26 July 2016

Guest post: Matthijs's new visa

The following is Matthijs's story about getting his student visa. 
About a month ago, I was sitting in the U.S. consulate in Brussels, Belgium, waiting for my visa interview. Up to a point, sitting in the room (cheerless as it was) was an improvement since for the first fifteen minutes at the consulate, I had been standing out in the rain. For dramatic embellishment I could tell you that it was pouring, but thankfully, that's not true. There was just a minor drizzle to match my mood. If theoretically I was relieved to be at the consulate - a consulate, after all - and have my visa appointment, I didn't particularly connect to that feeling.

Applying for a new U.S. visa is an experience I am glad to share, though, with Americans who may not be aware what face its country is presenting to the rest of the world, and possibly with non-U.S. nationals who will commiserate.

By way of introduction: friends of ours and of Campus Edge may remember that back in 2014 it took Brenda six months before she received her work visa. Even though as a Canadian and as a soon-to-be Campus Pastor she's completely harmless – at least for the purposes of Homeland Security – it still took her six months, plus a lot of administrative effort and ad-hoc decision making (in which country to be when, and how and when we might see each other) and a fair bit of money in fees. But from then on she held the status of R-1, which in the alphabet of U.S. visas means a religious worker. Our next move for its renewal is planned for this fall. So this story is to be continued at a later point.

Brenda's visa got me in to the U.S. as well, as her husband. Our first appointment at the U.S. Consulate we had together. That was in Amsterdam, fortunately, much more convenient than Brussels although equally cheerless. So I had my own visa stamp in my passport, classifying me as an R-2. That means that I was the dependent of a religious worker, implying that I couldn't work and get paid for it, and that if somehow Brenda lost her position I'd get kicked out of the country with her. The old visa stamp is still there in my passport but it now has a large black stamp on it saying CANCELLED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Getting this stamp is more or less the first thing that happened at my interview, since you can't have two U.S. visas that are valid simultaneously.

Fair enough. But what that stamp also meant is that from that point on I wasn't allowed to go home any more. Apart from the fact that I didn't get my passport back with the new visa immediately – U.S. consulates need to sit on people's documents for a week or so before they are sent back – as an international student the earliest you can get into the U.S. is a month before your program starts. In my case that meant that 21 July was the first date I was allowed to travel into the U.S. (Hence the exile in Canada). So the one question I was not really looking forward to when we got to the U.S.-Canada border at Port Huron was, "where do you live?". The obvious answer is Lansing, Michigan, where all our stuff is and our cat, but from a previous altercation between Brenda and a notoriously unhelpful border guard I kind of knew that U.S. border guards live in a different legal reality. People who have not yet been admitted to the U.S. cannot possibly live there. So that answer would not get me to Lansing. In the end I simply said I'd been living in the Netherlands, even though I spent only a week there this trip. After another hour of border formalities we were finally through and my forced vacation had come to an end.

The wait in the Consulate was three hours for a two-minute interview and some formalities, like finger-printing. Why it had to be Brussels and not Amsterdam is for another time. Just one thing. In the room where we sat and waited were three enormous pictures of Barack Obama, John Kerry and Joe Biden. Now all three are decent, hard-working men, no matter if you agree with them or not, but imagine having Donald Trump and his cronies hanging there on the wall in like three-feet-long picture frames. I'd have run away screaming. Wouldn't you?

24 July 2016

Ottawa trip (Matthijs' temporary exile in Canada)

In front of parliament
Matthijs's adventure in getting his student visa ended up with us spending a week together in Canada. I'd describe it as a combination of our normal vacation (where we explore a city) and what my visits to Canada looked like when I lived in the Netherlands (trying to visit as many friends + family as possible).

This was the itinerary: lunch at my father's house - get hair done at my sister's - pick up Matthijs at Toronto airport - visit Judith and Stephen - Ottawa - visit Dave and Crystle (go sailing!) - visit my sister again - visit my brother - visit friends in Strathroy - drive home. A little full, thus. But Matthijs came on Saturday and couldn't (re)enter the US until Thursday, so there was lots of time (and quite a few folks who we hadn't seen enough of lately).

Locks on the Rideau Canal
Our vacation got off to a bit of a rocky start, as my picking up Matthijs at the airport didn't go so well (driving, especially at airports, stresses me out - and my phone doesn't work in Canada, making good communication more complicated). While we were both looking forward to seeing the other, we nonetheless both managed to annoy and be annoyed with the other before we even met. Thankfully, Judith and Stephen were great hosts, and we resolved things fully when we got to Ottawa.
The view from the Peace Tower

Ottawa is a beautiful city, and I'm deeply thankful to see (finally!) the capital city of my country. I have to admit, though, that I found myself uncomfortable at times with how strong the nationalism was at times (sorry, but Canada also has a complicated, messy history). The closest I came to nationalism was when I was reading about the strong Canadian women who'd made a difference in the world.

It was a lovely trip, but it's also lovely to be home again.

I forced Matthijs to stand in the middle of this because I thought it was a great modern art display (it's meant to be symbolic of how many people see modern art to be as accessible as a can of soup would be to pigeons)

Happy to be together!

14 July 2016

Sometimes pastoring is making home-made pizza...

On the last study of the regular school year, I made home-made pizza for dinner. And no one showed up. It was exam time, so it wasn't completely unexpected, but there's still something a bit disconcerting about taking the time and energy to prepare a study and food only to have no one enjoy it at that time.

And yet, it was also a reminder that pastoring doesn't always look like I think it should. While God can use me to bless others through leading a study, at certain times, the best pastoring comes simply through making home-made pizza, storing it in plastic containers in the fridge, and sending out an email for everyone to come, take, and eat. Please come when you can and nourish yourself with good food during exam week - and, as for me, I get to leave early and delight in a concert where 2 of my students were playing.  

Leanne Friesen recently wrote a blog about how pastoring doesn't always look like we expect it should. The following is a mixture of my own list, followed by some of her examples of what pastoring sometimes looks like:
- Sometimes pastoring is making pizza and not leading Bible study;- Sometimes pastoring is attending concerts. 
- Sometimes pastoring is typing someone else's essay when I think I should be using my great Hebrew knowledge;
- Sometimes pastoring is emailing. And more emailing. And more emailing.
- Sometimes pastoring is crying and hoping for others, because grad school is hard on people
- Sometimes pastoring is being honest. Even and especially to myself.
"Sometimes pastoring is preparing for a board meeting and taking lots of notes.
Sometimes pastoring is preparing for a hard conversation and praying lots of prayers.
Sometimes pastoring is photocopying handouts.
Sometimes pastoring is the heartbreak of seeing someone walk away from faith.
Sometimes pastoring is balancing a budget.
Sometimes pastoring is giving someone a ride. 
Sometimes pastoring is walking through the aisles of your church pews or chairs and picking up garbage left from the week before." 

She has lots more, so I encourage you to check out her post.

10 July 2016

The joy found in beginning a new school (year)

Matthijs recently received a letter telling him all about "Math Camp." It's a week-long event, highly recommended for political science folks (and designed by someone in poli-sci!) to allow them to enter the year confident about their ability to handle the math component of their program.

Matthjs, being ever gracious, shared the letter with me. I'm a bit of a math geek, so I'm pretty certain I'd thoroughly enjoy going to math camp for a week! I imagine I'll still enjoy it through getting to experience it second-hand, through Matthijs.

Reading Matthijs' letter about math camp, made me feel the joy I always had as I anticipated the beginning of a new school year/program. The joy was always more concrete with such a letter because I could begin to picture all of the things I'd get to learn and do. I loved the joy and hope those letters brought with them about everything that'd happen and all that we were going to study.

I had forgotten that feeling, so I'm looking forward to Matthijs going back to school and my getting to experience some of these joys vicariously through him.