This is a mostly a personal note, but affects me professionally, regarding a matter I discussed and received affirmation on some weeks ago with David Nowell, Roger Stoesz, Burt McDowell, and board members living in New Jersey. After 20 years in Brazil, I have decided, for a period of one year, to move the Smith family to New Jersey.
During this year I will continue my regular oversight duties in Brazil by Skype and e-mail, as well as commuting once or twice a month from the east coast depending on the need. United Pilot & IBA member, Marc Isabelle, flies to Brazil and I can travel with him very inexpensively on employee passes.
The reasons for this decision are numerous, but 80% because of the first item below. The other factors merely served as confirmations.
Marc’s Education: Our son Marc has demonstrated some special educational needs, not available in Brazil. Because of his excitability and distraction issues, he is falling behind in the first grade, and we need to get him up to speed before the other kids start to notice and he develops a poor self image. In Brazil, therapies and tutoring he needs are not available in English, and are exorbitantly expensive when they are.
We have friends in the New Jersey educational system, including former City of Youth director Lillian, who have helped us navigate the system to ensure Marc can get specialized care within the public school system. Corenne recently met with the folks there and left impressed.
Why New Jersey? Travel back to Brazil will be easy, and the time zones are similar. We have more connections in NJ than just about anywhere, due to the scores of people who have visited the City of Youth over the past decade, mainly from Marc Isabelle’s church (Princeton Alliance), as well as through Rotary. Princeton Alliance will be a great church family to be a part of. Finally, we experienced somewhat of a miracle involving Marc’s schooling options, as I will describe.
When did the decision come about? I began to explore the possibilities quite suddenly and unexpectedly when I was in NJ last September. We had gone through a horrendous 4 months in Brazil with our apartment under refurbishment by the owners (with us living in it) and seemingly demon possessed appliances which went from bad to worse after every repair. We had a broken washer, dryer, refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, water heater, air conditioner, ceiling fan, toilet, and most of our sockets and light switches – all at the same time.
In September, I was in New Jersey when Corenne called to tell me both cars had broken down. While on the phone, the coffee pot broke. Topping it off, she had just plugged the replacement dishwasher bought from our thrift store into what turns out was a 220v socket (thanks to our last electrician). For its last hurrah, at least the dishes inside were nicely heat sterilized. Right then and there, at Marc Isabelle’s breakfast table, I thought, “maybe the family needs a break.”
I suddenly remembered Steve Mayer, the team leader on the last trip from Princeton Alliance to the City of Youth. (He was the guy who put the roof on Susanna’s house in the slum, and preached about the woman at the well). Steve just happened to be the District Supervisor for the local school district!
After breakfast I drove out to see him – and that sealed the deal. Robbinsville has the top schools in the state – and only with the help of the district leadership could we get Marc admitted on short notice into the special education programs. We had actually considered short-terming in the US before, but getting Marc admitted to the right programs was going to take up to 6 months. On the way to see Steve, I called Corenne to tell her what I was thinking – and she was ready.
Practicality: Corenne has some furniture and stuff in storage in nearby Pennsylvania, where she lived before we married, including toys from her childhood which all her life she longed for her own daughter to play with one day…but it was not feasible to bring them to Brazil. So this will work out well.
If we live outside Brazil for one year, we can return with all our possessions. So we will dispose of everything we have in Brazil, worth almost nothing in its current state, but which we can’t afford to replace there ($3,000 for a decent refrigerator; $1,500 for a decent stove). With the extraordinarily high cost of living in Brazil as Westerners, combined with the cost of Marc’s school, there is zero financial wiggle room for replacing this stuff. In the States, we can purchase good used appliances and furniture and start over when we go back.
We plan to use the time to bring Brazil leadership staff members to the states for a week or two, to share our blessing and give them a break, while we take advantage of the opportunity to scheme and talk shop. We may also strategically host other prominent Brazilians or their children. We are aiming for an extra bedroom and 7-seat vehicle to accommodate this.
Timing: Marc’s school in the US would start Jan 3, 2011, so we would think of spending Christmas with the Hope kids and traveling to the US between Christmas and New Year, returning around this same time next year. We do not want our stay in the US to be longer, because we value having bi-lingual and bi-culture kids, and don’t want them to lose their Portuguese. We also value being on the ground, close to the Hope children, which keeps my passion and energy up.
Final Confirmations: A few weeks ago, our bathtub caught on fire -- with Isabella in it. It was an electrical fire involving some long-deactivated whirlpool jets underneath the tub. The fuses did not pop. The hall fire extinguisher did not work. This episode was a final confirmation that we were doing the right thing.
Yet another confirmation came a couple weeks ago, when I received an invitation to deliver the main message at three services at Princeton Alliance on the weekend of Jan 15. This could be a great way to introduce the Hope ministry to new folks as we prepare to spend a year in the area.
David is enthusiastic about having me available to him for a year in the US. He has already been making strong connections in California, so I can focus on the Northeast, connecting with churches around there.
Concluding: Minor challenges face us, which we will have to deal with on short timing, as work and other responsibilities preclude completely focusing on this until mid-December. We will need to find a suitable house to rent (not easy in the hotly disputed school district), vehicles, and household furnishings. And I hope for a miracle with loaned office space somewhere, perhaps within a neighborhood church. But, as long as Marc gets into school Jan 3, it will all be good, even if we are using sleeping bags and a camp stove. Folks from the Princeton Alliance Church have already come forward with offers for help through the church’s community outreach ministry.
Mainly, it will be good to connect with so many folks in the US that we have not seen in a long time, due to difficulties of traveling internationally with the baby. We hope to do some serious traveling over long weekends while we are there to get caught up.
Philip, for the Smiths