The ‘VISA process’ is basically two steps. Step one is what takes the long time. It's where the employer is requesting permission from the US Government to employ the person in question. This ‘petition’ is what was granted recently! This seems to be by far the biggest step in the whole visa process (hence this announcement!).
Although California homeland security have "approved your form I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker" as of last week, the final bit of the process is a visit to the US Embassy in London.
This is scheduled for 8am on Tuesday 11th July. The US Embassy is in Mayfair, London. This will be a final check to assure the US Gov that we are who we say we are. They then take our passports so they can put the VISAs inside them. Once get them back, we are free to fly! We are planning in pencil at the moment, but a flight at some point in the middle to late to July is looking possible.
This would allow the girls not only to start at Valley Life Elementary School at the start of term along with all the local kids (Wednesday 9th August) but also they will have a couple of weeks holiday (vacation!) before they start. This is a massive answer to prayer so...thank you Jesus!
So, assuming the Embassy approves the VISA in full...
Where's Visalia & What's Radiant Church like?
As you can see, Visalia is a medium sized city in the Central Valley of California. Population 129,281 (2014). Pretty much half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. In many ways, it's a very normal US city. Surrounded by farming and agriculture, it is one of the main ‘fruit baskets’ of the US. The people I've met in Visalia, both within the church and outside it, have been super friendly. The city seems to have a community feel and is a slower pace than the bigger cities that the Golden State is more famous for. That said, because of its positioning geographically, it is in many ways a strategic city. It's within driving distance of major cities such as San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles and San Diego, to name but a few. In addition it's 50 minutes to the nearest snowboard mountain (thank you Jesus!), an hour to the Sierra Nevada mountains (stunning), similar distance to the Giant Sequoias, a couple of hours from Yosemite National Park, and under two hours from the coast. So you're never that far from places worth visiting.
They are an enthusiastic bunch! Here's the moment some of them responded after I told them last summer that we felt God was moving the Shaws to Visalia……
The church was started about 12 years ago by Travis and Tiffany Aicklen who have become very dear friends to us.
In that time the church has grown greatly numerically, but also in their passion to love the City and the surrounding area that they are based in. Like any city, there's a lot of need in Visalia. Particularly, drug abuse is a very real and widespread challenge and the church long to see Jesus bring real healing to many.
Like City Church, they have a vision bigger than just the immediate city: a vision for many Word & Spirit churches to be started all across the State of California. This is part of the reason why we think God is sending us there. To cheer them on and encourage them to be a bit like City Church in seeing many sent to start churches all across California, the US and indeed the World. A local church with a global reach.
What will Tom be doing out there?
The main reason we have gone is because we believe Jesus has told us to. There is some real sense of ‘knowing this next step, but mystery about His long term plans’ for us. I (Tom) will be on staff at Radiant Church and my job title will be ‘Director of Leadership Development.’ This means I will be helping Travis and the team see many men and women leaders raised up to serve locally but also some who will be sent by God all over the world. I will be preaching a fair bit and also part of my job description is to serve a wider mission.
This means I will have time to both continue to serve the churches/church plants I already am, within the Relational Mission family, but also capacity to see new plants and churches served too. Radiant Church is part of the Newfrontiers USA family and so I'll be looking to serve within that tribe of churches too. California is three times the size of the UK and there are only two newfrontiers churches there. So another reason we think we're going is for pure encouragement and friendship, to help the leaders & church there feel loved and very much included in the newfrontiers global family.
What will Josie do?
Initially, I (Josie) will be 100% focused on helping the girls to settle, getting to know the people of Radiant Church and building a home for the family in Visalia. At present, only two of the girls have school places so I will be doing some home schooling and exploring with Lily. We will also be doing some very important research on the best dog to join the family!
Under the current visa, I will not be able to do any paid work. But I am very excited about getting stuck into life in Visalia. I am passionate about people! Whether that is spending time getting to know the neighbours, getting involved in the girls school, serving at the church or volunteering at local charities, I plan to use my time well whilst supporting Tom in his new role. I also imagine I will spend a fair bit of time hosting people visiting from the UK!
How long is the visa for?
As far as we can tell, two and a half years. With an option for a two year extension.
Will the girls go to school straight away?
Term starts at Valley Life Elementary School on Wednesday, 9 August. So our dream scenario is that we get there with enough time for a little bit of a holiday for the girls before school starts.
What are your prayers for this next season?
That the VISA is granted on Tuesday 11th July.
That the passports are returned in time for us to confirm provisionally booked flights for Thursday 20th July.
Lily to get a place at Valley Life Elementary School ASAP.
That all the other practical elements work through (shipping, the search for a house rental, furnishing the house, driving licence applications, social security applications, credit ratings start, car purchasing etc)
And that we would continue to trust Our Father for His 'Provision Provision Provision.'