As I sit down to write this blog post on the last day of 2016 I am amazed as I reflect on all that we have been through during the last 12 months in this beautiful country of Spain. Even though there have been ups and downs many lessons have been learned in the process. In this post we will attempt to recap the highlights of the past year as well as talk about the challenges. Serving in another country can be exciting but it’s anything but easy! We hope that this review will help you to get a realistic idea of what life may be like for you if you choose to move to another country to expand your ministry. It’s now been over three years since we have been in Spain. We are thrilled that we’ve been able to stay here continuously for so long and we look forward to what the future holds! In the meantime let’s recap the last year!
January to March
As we began our year we found ourselves getting ready to adapt to a new environment and congregation. After having lived in Bilbao for two years we realized that it would be best if we relocated to another part of the country. We love Bilbao and we really enjoyed our time there with the English congregation. Some of the reasons that we felt we should move had to do with the weather, cost of living and the need in the congregation. The weather in Bilbao is very rainy and unpredictable. It can change several times in the same day and this is not good for Kanicia who suffers from migraines. Another factor that was keeping us from simplifying our lives to the extent that we wanted was the relatively high cost of living in Bilbao. Granted, living in Bilbao is not the same as living in New York or Paris but for Spain it can be considered expensive. Even though we were able to afford it we didn’t want to focus so much of our time and energy on secular work just to survive. Lastly, we saw that over time the need in the congregation began to shift and we felt that we could be of better use elsewhere. There were several pioneers in the congregation and a healthy number of appointed brothers. Meanwhile there were several congregations in the country that had a greater need for help. After speaking with two circuit overseers we were able to determine several possible areas that would be a good fit or us. These areas had a low cost of living, great weather and a need in the congregation. We often share many things that we do on our Instagram accounts. Mine is frenchtwan and my wife’s is kcog09. It was really encouraging to read all of the comments as we began our journey in search of a new place to live in an area totally foreign to us. We loved sharing new things that we discovered as we got to know the brothers in the congregation and the ministry.
As we saw Jehovah’s hand in finding accommodations and adjusting to the area we could be nothing but grateful! It can be quite a scary and daunting thing having to move to a new area and get reestablished after having been accustomed to a certain way of life for a couple of years. But as we have learned all along this journey the more sacrifices you make the more you are rewarded. When you put yourself in unfamiliar and even seemingly scary situations for Kingdom interests things always work out a million times better than you could imagine. We were able to find a perfect western style apartment just minutes from the beach and near the congregation. Another challenge that we had was to find transportation. Since we were no longer going to be living in a big city we needed to buy a car. Again we saw how Jehovah put everything into place for us and we were able to find the perfect car for our needs. We are so happy that we moved to the south of Spain instead of staying in our comfort zone. If you ever have the opportunity to test Jehovah out, don’t hesitate! Just do it! You won’t regret it.
April to June
Over the next several months we could say that one highlight among many was our vacation to Morocco for a week. We didn’t really know what to expect when traveling to this country since it would be our first time on the African continent. Regardless, we were looking forward to our trip and to experiencing new things. Little did we realize we had planned our trip during the celebration of Ramadan. After landing and being taken to our riad where we stayed we instantly knew we were in another world. The sights and sounds were all different and it was quite a sensory overload. We soon adjusted to our new surroundings and really began to enjoy ourselves. It was great to see how other cultures live. We got to try amazing food and see impressive history and architecture. We also met some extremely kind and down to earth people. We won’t soon forget our time in Morocco as it’s changed our perception of travel going forward.
At this point in the congregation we had started to get a better feel for the ministry. We had been able to preach in the migrant worker camps in Huelva which is a very humbling experience to say the least. The great thing about the camps is that many are receptive to our message. Conditions in the camps are very poor and it makes you appreciate anything that you have. It also helps drive home the point that injustice is a very real part of this wicked system that we live in. You can’t help but feel for the people that you speak to that have left behind everything to follow a dream and all too often they’ve found a very difficult and challenging life instead. The lesson that preaching in the camps has taught us is that we shouldn’t get too attached to material things because they could be gone in an instant. What really matters is our relationship with Jehovah and our trust in him. If you want to read more about our first six months in the south of Spain you can check out this post.
July to September
During the summer months we were able to attend the summer regional convention in Madrid. It was an amazing program and we enjoyed being able to see our friends from the north. Needless to say, we were energized after the program and more motivated than ever to strengthen our relationship with Jehovah. It was also so nice to attend the program because it really helped us to hone in on what is valuable and what is not in this system. We realized that we had left behind a certain lifestyle in the US to move to Spain. There were things that we were doing without but we had adapted over time. Upon coming to the south of Spain from the more affluent north there were again sacrifices to be made. There were things that we enjoyed such as some of the conveniences of a modern large city. But even though we don’t have many of those things here in the south we have been blessed in other ways. For example since we are able to lead a life with less distractions it helps us to stay more focused on our spiritual routine.
Another thing that we’ve been able to enjoy here in the south during the summer months has been the beach! Yes, the beach here is super close and it is so nice to be able to go for a swim, picnic or a walk whenever you please. We’ve also been enjoying exploring the nearby areas including Portugal. It’s nice to have that feeling where you are excited again to see what’s around every corner. These are some of the blessings that come with a new assignment, especially in such a beautiful area. As a result of a better work-life balance we feel like we have reduced our stress and are happier as a result. This was one of our objectives in moving from Bilbao where we could easily see ourselves returning to a similar lifestyle that we had in the states.
October to December
In the last part of the year we really started to feel at home. Sometimes it feels like it takes about a year just to get used to a place and to be able to say that you really know it to some degree. Now that the year is over we feel like we are just starting to know how things work both inside and outside of the congregation. These last few months we’ve been able to travel for several outgoing talks to nearby congregations as well as into Portugal. This has been a great way for us to get to know the brothers and sisters in our area and to feel closer to them. Another nice privilege we had was attending the assembly in Granada. We had been looking forward to visiting Granada for some time and we are happy we did. It is a city full of history and life. We really enjoyed ourselves there and we liked meeting new ones during the assembly program. We were able to visit the Alhambra and some other things in the city. We look forward to visiting Granada again soon and doing some more exploring.
As the year comes to a close we’ve started to see a shift in our focus. The first half of the year was focused on getting set up and oriented to the area and the congregation and ministry. We feel like we’ve gotten that part out of the way so now we are shifting our energy. In what way? Well, we are trying to regain the type of lifestyle that we had when we first arrived in Spain and were living in Murcia. What we mean by this is that when we first got here we were ultra focused on doing our best to help the group that we were a part of and we weren’t really distracted by the everyday things of life. This allowed our life to be simple and we were happy. Now that we have gotten the essentials taken care of we are starting to see how we can better focus our lives and simplify more. We’ve learned a lot in our time in Andalusia (southern Spain) in 2016. Among the lessons that we really value are to just do your best in your circumstances and also to be modest. We’ve learned to take care of ourselves since in this way we can be the most useful.
During the latter half of the year we redesigned our blog Two People in Spain. Along with the redesign we changed the focus slightly from just recounting our personal experiences to including practical information on how to support yourself as a needgreater living abroad. We realize from experience that supporting yourself is one of the most challenging areas for any needgreater and new ideas are always appreciated. We’ve had to be creative during our time in Spain since things don’t always work out the way you plan. We’ve had a few times where we thought that we may have to go home but by thinking outside of the box it allowed Jehovah to step in and help us to stay. With all that we have learned we enjoy sharing it with others who are in a similar situation or are thinking of doing something like this in the future. We’ve gotten a lot of messages and comments over the years expressing appreciation for our posts. We are happy that the information is able to be useful. After we redesigned our blog we partnered with a TESOL school which allows us to offer a course from our blog to help you obtain your English Teaching certificate online. This course has helped Kanicia obtain her TESOL which helps us support ourselves and continue living in Spain. If you want to read our post reviewing different TESOL Courses click here. We’re happy that we’ve gotten a good response from the course and we know that if you apply yourself you will be able to reach your goals of serving in your desired country. It’s not easy but it is attainable with Jehovah’s help. As this year comes to an end we feel like things are at a good place for us here in Spain. We feel excited for what’s in store next year and motivated to work towards our goals. So let us share with you what we would like to accomplish next year, Jehovah willing.
2017 Plans and Goals
As we begin 2017 we are excited to be working towards our spiritual goals. We have a lot planned and we can already see that it’s going to be a busy year! Let us share with you our spiritual goals first. After moving to southern Spain from Bilbao we decided to take a break from pioneering for one year. This was because we wanted to be able to transition properly into our new surroundings and get acclimated. This has been a good thing for us since it has allowed us to restructure our lives here in a way that would allow for us to keep a sustainable schedule in the future. We knew that we eventually would want to return to full time service and we haven’t lost sight of this goal. Now that a year has passed we’ve applied for continuous auxiliary pioneer service starting in January of 2017. This will allow us to enjoy a good share in the ministry for several months while working up to full time hours. The timing is great since in January we will have the visit of our circuit overseer so we’ll be able to attend the meeting with the pioneers. We would like to auxiliary pioneer until the beginning of the next service year. Then if everything goes well we would like to apply to return to the full time service. If we are able to do this with Jehovah’s help we will be thrilled. We know that if we work hard and stay disciplined this is an attainable goal. There is much work to be done in our territory and we want to be able to help as much as possible. One great thing about living in this area is that the weather is amazing. This will help us to carry out our pioneer service more easily. This winter we’ve had an average of 18.5 degrees Celsius. We’re looking forward to the mild winter continuing as we move into the new year.
One of the ways that we are going to be able to work back up to full time service is by modifying our secular work schedule. This is something that we are always encouraged to do if possible in order to do more. As many of you know our main source of income is through work provided by Learnship which is a company that allows you to teach English online. Both my wife and I have worked for this company for a few years now. They are great and have allowed us to support ourselves with more than enough work while here in Spain. If you are interested in working with them or have any questions you can email us at [email protected] and we can help you out. Since the work that we do is online we are able to work anywhere that there is an internet connection. So when we moved from Bilbao we took our jobs with us. We still had to set up our internet and find a place so in the process we lost some students because we took some time off. The natural human tendency is to worry about having enough work to provide for what you need. When we first moved down here we said that we were going to only work three days a week. That slowly turned into four days and in my case five. As you can imagine it’s hard to fit a whole lot into your schedule when you are working 20-25 hours a week among other responsibilities. So this is why starting in January we will begin a new secular schedule working only Monday to Thursday from 9:00 to 12:00 for a total of twelve hours a week each. This new schedule will leave us with plenty of time for our other activities and will help us to be more balanced in the use of our time.
The great thing about working with Learnship is that you are in control of your schedule. So you can adapt it to your lifestyle. After much discussion and we feel that this schedule will allow us to use our time in the best way possible. We are also involved in other things that allow us to earn money such as our TESOL course, affiliate income and other e-commerce related businesses. Thankfully with our new schedule we will also have additional time to focus on these other areas as well and eventually they will be able to play a bigger role in how we support ourselves here in Spain. In the near future look out for additions to our TESOL course as well as an upcoming guide to help you make a success of teaching languages online. We also have another really exciting project that has been in the works for some time. Now we will actually have the time to dedicate to it. It has to do with learning languages. That’s all we can say for now. So we’ll keep you posted. You can also be sure that our blog Two People in Spain will continue to have regular weekly posts every Sunday as we share with you what is working and what isn’t in our needgreater journey. We have in mind another website redesign in the near future that will give us more flexibility with the design and structure of our site. You can also expect that we are going to simplify the site layout so that it is focused on less things but in a more in-depth way. We know that we will have to have faith in Jehovah to keep to our secular work schedule but we feel that if we apply ourselves and work in harmony with our prayers things will go well. The ultimate goal of course is for all of these things to allow us to return to the full time service and to be able to continue in that work until the Great Tribulation. So only time will tell…
What are you going to Eat?
Over the last several years we’ve eaten many different things while here in Spain. When we arrived in October, 2013 we were actually vegetarians. That didn’t last for long! We had been vegetarians for at least a year in the states before coming to Spain. What we remember is that we felt really good eating that way. We tried to eat a whole foods plant based diet. We’ve tried little stints of not eating meat here and there while in Spain but nothing really long-term. One good thing about being here in the south of Spain is that there is surprisingly a lot of selection of different kinds of foods. We are able to find a lot of healthy alternatives to some of the things that are commonly used here. One main goal that we have for 2017 is to take care of our health. One of the ways that we’ve found we can best do this is by paying attention to what we eat. We notice that when we eat a lot of highly processed food or prepackaged things we generally don’t feel so great. We also don’t feel so great when we have a lot of gluten such as pasta, bread and pastries. My wife can get migraines when having gluten and I generally don’t feel so great after having it. The same can be said for eggs and dairy.
So with the goal of taking care of our health and feeling the best that we can we are going to eat differently in 2017. We’ve set a short term goal of one month being the month of January. We are going to adopt a certain way of eating and then check back at the end of the month to see how we feel. If we feel better then we will continue eating this way. So what will we be doing? For the month of January we won’t be eating meat or other animal products such as eggs. We also won’t be having any dairy, gluten and soy. We’ll be generally avoiding processed foods and prepackaged food. Many of these things we’ve already been doing but to different degrees. The main difference in January is that we are going to be much stricter with what we buy and eat. We think this will have a positive effect on our health and we look forward to seeing how the month goes. We look forward to making shopping at our local market the main shopping day as well as eating out less. Overall this should help us to feel better and also save some money. We’ll report back during our January review on how things went!
What are you going to wear?
You might remember when we were in Bilbao we posted on Instagram that we were trying to simplify our wardrobe. Well, we were doing pretty good but then life happened. We got busy and the whole wardrobe simplification took a back seat. We have renewed the determination to simplify our wardrobe by creating a ten item capsule wardrobe for each of us. What is the motivation for this? If you haven’t already noticed one of our main ongoing themes for 2017 is simplify. I’m sure you’ve had the feeling of opening up your closet and staring at dozens of garments but you still can’t find anything to wear. Likely that is because the clothes that you have either don’t fit you properly or you don’t absolutely love them. This happens to us all the time. In 2017 we’re going to be focusing on quality over quantity. Instead of having a bunch of pieces that we don’t really like we will have only a few pieces that we absolutely love. The wardrobe will work together so that the individual pieces can be combined to create multiple outfits. If you think about it once you have your ten piece capsule wardrobe set up you don’t really have to worry about clothes unless you need to replace something or the season changes. We won’t have to resist the urge to buy things just because they are on sale because we would already have everything we need. Just to be clear the ten items are going to be key pieces like pants, shirts, sweaters and shoes, etc. This wouldn’t include accessories or undershirts and underwear and socks.
Over the past few days we’ve been window shopping and researching capsule wardrobes online in order to get a sense of what kind of wardrobe we would like to build for ourselves. We look forward to going to Seville in January possibly to check out some of the outlets that are there as well as see what the city has to offer in terms of clothing. Another benefit to having a small capsule wardrobe is that it will take up less space and save you time since you won’t have to take forever to decide what to wear. One of our favorite Spanish companies that we’ve discovered is Massimo Dutti. We look forward to getting some quality pieces throughout the year as we transform our wardrobe into something that is classic, functional and high quality. Follow along on our journey by subscribing to this blog as we review each month in 2017 and let you know what we’ve gotten rid of and what we’ve replaced it with. We look forward to sharing what we find. Who knows, maybe you might want to try to build a capsule wardrobe too!
What is the Carry-on Suitcase Challenge?
Well, I suppose it’s fitting that we follow the capsule wardrobe with the carry-on challenge. What is this you may ask? This is something that we thought of over the course of several months. You see when we arrived in Spain we came here with two huge suitcases as well as a couple of carry ons. We thought that everything that we brought was essential to our survival. How wrong we were! Many of the things that we brought with us were purely extra and many were not needed at all. Over the last few years we’ve discovered how little we actually really need to live and be happy serving Jehovah here in Spain. When we were in Madrid on our way to Murcia in 2013 we had to give away a bunch of things because they wouldn’t fit on the bus. Experiences like this and others over time have helped us to develop a different attitude towards material things. We’ve seen time and again Jehovah’s hand in providing us what we need. All three of our apartments that we’ve had have been fully furnished with everything we could possibly want. This has taught us a lot. We really don’t need that much. While here in the south and in Bilbao we started to notice that we were acquiring things here and there that we didn’t really need.
This is not only a waste of money but it also consumes time and energy that could be better used elsewhere. After deciding to develop a capsule wardrobe in 2017 we wanted to see if we could apply that concept to other areas of our life. This is where we came up with the carry-on suitcase challenge. Basically what it involves is over time we would simplify all of the items that we actually own to the point that they could fit into one carry-on suitcase each. That would be one carry-on suitcase for Kanicia and one for myself. This may sound really difficult to do or even impossible but let me give you some examples of why this could be beneficial in our case. When we left Bilbao we only had the space in our car to bring stuff with us to the south. The car was stuffed full of things. This was after having given away our chair, desk, heater, some plates and some other stuff because we just didn’t have any room. Since being here we haven’t missed any of those things. Our apartment had all of those things when we moved in already except for the desk which we bought from Ikea. We still brought with us many utensils, glasses and other plates which we mainly don’t use because we already have what we need. So over the course of the next year (mainly the first half) we will be focusing on doing the carry-on suitcase challenge. By simplifying in this way we feel like it will free us from many unneeded things and allow us to focus on what we truly value most. Some of the things that we know we will need to own to live and survive are our laptops and clothing. After that we’re going to evaluate our other possessions to see if we really need them or if they are just extra. We think it would be great to be able to say that everything I actually own can fit into this carry-on bag. If we had to travel or wanted to go somewhere we could basically bring our life with us in one suitcase. We’re really looking forward to this project and we’ll keep you posted on how it develops in our monthly review blog posts!
Summer 2017 Plans
If you read our recent post on the summer special conventions you heard that we’ve been invited as delegates to Milan, Italy for the special convention in 2017 during the third week of July. We’re super excited about this since these conventions are really one of a kind! That being said we are in the process of planning our summer. We were initially looking at returning back to the states during the month of August to visit family and Warwick but since it’s right in the middle of high season we will be pushing that back to later in the year. We are planning on taking off the months of July and August from our teaching work in order to travel. We know that we will be in Milan during the third week of July and we are looking at likely spending some time in northern and central Italy during most of the rest of the month of July. We would like to visit Rome, Venice, Florence, and some other places in the area. We don’t know if we will be doing this throughout the entire month or for just a part of it. We’re still in the planning stages. Once we finish in Italy we would like to visit the Balkan countries nearby. These include Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Albania. We have been researching this part of Europe and it seems like a real hidden beauty. We are planning to spend the month of August in these countries since they are near to Italy. They are known for their natural beauty, good value and friendly people. We know that the summer is going to be quite busy but we’re looking forward to the spiritual highlights as well as to visiting new places. We then plan on returning to the Iberian peninsula to continue serving with the congregation in the new service year of September. We will keep you posted on how our plans develop as the months pass. Regardless of how our summer ends up we look forward to sharing it with you here on our blog and through Instagram!
The Path to French Citizenship
In 2015 we started the process of obtaining French citizenship for Kanicia. We had almost completed it but we didn’t get the French language test. We’re renewing our efforts to get her French citizenship starting in 2017. This will allow her to stay in Europe as long as she wants without having to worry about visas and other stuff like that. Even though she currently has a five year residence card from Spain having EU citizenship would be so much better! Starting in February we will get her French language verified in Granada at an official testing center. After that we have to complete some different administrative steps and then with enough patience and perseverance we should be able to get her EU citizenship within the year! We’ll keep you posted in our monthly reviews each step of the way as the year progresses!
The Move to Portugal
Another project that we have planned for 2017 in efforts to simplify is to look at Portugal as a new home. Let me explain what I mean by that. We love living in Spain and we love our apartment. It’s all that we could ever ask for. But something that we’ve become increasingly aware of is that as freelance or ‘autonomo’ workers here in Spain you pay a lot in taxes. Spain does not have very flexible systems when it comes to taxes for entrepreneurs or self-employed people like us. When I was working for the academy in Bilbao this was not a problem because the company absorbed all of the taxes. Now that we are both self-employed as far as Spain is concerned we are under different tax regulations. This means that we both have to pay autonomo fees that max out at around €250 each and then we have quarterly taxes as well as monthly account fees and social security fees. Well, as you can see this can add up quickly! Since we are looking to simplify our lives and not work needlessly to pay for things that may not be even needed we’ve begun looking at other options. Many people who live in Spain don’t pay their taxes or cheat the government. Of course, this is not an option for us since we want to hold a clean conscience. Since we currently live year round in Spain we are subject to taxes as a resident. This does not apply in the same way however if we don’t live in Spain year round. So what we will do is live in Spain for half of the year and in Portugal the other half. Since we are only 15 minutes from the border with Portugal this isn’t as dramatic as it sounds but it does help us to simplify our finances. Once we move to Portugal we would still be able to support the same congregation and we would even be able to better serve the territory in Portugal since we would be living there. We currently have several brothers who live in Portugal that support our congregation. So the timing for 2017 would be to be in Spain from January to June and then we would be away traveling during July and August. After that we would return and live in Portugal from September to December. After that we could return to living in Spain in January 2018. While some aspects of this may sound scary and uncertain we’ve seen Jehovah’s hand enough times to know that he will take care of everything. There are many short-term rental options in Portugal and we’ve already spoken to our landlord in Spain who said he would be okay with us staying only six months out of the year. We look forward to see how things develop with our plans in this area and we will share with you our journey right here on our blog.
Looking Ahead with Confidence
We know that 2017 holds many exciting, and thrilling surprises! We look forward to staying close to Jehovah’s organization as best we can and simplifying our lives in order to allow us to do more. We’re so happy to share our story with all of you and we hope that it inspires you to get out of your comfort zone and do more for Kingdom interests! These are truly exciting times! As always, we appreciate you reading our posts and we hope you enjoyed our review of 2016 and preview of 2017! Leave a comment below or send us an email at [email protected] to let us know what you thought!
Your friends Antoine & Kanicia