I could write a captivating novel about our lives in 2021, which would prove to be a New York Times bestseller, but I will spare you the details and just give you the abridged version so that you can take the highlights without having to read too many of of my ramblings.
I always struggle with these types of posts because they seem so one-way. If it were possible, I would prefer to sit down with you in deep comfy armchairs as we drink tea and warm ourselves by a large river rock hearth glowing with a roaring fire. One day.
Setting the Scene: COVID, Ben’s contract and gratitude
We started 2021 in the familiar unknown – a pesky shadow that settles itself into our lives about every three years. With Ben’s contract at Chalfont St. Peter Parish coming to an end we were at a cross-roads deliberating as to whether we extend the contract, as the parish leadership had graciously offered, or to go back to Canada. COVID-19 had coloured our time in the UK, and for the last year, life had halted, at least outside of our home. Inside, we could not have been in a better place to weather the Corona-storm. We continue to give thanks for jobs that we could do from home, a spacious and beautiful house where we had plenty space to work and play and lovely neighbours just over or under the fence.
Looking ahead: Kinbrace, First Baptist Church, Alpha Canada
Late in 2020, a friend, who works at Kinbrace, an organization that provides transitional housing and support to refugee claimants and asylum seekers, posted that they were looking for a host family. For myself (Krista), in particular, the opportunity sounded like a dream: the ideal living arrangement aligning with all of our personal values including hospitality, community and mutual transformation. We expressed our interest with honesty and transparency, recognizing that it may not be the right time or place, but our hearts were being pulled, nonetheless. We prayerfully put forward an application and without knowing if we were even returning to Canada for sure, they extended an invitation to us to come and live at Kinbrace.
Around the same time, First Baptist Church in Vancouver, had posted an advert for a Minister of Worship. While Ben’s heart lies in the rich liturgical traditions of the Anglican Church, we recognized that the Anglican Church in Canada is very different from the Church of England and it would be difficult to find a good fit. If Ben was to find a ministry position in Canada, it would unlikely be in the Anglican Church at this time. First Baptist, however, appreciates much of the same heritage, observing the liturgical calendar, rooted in scripture, and conscientious in their flow of worship. Geographically, it is located in the heart of downtown Vancouver and is one of the oldest churches in the city – it is actually the first Baptist church that was established in Vancouver. It is like a cathedral in the sense that it is a hub for the Canadian Western Baptists or at least has been and will be when the seismic upgrades and renovations are completed two years from now. Ben prayerfully put forward an application and after months of waiting and many, many interviews and meetings with the hiring committee, pastoral team, and Church Leadership Team, they offered Ben the role.
These two pieces of the trifecta were enough for us to discern the direction in which God was calling us. I then, put feelers out for work, made new connections and reconnected with old friends in the marketing and communications world. One friend in particular, offered some helpful introductions but said, “Do not take anything until you have talked to me.” So when a job offer came up from one of those connections, I let him know. He immediately came in with a job offer and after much prayer, many emails, offers and counter offers, I accepted the role of Marketing and Communications Lead at Alpha Canada, an organization that serves the Church by offering resources that help people encounter Jesus, ask difficult questions, and explore faith.
Looking behind: finishing in CSP, moving overseas again, saying goodbye
Our last months in England were bitter sweet. COVID restrictions were still in place, however, church services could be held in-person. We hosted company in the garden (British for yard) when the rain let up but there were still so many people we were unable to connect with before leaving. We are so grateful for the friends we made in Chalfont St. Peter and will never forget our times together with the #Bestmums, singing in Choral evensong, Sunday ministry, putting on fundraisers for The Children’s Society, chatting with friends and passer-by-ers at the allotment, exploring National Trust properties, play dates and so much more.
You would think that by now, I would be better at moving: sorting, packing, selling, dumping, and saying good bye. I have been told, more than once, that I should write a book about moving internationally, but I have since decided that there are too few people who would even entertain such an idea to sell more than five copies and furthermore, I hope the complications of COVID that compounded the process this time round, will soon become inapplicable. The truth is, that working out the logistics of moving a house, three children and a dog are only a small and superficial part of moving and that there is an even greater heartache that comes with leaving a place and group of people that you loved so much and never really wanted to leave in the first instance. We are so grateful to all of our many, many friends who journeyed with us.
Settling into Kinbrace: an oasis in East Vancouver
On May 20, we boarded a plane bound for Toronto, where we quarantined for three days in a hotel, as mandated by the government, and on May 23rd, flew to Vancouver, BC, Canada. We were met at the airport by new friends from First Baptist, complete with the BEST cinnamon buns in the world from Grounds for Coffee and toys for the kids. We can’t express how much this meant to us. We were also greeted by some of the staff from Kinbrace, who made arrangements for our transportation. It seemed so surreal to drive through the streets of Vancouver after being away for so long. The last time we lived in the city was over six years ago before moving to Edmonton. This time, however, we were going to live on the other side of the city. When we arrived at Kinbrace, we were greeted by many of the residents and staff and felt very welcomed.
We have never felt so loved and supported in a transition. Between our friends in CSP, the staff at Kinbrace, the community at First Baptist and my tireless mother, we were well taken care of during our remaining ten days of quarantine with a constant stream of people delivering meals, games and comforts, walking Byron, who arrived a few days after us, and checking in to say hello (from a distance). I want to name them all here but this letter would quickly become that novel I referred to, so please know who you are and know we give thanks for you.
Summertime and living is easy: Family camp, Okanagan, funerals and reunions
We finished our quarantine on June 2nd. On June 14th, I started my new job and on that same day, the container we had packed to the brim outside Ninewells on Austenwood Lane thirteen weeks prior, pulled up to our new house on Venables St. in East Vancouver. I sat on the Alpha Canada all-staff zoom call, watching boxes, basketball hoops and mattresses make their way into our small little suite – the main floor of one of two Kinbrace houses, in which we live alongside, above and below other residents, who are also making a new home and life in Canada. Then on June 21st Ben started in his new job. We had landed.
The summer brought familiar routines, such as Granville Island on Saturday mornings with my mom and brother and whoever else is in town and evenings at the beach. It also brought unfamiliar events such as the Celebration of Life we held in honour of my Grandfather, who passed away as we flew past the Atlantic Ocean. It was a joy-filled occasion with laughter and memories shared with my family on my mom’s side: aunts, uncles, cousins, spouses and children many of whom I had never met or were much taller than the last time I’d seen them.
We visited dear friends on Vancouver Island and spent a week at Pioneer Pacific family camp on Thetis Island, where the girls, Ben and I spent our days crafting, boating and swimming in the pool while Jakob joined Pioneer Youth Crew, washing dishes and cleaning toilets. He continued on for another two weeks after we left and absolutely loved it. By God’s grace, he found a footing in an otherwise unstable time, made great friends, and found a mooring for his faith.
We dropped the kids off at my Dad’s near Penticton in the Okanagan and spent our first kid-free night in a very long time at my uncle and aunts’ place in downtown Kelowna. And we had the chance to meet up with my dad’s side of the family: my aunt and uncle and four cousins, their spouses and kids, many of whom we also haven’t seen in many, many years.
Summer 2021 also saw an unusual heat wave with record high temperatures of 38 degrees in Vancouver and even higher in the interior of BC. It should be noted that I enjoy Vancouver for its moderate climate; it rarely goes below 0 or above 25 but this past year was proof that things are changing. In truth, it was tragic and many people died as a result of overheating. We managed better than many with the help of fans in the early morning, closing up the house during the day, trips to Lynn Canyon on the North Shore, where we could dip our toes into the cool mountain run-off, and having tea at my Uncle Mark and Aunty Tami’s house where they set up their hose to create a fine mist that we could sit under while the kids played in the hot tub, which they converted to a pool for the summer.
I hope you have gleaned something from this post so far. Perhaps, it is to never move abroad or TO move abroad. Perhaps, it is to trust God, follow your vocation or to simply check out Kinbrace, First Baptist, or Alpha. In any case, there is more where this came from and this is just part I of a three-part post. You can find Part II here or Part III here.
So incredible to read your story and the journey you’ve been on. Welcome home! Not sure whether you remember me from SDBC. We’ve also been on our own journey of sorts and now live in Vancouver. I’m teaching music at St James Music Academy serving students from Strathcona and Britannia and would love a chance to connect when you have time. Blessings Bonnie Cotter