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Month: May 2017

Our group and Field service

Our group and Field service

 

Our group

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.

 

 

 

 

We arrived to Portugal!

We arrived to Portugal!

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.

 

Apartment hunt 

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.

All moved in

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.

 

Bethel and NYC

Bethel and NYC

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.

  

Party in Pamana and Immigration

Party in Pamana and Immigration

Next stop….Panama!

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.

Cuba!!!

Cuba!!!

Cuba!

 

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.

 

Exemplary faith

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.

 

 

 

Farewell California

Farewell California

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.

 

 

NEED GREATERS IN TRAINING

NEED GREATERS IN TRAINING

Training-Phase 1 

I had been praying to Jehovah to bless us with the opportunity to serve where the need is greater.  When I married my husband, all I could think of was serving in Dominican Republic with him.  I then realized that I needed to be open to options, so I prayed to Jehovah to send us somewhere that needed help–preferably overseas, where we could work less and preach more.  Jehovah knew we weren’t ready yet.  We’ve been in training all of these years.

Our congregation in Connecticut was a strong one.  It was a loving, united congregation, full of pioneers and with loving and encouraging elders.  You could see the strength of the congregation at the service groups.  The service groups were usually full.  We meet in the mornings, afternoons and evenings with great support.   Alfredo and I found our place among them as part of the family.  They are still part of us and we miss them dearly.  They were encouraging to us.  We grew with them.  But while they were encouraging and building us up , we were learning from them–part of Jehovah’s training.

Training- Phase 2 

Moving to California was not in our plans.  We wanted to get away from the cold weather and we thought we would go to Florida; my husband ended up getting an offer to transfer to California instead. When we decided to take it, I prayed over and over to Jehovah that we would NOT end up in a congregation that needed help within, I only wanted to help in the territory.  I have learned sometimes Jehovah answers you by giving you what you told him you don’t want because he knows you need it.  New Britain was training on how to be encouraging and how to work hard.  We needed to activate that training in a place where we needed to use it.

I didn’t think that I was skilled enough to be part of a congregation that needed encouragement.  Jehovah answered my prayer by giving me what I said I didn’t want.  He knew I needed training.  We realized that we ended up here for a reason so my husband said to me, “Well, let’s get to work.”  This is the first time in my life I’ve had to  learn to encourage rather than to expect to be encouraged.  I don’t even think I’ve been in a congregation in Dominican Republic that needed as much help as this one did.  The friends are loving and precious in Jehovah’s eyes–mostly all fairly new in the truth and still learning, very humble and shy at times.  It’s very important to treat them delicately with love; they need heartfelt encouragement to continue to grow.   One thing that I have learned is that no matter what, I must always be positive and trust that Jehovah sees what we see, hears what we hear; he provides his Holy Spirit to keep us moving forward even when we feel tired.  When we feel like we are not doing enough Jehovah gives us motivation to keep going.  This congregation not only showed us how to be positive with our brothers and sisters, but they gave us a lesson in how to be giving.  Alfredo and I have never felt as much love and generosity as we felt in California.  They love to work and they will give their energy and know-how to you as a gesture of love.  I must practice this type of generosity.  This was our training for Portugal.  We will be in a group and as it grows it will be full of new comers.  I want to be refreshing to them and I don’t want to forget the little ones as they learn alongside their parents.  I am happy for all the lessons I’ve learned in the past 8 years.  If we had left the U.S. any sooner I would not have had the chance to come to know and love and be taught by these wonderful people.