In August, on our 10 day trip there, it was like the skies were blue (they actually were, Tallinn is a beautiful city all year round, and especially in the summer!). Little did we know what would be facing us in the following months (four months on, as I write this, we are still in the storm, but maybe the end is just starting to be in sight).
In August we visited the school, and the development (as described in the last post) and we opened a bank account with Swed Bank, the thinking being it would be best to do ahead of time in order to make a future home loan, for the balance on the flat, that much smoother. For the account, and for the deposit on the flat, I'd have to come back in 30 days to sign some paperwork.
We'd prayed a 'fleece' prayer in August - clearly the 15% deposit, with our current financial situation meaning we didn't have enough for this year, let alone the future, we knew that God would have to do something with us in order for the deposit to even be possible. Our thinking would be that we'd remortgage our UK house, thereby providing the extra amount, without it costing us any more (we were overpaying our mortgage repayment amount twice because what we received on rent goes straight onto the mortgage. If we could therefore get a remortgage with the repayment amount as the rent we received, we wouldn't see it effect our monthly balance - we just wouldn't be paying it off early!)
It seemed a very sensible approach. And having 'booked' the flat in Tallinn, we had two weeks (and a little extra grace!) to pay this deposit.
I called our bank the day we arrived back in St Petersburg - they said we couldn't just increase the amount, we'd need a totally new mortgage, and this would be limited (we were on a very good deal!) So we looked for a mortgage broker who could put it to the whole market - we thought this would be the best thing to do. He advised us that 6 weeks would be possible for the whole process, so we felt confident and entered the process stating that time was an issue - the development people were OK with us for 6 weeks, beyond that we'd lose the booking and it could be on general sale again. This would mean we'd lose the flat as they were all selling well, this was the last 3 bed-roomed flat available (and the cheapest!).
By the end of September, with the Swed Bank account ready to be signed for (our 30 days were nearly up!) we also needed to pay the deposit, which meant I would then have to go to the Notary in Tallinn to sign the document.
But our remortgage was going too slowly - we were assured by the broker that everything would be done, but it would take longer than we needed - we'd therefore most likely lose the flat, and then get a remortgage for something we couldn't buy!
It was just a cash-flow issue - we had the money in our house, but needed to use it before it could come through. On that day, we'd emailed family just in case between them they could help (it was blind faith, we were not talking about a small amount and we do not have rich families!) I walked to pick up Mia, which takes 15 minutes. Five minutes in I was talking to God, and saying how we'd shaken every tree and looked under every stone, and there just seemed no way that we'd be able to pay this deposit. Then I said that all I had left was prayer. Hold on, all I had left WAS prayer! What a thing to be left with! So I prayed.
I was now at Mia's kindergarten - five minutes into this Rachel called me - her sister-in-law had replied to the email and said they could loan us the WHOLE amount, no problem! Amazing! Twenty four hours later when I took the same walk, now praising God, the whole amount had already hit our account. How God answers prayer! Of course, we'd get to pay them back in a few weeks just as soon as the remortgage came through, or so we thought!
That meant I was able to book a trip to Tallinn with a few days to spare - I was getting the night bus late on Sunday 25th September and after arriving early on Monday morning, would leave 36 hours later on Tuesday 27th, the return ticket element costing just £3.
I should say, and a pattern of things to come, receiving this amount in 24 hours didn't mean it was that easy for us to send the amount out in the same period! Oh the hassle I had! Five days later, and five long phone calls later, the CHAPS payment finally left our UK account, via a Post Office account we'd set up for this transaction (free international bank transfers!) and was then sent onto the Estonian account awaiting payment. Hassle, frustration, delay. Again, the pattern of things to come.
And so I found myself arriving early in Tallinn on the morning of Monday 26th September. In the next 36 hours I was to meet with the people designing our kitchen (we have to put the kitchen in on the flat), sign off on the plans, sign for our account, have a mortgage discussion with the bank, go to the notary to sign the contract, as well as meet with Barry, the American pastor we met in August.
Having arrived at 5am, I hit the hotel I was staying in at 7pm having been on the move all day - I was asleep by 8:30pm (partly due to not having slept on the night bus!). The Tuesday morning I was at the notary to sign the purchasing contract (this is the system in Estonia, but it actually protects both parties and now means that only we can purchase this flat - we would have to sign another contract to allow them to sell it to someone else!) We hope that isn't the case, of course! After that, I went for an appointment with a mortgage consultant at Swed Bank. That meeting had seemed very positive - yes, we could get a home loan, and it would be cheaper than what we were currently paying for rent in St Petersburg (our reason for wanting to buy in the first place!). I went away very encouraged!
Getting home, the information from the bank now seemed to totally change - having looked into things, as a foreigner they could only lend us 75% of the value (we'd paid 15% but were looking for the 85% so as not to find extra money up front). But worse was that while they'd accept our cash flow through a bank statement, it needed to be through THEIR bank, and not our UK one. That would prove a problem! We did look at other options - though none have currently been any more help, nor offered a clearer solution. I later gave them a scenario that we thought might work - to which they replied, yes, that would be OK - but to get a home loan in Estonia, you first need residency! This was the first time we'd heard that - and just before writing this update, they confirmed, and said sorry for not mentioning it before, but that it is absolutely essential to have Estonian residency before a home loan can be obtained. We are still processing the full implications, but it is clear even now, that we are going to have to move there earlier and get this residency, which also solves the cash flow issue as the money can now come through our local account. I guess more on this in the future.
The remortgage started to then hit issues - the first process (yes, there were two!) hit an issue because the provider was owned by our bank, so they couldn't accept our bank statement as proof of ID because of a conflict of interest! Seeing we were getting nowhere, we started the whole process again, delaying things but there seemed little we could do - we were going round in circles with this broker. A full 16 weeks into the process (remember he assured us 6 weeks at the beginning) we hit a fatal issue in the second process - no UK bank would accept our financial situation as we were neither salaried nor self employed. We were therefore deemed unacceptable as we fell outside the normal scope of things (and we assume post-crisis, banks are being a little over cautious!) We were stunned! We'd already been lent the money and had already paid the deposit (and signed the contract) on the flat. Wanting to check this information (which has actually been the case for many months, so our broker should have been clear from the first call and before we'd committed to anything!) I called Barclay's, our current provider, and in 20 minutes received the same answer, having asked the right questions. I then called two further providers, who both work especially for Christians, and they confirmed the same. There was nothing they could do - apart from suggest we find someone who'd lend us the money.
We have no option but to sell our house in the UK - it won't get us much, but will pay back the money loaned to us, as well as give us the 10% shortfall on the flat in Tallinn - we are in the process of getting the house on the market, though have been told little is selling at the moment in England. Our tenants, who did originally want to buy the house, now are not wanting to. So please pray for favour in this latest process - we clearly want a quick sale.
In all this, we've come to the following understanding. All that has totally needed to happen, has indeed happened in time, so as to assure us that God is with us in the process, and the problems we are facing are more in the region of frustration and resistance, than God Himself closing the door. We are only doing this because God opened this for us. It was His initiative, not ours, that got us to thinking about Tallinn. So at no point do we feel that this is God delaying things or even closing the door. Had the things not happened that ultimately had needed to have happened, we of course would have a different take on things.
So it has seemed like a storm has blown in - in fact a tornado. I'll finish on this - This last Saturday night I had a dream. What is interesting about this is I sleep really well usually (and though we all dream, you only remember your dreams if you wake up a little, which is why I don't remember any dreams!) I have been asking people to pray for me as this is one area I want to grow in. And last Saturday I had a dream! I was at a window and saw a tornado in the distance going to the right and into a harbour. Then I went back to the window and saw a tornado heading my way, as if to just pass in front, before suddenly I was engulfed in it and the room I was in was just being messed up - I was screaming out but no one could hear me. I was hurting too. After 2 minutes (why this amount I don't know, but it represents a small amount of time with a clear end) it passed and things became calm. I could then get the help I needed.
What this dream totally means I do not know - but these last four months have easily been the hardest in our time here in Russia. On the ground, so much has happened here - it's been probably the biggest 4 months in the life of Hope Church, which of course we have been very involved in. But with all these outside issues happening, it was been one giant challenge after another. Today we still have these two challenges - to sell our house in the UK in order to pay back a large loan and give us the shortfall on the new loan, and to find a way to get this loan in Estonia, which now might mean moving there early.
We were also waiting to hear back from the school - since the last update we did hear back - and the job that was available now isn't going to be until the following year (August 2013). A set back and disappointment at the time, I then had a proposal to put to the school where our girls could still get to go there next year, and the reply last night was very encouraging - they liked our 'out the box' thinking and will come back to us in January. Of course with today's news, we might be moving there sooner than we thought. But more on this as we hear as well!
What ever happens, we know God isn't caught by surprise - His plan for us is great. And if it is that the storm is now about to pass, we say praise God, let it be. The enemy has thrown EVERYTHING he has at us these last 4 months in order to wreck this church plant before we've even got there, and even that isn't enough as our foundation, God, is strong enough to help us remain firmly rooted in His plan for our lives.
What the future holds, we do not know. But together, as a family, we'll go there, together with God.