England

Long delays yield “new life” (aka: England Update – 5)

Once again, I am a bit overdue in posting not only to this blog in general but to this category in particular.  I am assuredly not trying to make delayed writing a habit; although my recent postings would naturally seem to suggest otherwise.  However, like the most recent post, this too has the benefit of coming on the tail-end of a number of wonderful bits of news and life-experiences.  

On the Visa front: I last mentioned that Jenn and I were both approved for our visas (albeit at strangely different times) and that we were simply waiting for them to arrive in the mail.  Not 24-hours after posting that bit of news did we hear the doorbell (at my parents’ house) ring–Jenn and I both “knew” who it might be.  So we ran up the stairs to the front door to find a friendly UPS man holding a mail-package in hand.  (I think we might have scared him a bit because not only did Jenn and I ascend the stairs in near record time, but my mom made her way to the front door from the office down the hall in similar fashion).  Lo, and behold, our visas arrived!  (I have a nice picture of it, but Jenn would have my head as neither of us had properly cleaned up for the morning just yet).  

In other (book reading) news:  before leaving Cincinnati, I came across an opportunity from one of the blogs I typically read in the morning.  The opportunity was to receive an advanced copy of Scot McKnight’s new book in order to read it, review it, and blog about it.  There was a limit as to how many people could take advantage of this opportunity, so I took my chances and e-mailed the publisher.  A few days later, I received word that I was chosen as one of the lucky few.  I then sent my mailing address for both Cincinnati and in Atlanta–just in case the publisher mailed the book after we had moved from one to the other.  We did move from Cincinnati to Atlanta before receiving anything.  Almost three weeks lapsed before my mom tossed a UPS package down the stairs (standard M.O. for delivering mail in our house–unless it makes delicate noises), and I opened it with great anticipation.  The book was inside (unhurt by the fall)!  As promised to the publisher, I will finish reading it (I’m better than half way through at the moment), and blog about it in the next few weeks.  

The Atlanta scene:  our time in Atlanta (from 25-Aug to 24-Sept) was wonderful.  We were able to visit family and reconnect with some old friends from high school.  With regard to the latter, we were amazed at how it seemed as though no time had lapsed.  Granted, life happens and things change; but it was as though the friendship connection had never really been broken.  One of our friends, Kim, had us over for dinner with her family and it was incredible to see how much had changed and how much had remained the same.  (Apparently, I’m still sarcastic).  It was a wonderful time spent with Kim and her family–her children are a blast.  Another friend, Brian, and his girlfriend, Jennifer, invited us out to a rather interesting event known as Jazzoo.  A good number of the local restaurants in Atlanta bring samples of their menus and allow the attendees to taste the famous and the new.  There were also various bands dotted throughout the Zoo to create a soothing experience.  It was great to reconnect with Brian, as he and I were good friends all through elementary and high school; and it was equally exciting to meet his girlfriend and learn about her and their life together.  

England prep:  we spent a few days trying to sort out the best way for us to transport not only ourselves but our “stuff” from Atlanta to London and finally to Cheltenham.  Originally, we were going to either take a train or a coach (i.e., a bus); but we quickly learned that the cost would have been rather extensive.  So, I looked into simply renting a car and driving from Gatwick airport to Cheltenham.  Jenn, being the voice of reason, strongly advised against such an idea, as we would be severely jet-lagged and we would have to drive on the other side of the road (and car)–something I have never done.  In the meantime, while considering other options, I got back in touch with Roger Widdecombe (the Vicar of St. Paul’s Church in Cheltenham) just to give him an update on our status and arrival times.  (Roger and I have been in contact for quite some time and he has proven to be extremely helpful).  I simply asked if he had any recommendations for how to get to Cheltenham from London.  He immediately put things into play and arranged to have us picked up at the airport by a member of his church.  An unexpected blessing!  

New life in England:  on 24-Sept, we said goodbye to my parents and nephew, Alden, who took us to the Atlanta airport.  We boarded the plane and took our “business class” seats, which was a new experience for me.  We depart a few minutes later than expected and began our 8-hour flight across the pond.  I finally had the opportunity to watch the movie, Ironman, which was quite good; and Jenn watched her girly movie: “Made of Honor”, which was a bit of a disappointment (in her words).  We landed in London around 8:30a (Thursday) and got through customs quite easily.  Shortly after retrieving our luggage, we were met by Colin–the chap from St. Paul’s–who graciously took us to our house in Cheltenham.  Colin was (and is) an amazing individual who has a great story.  Around 4:00p, Roger stopped by the house with gifts in hand and heartfelt welcome.  He then took us right into town (on foot) so that we could see the basics and the essentials.  After dinner, Jenn and I walked back to our house–walking is the new car for us–and went straight to sleep.  Sixteen hours, we awoke to a new day and the beginning to our new life.  

Since then, Jenn and I have tried to become as acquainted with the street and stores to the best of our ability.  Thankfully, the main grocery store (Tesco) is one block away, which makes matters easy for us–especially since we will be carrying our groceries on foot.  Sunday, we attended Roger’s church and we were warmly welcomed by various members of his congregation.  It was interesting (and comforting) to be greeted by people whom we did not know but who knew (about) us.  Following the service, we were picked up by a gentleman (Martin) from an outlying town so that we could have Sunday roast with him and his wife, Mary.  Lest this sound like a random event, it was actually prearranged before we even arrived in Cheltenham–Mary knew of our coming and wanted to welcome us properly.  The Sunday roast wound up including two additional people, Andy and Rachel, who were such a joy to meet.  The entire time was spent in great company and we were grateful to have spent time with all of them.  

Later Sunday evening, Roger and his wife (Hannah) had us over for Sunday dinner.  This meal, too, involved two additional people from Roger’s church–Mark and Harriet (aka: “Harri”).  What was amazing about the entire evening was that all four of our hosts welcomed us with open arms and treated us as though we had known them for years.  They will never know how much that meant to us. 

This week has been rather productive and equally rewarding.  We were able to meet briefly with my primary supervisor, Dr. Andrew Lincoln and my secondary supervisor, Dr. Lloyd Pietersen.  I had not met Dr. Pietersen properly, so it was exciting for me to do so.  Given his background and research interests, I am anxious to see the avenues we will explore in the coming years.  Tomorrow (02-Oct), I am scheduled to meet with both Dr. Lincoln and Pietersen to discuss my proposal and methodology of research (found here, under the heading of “The Focus of My PhD(?)”).  I am assume it’s going to be a healthy (and friendly) “grilling” session, but I would not expect any thing less at this stage in the game.  I want to be as adequately prepared as I can before doing anything.  I’m looking forward to all of it. 

Final thoughts:  I am planning on getting back to my reviews in the next month or so–the two books originally under examination are still in Atlanta waiting to be shipped.  Once they arrive, and once I iron out a schedule for “free-time reading”, I’ll get back to posting on them.  Others will certainly appear on this blog as I will have a healthy share of books to critique during my studies.  

For your viewing pleasure, I have uploaded some pictures taken in our first week here in Cheltenham.  They can be found here.  More will be taken this weekend as we are taking our first “holiday” (i.e., vacation) to Coventry.  I’ll post more about that weekend early next week–it’s an interesting little story.  Take care.

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England Update – 4

This update is slightly overdue; but the delay has proven to be a good thing, as there is more positive news to report.  In the previous update, we were still in Cincinnati trying to get everything packed into boxes and then into the moving truck.  The packing process went much better than we imagined, and we even had room to spare in the truck.  

The cleaning process, however, took much longer than we anticipated.  It is one thing to clean a 1600-sq/ft house when it is loaded down with all the living amenities; it is entirely another thing to clean such a house when it is completely empty.  Ironically, it took us a bit longer.  This unexpected time delayed our departure from Cincinnati to Atlanta by 3 hours.  

Once everything was scrubbed, dusted, vacuumed, and washed, we walked out of our apartment for the last time at 3:15p on Sunday, 24-Aug.  Jenn, with our exuberant little cat, Zoë, took charge of the Mini Cooper (which is for sale, by the way) and I braved the 16′ moving truck, which was certainly a chore to handle.  After 8.5 hours of driving–the final 2 being saturated with the residual effects of tropical storm Fay–we arrived safely at my parent’s house.  

We wanted to sleep in the following morning, which was something we both could have used, but the moving truck had to be returned by 3:00p.  So, Jenn and I, with some help from various family members, unloaded the entire truck at three different houses.  (We truly have too much stuff for two people; though I admit that the bulk of it is my collection of books).  The only bit of frustration about the unpacking process was that it happened to be in the low 90s, a high humidity, and sporadic doses of rain.  

In the days that followed, we began to wonder how long it would take to hear from the British Consulate regarding our visas.  Then, out of nowhere, we received an e-mail (on 28-Aug) informing us that Jenn’s application was approved; mine, however, was not (yet).  This news was bittersweet.  They interestingly told us that my application had to be sent and processed at the New York office.  (This after my contact at the Chicago office told me to send both to Chicago).  Thankfully, the Chicago office went ahead and forward all of our information to New York (for a small fee).  It once again became a waiting game.

In the meantime, we began pursuing the other concerns we need to address during our time at home–the chief being establishing a bank account that will help us in the future (both immediate and distant).  We “interviewed” four different banks before we settled on Washington Mutual (aka: WaMu).  One of the key selling points for us was that WaMu offered free wire-transfers; although, there is a third-party bank involved who will certainly take a small cut.  This benefit will certainly assist us as we have to pay some bills shortly after we arrive in the UK.  (We will also need to establish a bank account once we’re in the UK, which I understand can be a difficult process for internationals).  

One of the larger bits of good news that we received was that we were awarded a grant from a local church.  They were more than gracious to us, and we are forever indebted to them for their contributions.  Shortly thereafter, we learned that the University of Gloucestershire instituted a new option for payment with respect to international students.  Originally, there was only one real option: all international students had to pay the entire year’s tuition before the program starts.  The new option offers a 50/50 split of payments–one half before the first term, and the other half before the second term.  This option relieves a lot of stress that has been upon us lately.  

This morning, I finally heard back from the British Consulate regarding my visa.  I was approved!  Jenn and I tried our best to contain our excitement, but our best was not enough.  (We even scared the cat right out of her deep sleep).  The only potential glitch right now is that we’re afraid that they will send all of the information to our Cincinnati address, which would be a bad thing.  It would be bad because the package needs to be signed for, and there is no one there to do so.  I faxed both the Chicago and New York offices and asked if they could reroute the shipment to here in Atlanta.  We’ll see what happens.  

As I mentioned before, we are trying to sell Jenn’s 2005 Mini Cooper.  If there are any interested buyers in the Atlanta area, please contact me as soon as possible.  If there are any interested buyers who are willing to buy it from afar, feel free to contact me as well.  As much as we hate to see the car go, we both know it is something that needs to happen.  

That is all for now.  We will certainly keep updating as we learn more regarding our plans.

England Update – 3

After a long, drawn-out process, and one expensive phone call later, our visa applications were completed and sent to the British Consulate in Chicago.  They arrived in their hands around 9:00a today (15-Aug).  In many ways, we have been kicking ourselves for not submitting the applications sooner; but in other ways, we realized that we would have been unable to do so.  Much of what we needed to complete the applications were unavailable to us until after July–e.g., my final transcript, more stable financial assets, a full unconditional letter of acceptance from the University of Gloucestershire, etc.  While this is definitely not the way in which we would have liked things to happen; they happened nonetheless, and we dealt with the whole process to the best of our ability.  So now, it’s a waiting game to see if our applications are acceptable or if we will be delayed.  

In a more positive light, we are close to having our house completely packed so that we can move back to Atlanta before finally moving to Cheltenham (England).  We were astounded to discover just how much “stuff” we have amassed in just two short years of living in Cincinnati.  I unashamedly confess that the bulk of the “stuff” is a compounded library.  One of my guilty pleasures is finding old, rare books; and Cincinnati has several stores that sell such things at wonderfully low prices; so the temptation is nearly impossible to resist.  But recently, much to the surprise of those who know me, I decided to slim down the shelves and sell some of my collection–110 books, to exact.  The majority of these were books that I’ve already read or books I no longer need.  This left me with just over 1000 books to choose from–i.e., which go to England and which ones stay in the States.  I now have that lot down to one bookshelf, which comes out to be around 150 books.

England Update – 2

I wish this update would be entirely good news; but alas, my wish will have to remain a wish.  We heard today that one of the possible scholarships/grants we sought after will not be awarded.  While on the surface this is bad news; on deeper levels (ones that I cannot rightly disclose), it ultimately proves itself to be “okay” news–or, “we understand” news.  We want to extend our deepest thanks to those of you who have prayed for us in this regard.  Your thoughts and prayers are far more valuable to us than any monetary award can bestow.  

The superficiality of this can be disheartening, but we will not let it become so.  We know that this closed opportunity is not the end of the world, nor will we view it remotely as such.  It’s simply a bump in the road.  We will press on as before and we will remain hopeful for what is ahead–both near and distant.  We will also continue to keep everyone updated on our journeys toward England, and we will certainly detail our progress during our time in England.  Again, we cannot thank you enough for your support and encouragement–all of you who give us such things are invaluable to us.

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Update: Lest there be any confusion, the above comments were not meant to suggest: “we’re not going to England this year.”  We are still aiming for our original arrival date, which is some time early September.  Us not receiving the grant simply means we will need to be (wisely) creative and remain hopeful for what God has in store.

England Update – 1(b)

The reason for the “(b)” is because the first quasi-update is found here.  

Well, Jenn and I are coming closer to our desired departure time for England, and things are certainly looking hopeful–in spite of a couple set-backs.  Let me address the set-backs before dealing with the hopeful aspects.

As mentioned in the first quasi-update, we were waiting to hear back from Dr. Lincoln concerning a possible research grant.  Dr. Lincoln informed me the other day that the request was not granted by the powers that be; however, a possible resubmission for the grant will be pursued for next year.  This was obviously bad news for us, but we–earlier on–promised to not let it damper our spirits, which would then hinder what needs to be done.  

The second “set-back” is that we’re just a bit behind in raising the necessary funds.  While this also somewhat bad news, we remain equally positive; knowing that we will eventually get to where we need to be, even it is slightly behind schedule.  

The hopeful aspects are related to the “set-backs”–well, at least the last one.  The “just a bit behind” is really only $5k, which will cover our living expenses for short while–that is, until Jenn is “able to find gainful employment.”[1]  (The conditions of a student visa stipulate that only the spouse can work while the other is attending school).  We have been incredibly blessed by several key individuals who have committed to supporting us financially; and we have been infinitely blessed by many more who have committed to supporting us emotionally and prayerfully–both are well beyond what we could imagine, and both are certainly more than we deserve.  We thank all of you!

A second hopeful aspect comes from England.  A very kind lady has agreed to allow us to rent her house while we are in England for the duration of the PhD program.  Not only that, but she has agreed to allow us to rent it for a very reasonable price.  What is more, her house is only five minutes (walking) from the school.  (A little further away would be fine with me, as I could stand to lose a few pounds of insulation).  It is a quaint little “terraced house”[2] with a blue door, two bedrooms, and a cozy little back “garden.”[3]  She too has been a wonderful blessing to us, and we are definitely grateful for her and her generosity.  

That’s it for now, but more will come as more arrives in the days that follow.  

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[1] Props to anyone who knows the movie from where this quote comes. 
[2] A British “terraced house” is comparable to an American townhouse–though slightly smaller.
[3] A “garden” is British for “yard”.

A bit of a back-story

In late 2004, I made the tough decision to move back to Cincinnati in order to begin graduate studies. (In 2003, I moved from Cold Spring, Kentucky back to Atlanta after resigning from a Children’s Ministry position). The reason for the decision to return to schooling was because of an inner desire to teach on the college level–especially in the area of the apostle Paul. I knew that to be able to teach in such a capacity, I needed to do all that I could to prepare myself. So, January 2005 marked the beginning of what needed to be done.

On 23-Feb-06, I contacted Dr. Andrew T. Lincoln, the Portland professor of New Testament at the University of Gloucestershire. The reason for the contact was to inquire about the possibility of doing PhD studies under his supervision. His response to me was more than enthusiastically positive. Since that time, Dr. Lincoln and I have remained in close contact and he has been an incredible source of encouragement. The encouragement has revealed itself in manifold ways, primarily in his patience with me as I was completing my Master’s degree.  

In July of 2007, my wife (I got married 05-Aug-06), her parents, and I flew to England so that I could formally meet with Dr. Lincoln and discuss future prospects. For the duration of the trip, we stayed in a small town called Stow-on-the-Wold with some friends of my wife’s parents. (These friends, Margaret and Roger, own a comfortable B&B called, Cross Keys Cottage). The first few days were spent touring the surrounding towns and villages within the Cotswolds district. This was my first trip to England, so we wanted to soak in all that we could. (Here is a link for the pictures taken during our trip).

The Friday before returning to the states was the day I was able to meet with Dr. Lincoln. We traveled about an hour from Stow-on-the-Wold to Cheltenham in order to meet with him at the University. Cheltenham is a quaint, small, yet dense city nestled in a pocket of surrounding hills. About half way there, we encountered some light rain, which naturally slowed down traffic. (Little did we know what this initial encounter would bring).

We arrived at the Francis Close Hall campus shortly after 11:00a and met with Dr. Lincoln in his office for about an hour. My wife and in-laws, who were in the room with us, patiently endured Dr. Lincoln and I “talking shop” and discussing PhD topic ideas. The entire conversation was relaxed and promising, and he appeared to be quite intrigued with my research interests. After discussing a few more details, we all broke for lunch. It was at this point that we realized that the rain was not just a brief summer shower (see, Day 6 in the photo album linked above).

We originally were planning on dining at an establishment that overlooked the city, but flooding had already started, which forced us to reconsider our options. Dr. Lincoln recommended a wonderful little place know as The Retreat. We dined, we chatted some more, and then we had to part ways for the day. Dr. Lincoln assured me, on the way back to campus, that my ideas were promising and that I should submit my proposal as soon as possible.  

By late September, I had worked out the details of my PhD proposal and sent it off to the University for approval. At the start of November, Dr. Lincoln informed me that the application had arrived and was set to be reviewed shortly thereafter. Close to the end of November, I received word from the University that they had accepted my application and proposal–I hit the floor with tears of gratitude. A week later, Dr. Lincoln informed me that my research topic was in line with something that he and Dr. Lloyd Pietersen (who will serve as my secondary advisor) are planning to work on beginning this Fall. This similarity opens the door for a possible research grant, which would off-set some of our cost. 

Since November, my wife and I have been all that we can raise money for tuition and living expenses. We have been blessed by several extremely generous people who have contributed to this endeavor. We are eternally grateful for all of you!