to train my brain to separate the two. Often times, even the native Spanish speakers use Portuguese with Spanish and they are ending their words with sh sounds instead of a a normal s. I don’t want to start doing that. This is my biggest fear. We’ll see how it all goes.
Life has started
I am back to work after taking a 2 month hiatus. Alfredo is training to be a quality assurance agent online. Before we left a brother who’s serving in D.R. contacted us about a position he is hiring for. We didn’t contact him until we were set up here. The training ends next week so we’ll see how everything goes. It’s so encouraging to see how Jehovah has been helping us put the little pieces together. As long as we continue to put him first he will keep providing for us. We have so many stories to tell and I can’t wait to continue to grow together here. Jehovah’s hand is not short that is for sure.
Now that we’re mostly settled we’ve been able to have a normal service schedule. As I said in my last post we’re mostly doing search work. The list of Spanish speaking homes was made about 3 or 4 years ago so we need to update the list. It seems like finding them can be difficult since 1. they move and 2. they tend to blend in, learn Portuguese and living their lives. We know that we have Colombian, Cuban, Dominican, Chilean, and Venezuelan communities and a mix of others. There is an African, Spanish-speaking country and we know that there are a few of them here as well. So the search work is on. We’ve all infiltrated ourselves in these little groups on Facebook so we can keep track of events, etc. As I’ve stated several times: The Spanish group in Portugal needs help. We hope you can come out. We will help you with your plans and Jehovah will maneuver things for you. (By the way, we just lost a family of five who went back to Portuguese so we could really use your help!)
Because of everything We’ve had to do, we haven’t been in the ministry as much as needgreaters should be, but we are trying to do as much as we can as we handle our business. We were told by the Veloz family that this is normal. They had to do the same thing when they got here and it took longer for them because they are a family of four. This made me feel better but I am still anxious for us to go full force in the field. The good news is that everything so far has gone so smoothly so we don’t have much more to do.
Field service right now has been mostly driving around and verifying if the homes we have are Spanish-speaking. We are still a group and there are some challenges getting through the territory. Some advice that was given to us was to preach with the English congregation because they find lots of people who speak Spanish. We are thinking of making Friday the day for this. The bible studies that Margarida and Juan have were found by friends in English. Alfredo and I live in the municipality of Sintra and we were told that there are lots of Spanish speaking here. The supermarkets are in the mall so we are constantly there. I know now that I need to be ready with literature in Spanish because on the third or fourth day we were here we were in the mall and I heard two men having lunch and speaking Spanish and I couldn’t believe that we both left the house unprepared!!! I felt like a failure. So now I’m always ready and listening wherever we go.
The meetings are awesome. The elders are so great at teaching, and because we are a small group I feel like the interaction in the questions and answers are more personal. Juan’s bible study comes to all the meetings and he comments too. Tuesday he gave his first bible reading. All our meetings are in Spanish except for the small part before the Congregation Bible Study; for this part, we watch the Portuguese congregation on the monitor since the group is under its supervision and this is the area that sometimes deals with the local needs of the congregation. (One day I’m going to prepare an answer in Portuguese and leave the library to give a comment.)
There are about 25 publishers in our group, made up of mostly Venezuelans. If you’ve heard of everything that is going on over there then you may know that they are all fleeing their country. I found out that lots of Portuguese went over to Venezuela to live and start businesses and families. This is why a lot of Venezuelans are coming here; through their Portuguese roots they can legally come and live. There is also a large portion of Colombians in the country. Margarida and Juan have already infiltrated themselves in Latin Americans living in Portugal groups on Facebook. Juan got into a WhatsApp group of a community of Dominicans living here and around memorial time he sent out the invitation to the whole group and the consulate called him and asked him what it was all about. The consulate resent the invitation to more groups. One Dominican got a hold of it and was really excited. He was telling others to go and check it out. He went to the memorial and to a meeting. Juan is still trying to pin him down for a study but the man is still telling people that they all need to come and check out our group! I can’t wait to see what happens there.
The friends in the congregation do what they can but they are here to live and provide for their families so before we came, the Velozes were the ones that were really working the territory. The others go out on the weekends. The group really does need help. There is another family that moved to a campsite to live in a trailer so that they can be closer and support the group as much as they can. Seeing their sacrifice is very encouraging.
Besides our group in Cascais, there is a pre-group in Lisbon and we just found out about another pre-group up north in Porto. I can’t wait to see how Spanish grows in this country.
RACE TO S.E.F.
We arrived to Portugal on Saturday, April 22 so we’ve been in our new country for three weeks now. Our “Race to S.E.F” began that very Monday. S.E.F is a branch of immigration that is responsible for granting us our residency permits. The residency process starts in the United States at the consulate. We were approved for a residency visa which has a duration of four months. A residency visa is different than a permanent residency. This visa allows you to appear to S.E.F and receive a temporary, year-long residency permit which must be renewed. After five years with a residency permit we will be eligible to become permanent residences.
Before S.E.F can grant us our permits we have to show them that we live in the country and that we are contributing financially. This means that we need to have an address–a place to live–and a bank account in Portugal. That’s easy enough, right? Not quite. Important business transactions and contract agreements require us to have what is called a NIF. This is almost like a social security number but not always used in the same way. The good news for us was that it is not that hard to get. The bad news was that we had to find a permanent resident who would agree to go to the office and wait for hours with us to get the number. The brother who sponsored us with the consulate in the United States was not able to help us get our NIF numbers. So we had to wait for a sister who was able to help us but not until the following week. In the meantime, we decided to continue to look for apartments and put our trust in Jehovah that this would work out.
The challenges with getting an apartment in Portugal are several. 1. We need a NIF to sign a contract. 2. We need a bank account and we can’t open a bank account without a NIF. 3. Most landlords require a co-signer to sign the contract with foreigners. The other challenges have to do with the condition of the apartments and what the landlord is willing to do. For instance, in the first apartment we toured the kitchen was just awful. The agent told us that the landlord would not be doing any repairs to it, but he would allow us to repair the kitchen the way we wanted it. Hmmm… doesn’t that mean he gets a brand new kitchen for free, plus our rent money? Next! One landlord told us that he does not clean or paint; he leaves that up to his tenants to do because he does not know what color paint we prefer, but we must leave the apartment clean when we vacate. Who wants to clean up someone else’s mess? And in addition to all of that, most kitchens do not come equipped like they do in the United States.
We started our apartment hunt on our first Monday, day 3, in Portugal. We saw three apartments. Two we did not like but the last one we did. The last apartment was a little bigger than we expected with 3 bedrooms/2 bathrooms (yass!!!). It did not require a co-signer, but they did require a larger deposit as protection if we leave without completing the lease. We heard of this before we came so we did not find it strange. Day 4, Tuesday, we saw one apartment that we really liked, 2 bedrooms/1 bath, and it did not need a co-signer if we paid for a full year (Not ideal but possible). On Wednesday, day 5, we saw about three or four more apartments and then Alfredo and I decided to tell the agent that we were interested in taking the 3-bedroom apartment; so I sent the agent an email and he sent me a message telling me that the owner accepted our terms. Fast forward to now as I am sitting on my couch in my apartment writing this blog. A sister helped us by reviewing our contract and making sure everything was ok. The owners are a sweet, elderly, Portuguese couple. The wife gave me two European kisses when we met and when they left. We knew Jehovah was with us; it only took us a week and half to find a place. Proof of Jehovah’s hand was that they allowed us to sign the lease without a Portuguese bank account and NIF. Fortunately, we got our NIF 30 minutes before our meeting with the agent and the owner for the signing. This was on Wednesday, day 12.
On our 13th day, Thursday, we were able to open our bank account with our new NIF numbers. Now that these important things were finished we could “run to S.E.F.” Not exactly. I found out that we had to call and get an appointment. We needed to get in before the end of May when our visas expire. I finally got someone on the line at the S.E.F office and we were given an appointment for November 21st! I was very concerned but the agent told me that they are behind; however, since we called before our expiration date we would be ok. Phew!!! We received an email with our dates that we’ll have to carry with us all the time after this month.
All that’s left to do now is get a car and organize and furnish our apartment. Oh yes… and start to work because we’ve already spent a lot of money.
Patience… patience… patience
Everything in Portugal takes time. You have to make an appointment or take a number and wait or make an appointment and when you get there take a number and wait. So even though it seems that the tasks are few, they can take hours to finish. For example, getting our NIF took three hours; signing the lease took an hour and a half; getting a bank account took another three hours; getting internet took an hour, etc. Portugal does not do much business over the phone or online like in the states, where in 20 minutes you have a bank account open and utilities in your name and you’re good to go. This was the challenge in trying to get everything done as quickly as possible. Every country has it’s challenges but Jehovah keeps proving to us that he is behind this move. If you’re reading this blog because you are also looking to serve where the need is greater, don’t fear. Jehovah will help you. You won’t t be alone.
We left Alfredo’s aunt’s house in Florida and headed to NYC to meet Ingrid, Andrea and Lucero, who flew in from California. They wanted to visit Bethel, meet my family and friends in Connecticut and tour NYC. We had such a great time. It was Lucero’s first time traveling and I really enjoyed watching her excitement. I was glad I got to experience her first trip.
We decided to take a five day cruise to the Bahamas before we headed to Connecticut. We went to three different islands. It was our first cruise and my sister and brother-in-law came along.
Panama was awesome! We were due for a visit since the last time we went was when we had our second reception in 2010. That’s seven years ago! They’ve been asking when we were planning to return.
My husband asked his friends if they could gather everyone together at the same time. When we got to the location, it was a huge party in a beautiful rental hall with lots of people and a beautiful table dedicated to us. They gave us a beautiful send-off-to-Portugal with speeches and they even went as far as to put to together a folk dance (baile tipico) for us. (For those of you who may not know, Latin American countries all have folk dances, but Panamanians are extremely proud of theirs.).
Immigration changes and our needgreaters
Panama has always been a melting pot. When you go into the city you can see all the different nationalities that immigrated to the country. In the past three or four years, there has been an influx of Venezuelans coming to the country. The first wave of Venezuelans were multimillionaires, with lots of power to make demands and complaints and change things to their liking. This drove the prices on food and housing way up since Panama now had to meet these demands. Panama used to be so cheap, but in a matter of only a few years food now costs as much as it does in the U.S. Housing has also doubled in price. (You’ll find better prices in the countrysides still.)
After the multimillionaires, there was another huge wave of middle class to poor Venezuelans that came in. (Venezuela is in a state of crisis and we need to keep them in our prayers.). Unfortunately, A large number of them began to put themselves above the Panamanians instead of being thankful for the hospitality shown to them. Some of the friends told us that they had even been approached and rudely insulted about their culture and nationality by some Venezuelans. The icing on the cake was when one of them took to twitter and insulted the people of Panama which then incited others to join in. This moved the government (who was already growing wary of the the immigration issues) to say enough is enough and change immigration laws, disallowing anyone who is in the country with a tourist visa to leave the country and then immediately return getting a new visa stamp, as was the case for years previously. What needgreaters (and others) would do is enter panama on a visa and then leave the country for a few days, then reenter and pay for a new visa and stay until that one expired and repeat the process. The difference between our needgreaters and others is that needgreaters obey the law and do not work in the country. Working without permission is illegal for foreigners and this added to the immigration problem. This new law is being enforced heavily. On our long bus ride back to Panama City from Chiriqui, the bus was stopped by the authorities and they wanted to see everyone’s cedulas or passports. Two women were detained and the bus left. We felt bad.
I met an american sister there who was asking me about Portugal because she has to figure out where to serve now. She called me a few days after and told ne that a couple in her congregation from Spain is going to be serving here in Portugal. She thinks they may be serving with a different group though. Spanish groups are on the rise here! She is interested in coming to spy out the land. She is very welcome to come give us a hand.
I’ll keep them all in my prayers.
Havana is quite an interesting city visually. I remember watching documentaries about Havana and they would always highlight the live music on the streets–musicians playing intruments and singing on the corners. This is exactly what we saw and it was spectacular! I love that Jehovah gave us the ability to make music and then to express how we feel this music with our voices and our bodies.
The antique cars are everywhere–mostly used as taxis. It’s amazing how these cars are still running. You can see them in line-ups parked along the road.
The buildings are mostly old. Cuba is in the process of renovating their architecture. The renovation is gorgeous but most buildings are still run down. Most Cubans are poor and they live in these buildings. One thing that hit home with us is how there isn’t much food in the markets. You can see a market full of shelving but most of the shelves are empty. Although there isn’t much food in the country, they are not starving; there isn’t a surplus but there isn’t a shortage. The small selection leaves no room for craving anything specific. You eat what there is but they don’t complain. They remember a time when there was no food and they are grateful.
Cuba is pretty safe. You can see tourists walking the streets at night with no problem. My husband and I went for walks late at night a few times.
There isn’t much internet so it was difficult for me to post updates on my trip. To connect to wifi we had to by a card for $2 and then find a spot to connect to it. No one had wifi in their homes. The wifi was slow because many would connect at the same time. Also, since Cubans make about $25 per month, $2 is a splurge.
Preaching and meeting together was banned in Cuba for many years. I remember when the announcement was made at the assembly that they were now able to worship openly. These friends were full of stories and experiences. One thing that stuck with me was how they are so appreciative of their freedom to preach and gather together in worship. You can hear their appreciation when they belt out the kingdom songs at the meetings and when they give their well-prepared comments. They talked about times when they couldn’t read literature and they had to share it secretly. Now they make sure to read everything.
They told us memorable stories about times when they had no food. But these stories weren’t sad, they were comical. They’ve endured some tough times but they are happy and strong. Persecution of our brothers was common. We meet a couple of brothers who were jailed for preaching.
I was so happy we went because we were able to encourage them with our presence as they encouraged us with their examples. Our trip was made mostly out of curiosity. My husband is half Cuban and he wanted to learn about his culture and see “where he comes from”. I think that learning about our spiritual heritage there in Cuba was the most refreshing part, and since they are not able to meet their spiritual family around the world they appreciated our visit.
In one of the photos you see us standing and praying at the door. Every time we planned to leave the house, everyone gathered at the door and we prayed before opening the door. I just had to take that picture. I could only imagine in times of uncertainty about what would happen once you left your home how crucial these prayers must have been.
What I’ve learned
Be hospitable and share what I have, even if it isn’t much – I am moved by the hospitality of the these brothers and sisters, though having little. They took us in and fed us. We found out later that the brother we were staying with paid a sister to buy food to give us a party, we were shocked because they don’t have much. They never asked us for money for anything and they were uncomfortable when we offered to pay for things. I hope to be as hospitable as they are, even when I may be struggling. I learned to appreciate my brothers who visit; it is a privilege to share what we have with visitors.
Appreciate my food – I never know when a time will come that I may not have any. Wasting food shows a lack of appreciation for what I have.
Study often/sing loud – I had to ask myself if I’m up to date on my reading. When will the time come when I don’t not have access to this literature? And last but not least, sing as loud as I can at the meetings with my congregation. There may come a time when I am unable to praise Jehovah with my voice.
There is so much more that I can share, but instead I’ll share more footage.
I would have never thought that I would ever be able to say that I once lived in California, but, California, you welcomed me. So I say thank you. California, you’re not what I thought you’d be. Before I moved here, I imagined you to be full of people, city and life. I imagined paradise and the big city, but as soon as we crossed the border and drove South to north to Sacramento. We saw what you are all about. You’re mostly desert, field and farm land. You are full of nature. I think I saw all aspects of Jehovah’s creation here. We were privileged to call you home for three years, but the biggest privilege was meeting another group of beautiful people who all are part of this mighty nation of servants.