Plane tickets are bought, our home is sold, passports have arrived, we are purging everything that can't fit into a suitcase, and the date is quickly approaching. God is so good.
God showed his goodness through two groups of brothers and sisters in Christ that approached us about buying our house a week ago. The first couple, are incredibly godly people that just entered into the foster and adoption program in Evansville, IN to live out their faith through selflessly caring for an loving children that are not their own. We've grown together for years and were ecstatic that they were considering our home to purchase.
But after much discussion and number-crunching, we realized it would be better to wait for them to purchase a new home. Praise God for settled decisions! But KT and I were left with a unsold home. Still, God saw our need and chose to meet it 2 days later.
The second couple approached us about purchasing the home and we were amazed at God's provision. They made an offer and we happily accepted! It was a humbling reminder that we are a part of a strong community of people here that love us and want to see us flourish and prosper. Now this couple has become our largest supporters!
We close on the house with our friends in mid-November, and leave out to start our journey on Dec 1 to spend a day in Nashville, TN with friends. Then to LAX for a day. Then we leave for our 12-hour flight from LAX to Auckland, NZ and arrive in Napier on Dec 6, 2018.
...if the plane doesn't crash, that is.
Ah, the hunt begins. Much of what was lofty idealism has become dashed on the rocks of reality lately. We won't lose heart of course, but reality can be trial-filled. Now that we are working on our move in the next 6 months, we realize the near impossibility of what we are trying to accomplish. The difficulty can be broken down into 4 points that I hope will help future potential expats considering this same process:
1 - In order to make money in New Zealand, you need a visa. There are many visas available through the government website (and is super helpful!): https://www.immigration.govt.nz/new-zealand-visas/options/visit
Basically, if you 1) have a job offer already from a New Zealand-based employer, 2) have a skill or qualification that is in high demand in NZ (you can find a list of these skill shortages on the same website above), 3) are a student that will study at a university there in NZ, or 4) are an investor that can throw down millions of NZ dollars into the NZ economy, then you are welcome there.
But the NZ government has severely cracked down on foreigners coming into the country. In August 2018, the government stopped any non-NZ resident from being able to buy property, for example. So if you don't meet one of those 4 criteria above, right-to-work visas are hard to come by.
And, unfortunately, KT and I aren't any of the above. Becoming a student at a university is probably the easiest of those to fulfill, but that requires $20,000+ a year just to enroll. Then what are we enrolling in? What degree or certification would we get? Not that we could afford 20K AND living expenses anyway. Then one of us would go to school, the other would work full time.
KT actually has the more applicable, marketable, transferable job skills with her degree in Gerontology and Health Services, her experience in retirement communities, and her yoga certifications. My degree in English Literature and Creative Writing remains just a fancy piece of paper.
If you work in the medical field, are an engineer or software developer or computer programer, you'll have no issues at all.
I spoke with a licensed immigration specialist to New Zealand and her advice was to sift through the list of government-accredited businesses and apply to every one until I got a job offer. NO PROBLEM.
2 - But you can't just get any job. Businesses have to prove to the NZ government that they cannot just hire natives and need outside expertise to properly function in order for the government to grant them permission to hire non-kiwis. So, KT and I can't just move there and be barristas at Starbucks (which I was totally fine with until learning all of this).
The government places restrictions on these employers even after permission is given to hire foreigners. This accredited employer must give the foreigner a minimum of a one-year job offer, with a minimum of a $55,000 NZ annual salary. The foreigner must go through health and character screening by the government as well and must be in a certain age range.
3 - We are in the US applying for jobs, 3 - 6 months out, on the other side of the world. Imagine owning a business and someone from New Zealand contacting you about a job opening you have for a floor manager or cook or law enforcement or systems analyst or rodeo clown. How seriously would you take someone who may or may not fully qualify for the job, that can't actually start the job for 3+ months, that needs your help with the bureaucratic paperwork of applying for citizenship?
The reality we are facing is that without physically being in New Zealand, without being able to commit to take a job within the month or less, we have no chance of anything. All we can do now is reach out and create relationships with businesses and network with our church in Napier and the few connections we have.
4 - Housing is in high demand. I've been speaking with a realtor and mortgage lender in the Hawke's Bay area, and both pessimistically explained that NZ has a huge housing shortage right now. Even rental properties are being overwhelmed with applications. Where would we live? We can't just stay with our 3 kids in someone's guest room. And for months? The mortgage lender told us that we would need to have a salary for 6+ months in order to begin the process of buying a house.
What's left to do but step out on faith, and see what God does?
After some heartache and hardships, we finally made it! Hobbiton - the only movie set that has been converted into a fully explorable landscape for avid fans.
The movie set itself is locked away and can only be accessed via the tour buses you ride.
It was quite magical. But keep in mind - this is only the exterior and landscape. The interiors of, say, Bilbo's house were shot entirely in a studio. So none of these Hobbit Holes have interiors.
We were told about Napier by a pastor, Andrew McPherson, that Jono introduced to us in Palmy. Andrew mentioned at our breakfast that a new church plant was going to Napier and the lead pastor of a church in Dunedin (whom we would get to meet and visit with later) was starting it.
Jono jokingly said to our group during that breakfast "You'll want to move to Napier when you see it. Trust me."
Made up of about 130,000 people, Napier is the sixth largest city in New Zealand and one of the premier hotspots for tourists. It is experiencing a surge of economic growth and prosperity, similar to Tauranga, due also to the beautiful landscape and great property values (and the exodus of people from Auckland).
But it's not without a tumultuous history due to a devastating earthquake in 1931 that changed the landscape of Napier and destroyed many buildings and commercial centers there. From New Zealand's own website:
"Rebuilding began almost immediately, and new buildings reflected the architectural styles of the times - Stripped Classical, Spanish Mission and Art Deco. Local architect Louis Hay, an admirer of the great Frank Lloyd Wright, had his chance to shine. Maori motifs were employed to give the city a unique New Zealand character - for example, the ASB bank on the corner of Hastings and Emerson Streets features Maori koru and zigzags."
Napier really captured us.
This is the first city we visited along with the surrounding areas (mostly Wanganui). Ben has family friends here that are American and moved to Palmy, as the locals call it, about 13 years ago. They offered to house us, answer our questions, chauffeur us around until we were accustomed to driving on the left side of the road, and generally provide for us and love on us for the first leg of our trip. Teddy picked us up from the airport and brought us around town and to his rented house in one of the nicer neighborhoods of Palmy.
We spent considerable time with his wife Cindy and their family, including his son who is studying Theoretical Physics at the local Massey University.
We also met with a South African Kiwi, Jono, whom Ben had been communicating with through Skype and email over several months prior to our trip. Jono is the somewhat new pastor of an Acts 29 church plant in Palmy and shepherded us also during our time there. We met his family, his elders, and the church community through Jono.
One particularly memorable afternoon was spent hiking through a local gorge. It was other-worldly for me. It looked and felt like a rainforest. I took way too many videos, there was a giant and well-endowed warrior statue along the way, we saw and heard many foreign animals, and Ben almost passed out - it was very memorable.
Jono and Teddy taught us much about New Zealand life and culture in general from the perspective of outsiders joining the community. Jono told us about the spirituality of New Zealand’s people. Because of Palmy’s importance, we spent 3 days of our trip here. Prior to the trip, Palmerston North was our top pick to live in. We were thrilled to be in New Zealand, but after leaving Palmy we realized how flat and dreary it sort of was.
Teddy took us to some surrounding areas so we could assess them as well. Whanganui (with or without the “h,” which is a political hot-button issue in that area currently) is a neighboring city that has a more coastal feel and up-and-coming culture and economy. We met with two of the city councilmen in Whanganui that own small businesses and whose personal goals are to recruit other small business owners to move there.
Oh! And a black beach. Like many of the beaches we would see in NZ, this one was devoid of people. I guess when you live on an island beaches aren’t as impressive.
Turns out it's black due to the volcanic ash. Fatalistic beauty.
We felt very loved and looked after. I stayed up one night with Teddy and his family for some sweet conversation and Teddy recommended Hitamunga beach, a *30 min drive from Palmy for a bed and breakfast location. Property values in Whanganui and Palmy were somewhat reasonable. Palmy’s pricing and standard of living is higher than Evansville, and much higher than Whanganui.
We were told that a typical single person would need around $50,000 of annual income to live comfortably in Palmy, and many middle-grade housing in a good neighborhood started around $150,000.
Our time here was rewarding. Our final morning there, Jono wanted us to meet one of the other pastors in the area. In Palmy, some of the churches band together and share in fellowship. So we met Andrew McPherson for breakfast and asked him questions about churches there.
Ben could give more insight into this story, but I’ll try and embellish it as much as possible for entertainment’s sake.
Andrew told us about his trips to Briarwood Presbyterian in the US, a hub church for many of my friends and the church where Campus Outreach began. Ben spent two years at Briarwood as an intern and knew many of the staff members there. His ears perked up.
Andrew and Ben talked at length about Briarwood’s helpful involvement in some New Zealand ministries and churches. As it turned out, Briarwood was helping to finance a new church plant in one of our target cities, Napier. The head pastor of a church in Dunedin on the south island recently accepted the role of leading this new Napier church. It was this church in Dunedin, in fact, that was the national headquarters for Campus Outreach New Zealand. We were scheduled to meet with CO staff in Dunedin towards the end of our trip. We made note, then we drew our swords and battled Andrew and Jono for leadership over their churches.
We lost. Turns out I don’t know how to sword fight.
We excitedly told Andrew that Napier was our next stop. Jono joked that we wouldn’t care about Palmy anymore after we saw Napier. We said our goodbyes and picked up our rental car to head to Napier on the other side of the island. Chris was excited to drive on the left side of the road after much counsel from Teddy.
Traveling to New Zealand with Ben and Chris was the first direct, monetary commitment to our dream that KT and I have made. It was strikingly apparent for the first time only a few days before I left.
Was I sure? Was this the right next step? Should I really be away from my family THAT long?
It was KT that finally pulled me out of my own head. She reminded me of our dream and our goals, and that this trip was necessary.
So that night I turned my phone off for the first time in many months and gave as much of myself away to my family as I could. I also hid little gifts for Vincent and Eden (and KT) around the house along with hints as to where they were. I hoped this would be a fun distraction for the kids, and for KT.
Ben and I met early in the morning at the Evansville Airport and flew to O’Hare, then to LAX in California where we met up with Chris. Our layover there was long, but the international terminal at LAX was more like a shopping mall than an airport. We had plenty to do. There were luxury outlets and rest areas and people from all over. Some people napped on benches, some ate, most shopped.
We finally got to boarding and walked past narrower and narrower seating until we found our row. The entertaining distraction of complimentary blankets and headphones and the utility of a private touchscreen on the back of the chair in front of me with an endless array of movies and shows lasted for the first few hours. I found that my elbows fit rather perfectly behind the elbows of my two slightly wider companions, but we were essentially stacked on top of each other.
And sleeping. Oh my. At one point the cabin lights were dimmed and the expectation was that we would all sleep, which is nearly impossible with the 2 sq ft of space we each get with our peasant seating.
So we watched the screen display of our approximate location floating across the ocean. We landed in Auckland and got to breath NZ air for the first time as we traversed the airport to find a connecting flight to Palmerston North.
New Zealand herself greeted us with an earthquake the first night we were there. Forced to alter our route due to collapsed ferry bridges, our adventure became even more adventurous than we planned. But somewhere between the Maori cultural experiences, Hobbiton, the poignantly and shockingly beautiful views, glow worm caves, all the great people, and bed and breakfasts, we were able to enjoy a full-hearted tour of what may be our future home.
So this will be a chronological catalog of our adventure, separated by cities/regions that we visited. This post will be followed by an open discussion between Ben and I about which cities rank highest in our move list and what criteria we used to assess this.
Whew! So Much. My goodness.
Our main goal is to get to know the country, the culture, the locals, and determine if it's the right place for us to permanently relocate to.
Our goal for 2018, pending a successful visit this November, is to move our family there to temporary housing for 6 months and further determine if it's the right decision. If not, we plan to come back to the US but to the Tampa area of Florida and start life anew there instead (at least for awhile). If so, then we can move to more permanent housing (read: buy property) and continue building a life and community there.
So we will get to know the country in general as we travel, but we have 4 main destinations while we are there.
First is Palmerston North. This is near one of our target cities, Wangenui. Ben has some family friends in Palm N that we will be staying with for a few days that are ex-pats and have lived in NZ for over a decade. We couldn't ask for a better perspective. Wangenui is near a bay on the Western coast of the Northern Island of NZ. It's known for it's technological advancements and medical centers.
Next is Napier on the Eastern coast. This is target city #2. After Napier we will travel through ferry to the Southern Island to Dunedin. Here we will visit with Campus Outreach and discuss their expansion to the Northern Island and see if there's an opportunity for our team there.
From here we will fly back N to Auckland where we started and take a train to Whangarei, target city #3. This is a city North of Auckland that is more culturally diverse and also lower income with a more tropical climate.
That's the gist of it. We have other plans within those travels, but those are our 4 main destinations.
We will smuggle back as many kiwi birds as possible. And I'll high-five Gandalf if I see him.
Our plan as of January 2013 was to begin a 5-year project that ended with our entire family relocating permanently to New Zealand. We kept it mostly to ourselves at first but found that the more we discussed it with others, the more encouragement and support we received. By sharing our dream with others we've met people that have done the same thing we hope to do and continue to give us great counsel. We've met potential employers and learned about prospective careers in New Zealand. We've met people that want to come with us, and some that want to support us while we're there.
So 3.5 years into our 5-year plan we have some clear goals in mind, we have a team of people moving with us, and we have a budget to meet. I started a "20-steps to New Zealand" in January 2013 also, which I'll post below.
We are on Step 10 right now (a little behind, admittedly). About 6 months ago we began planning a trip to NZ. There are several locations that we have considered moving to, but without actually spending time in these cities we can't know for sure which is the best fit. Without visiting the country in general we can't be sure if moving at all is the right choice.
So this November we will be leaving for 16 days across the International Date Line to bumble around NZ to stay with friends and strangers. By "we" I mean myself, Ben Gallant, and Chris Dryer.
We had dinner at the Gallant's home one night 6 months ago to brainstorm what a trip to New Zealand would look like. We were, honestly, not sure if it could work. The Gallants have 2 children (one a newborn), and we have 3 (one also a newborn). What would traveling 20 hours on a plane look like with 5 children? How could we travel across the country with 10 people safely?
We thought about having our wives and children stay in Auckland (where our November adventure will begin) and Ben, Chris, and I would spend a day or two traveling to one city then coming back for a night with our family, then out again. But could we comfortably travel anywhere knowing our families were in some hotel room by themselves in a foreign country? No. And you DON'T want to know the cost of flying 10 people to New Zealand. You just don't.
It was KT's idea, and we were all fairly hesitant about it at first. "What if just the guys go?" I fully admit a constant combination of sadness and discomfort when I think about leaving KT and the kids for 16 days. I've never been away from KT for more than 3 days in our entire dating and married life.
Then the discussion became, do we really need to go at all? But how could we agree to permanently relocate our entire family to a new country without first visiting? We couldn't. We have to go. So after several days of thinking and praying, it was just the men going. KT's idea saved the trip.
Through FaceTime, Skype, a rented wifi device in our car as we travel, a 2-week data plan for NZ, scheduled babysitters and visitors for my wife and Ben's wife, we think this is the best option for us.
So pray for our trip. Pray for safety on both sides of the globe. Pray that God would give us clarity about our future plans. Pray that our families and marriages would be strengthened. Pray for good reception.
I loved listening to Grandpa talk about Florida. I was born there in Ft. Walton Beach and my mother and grandparents moved up to Huntington, IN when I was 4 to be near my grandmother’s family. As a single parent, my mother came with them for support both ways. My family entity growing up was always mom, grandma and grandpa, and me. Grandpa has always been like a father to me. He’s an excellent one, to the extent that I’ve never felt like something was missing without a biological father around. But I could see early on that Grandpa felt like he didn't really belong in Indiana. I recognized that he felt called somewhere else.
I like to muse about the exact combination of nature vs nurture that gave me the innate and unchanging desire to live by the ocean. I’m not sure if it’s more nature or nurture, but I know it’s both. Most of my family was and still is in Florida so growing up we would take trips there to visit them often, usually twice a year. I cherished those vacations. I’ve always felt at peace around and a connection with the salty sea air and palm trees. It has that affect on most people it seems. For me, it felt more like a calling. Like a reunion.
Over the years the family started visiting Florida less and less. It became once a year, then every other year, then it would be a few years before we went at all. Eventually it was just grandpa and I driving by ourselves. We spoke about it before, but the 14 hour car ride there and back really connected us. Grandpa wanted to move back to Florida, but Grandma didn’t want to. He longed to live there again.
Since as far back as I can remember I’ve yearned to live by the ocean. As a kid and young teen it was usually Florida I thought about. I collected Christian Reise Lassen artwork in any form I could find. I sketched and drew ocean scenes and palm trees beginning about age 7 or 8. I had Mom buy CDs and cassettes with tropical music on them that I listened to relentlessly. When I was given my first computer I downloaded more music and listened to it every night. I even sketched out a building schematic of what mom and my house in Florida would look like (our house would be attached to the manatee viewing center in Apollo Beach). I always intended to move back to Florida. As a teen, there were a few summers when I was allowed to go to Florida by myself either meeting uncles halfway in Alabama or flying by myself. I cherished those trips, the last one when I was 16 and for two weeks. It felt like home. And in fact my trip there at 16 changed me forever. I came home with a strange confidence and more of a sense of adventure. I, at least partially, found myself.
Through the process of becoming an adult my dream grew larger. I never stopped yearning for the salty air and ocean breezes, but I started thinking about places outside of the US. Hawaii became my target for awhile, then Japan, then random islands like Madagascar, Fiji, and the Bahamas. But it was always there within me and it always felt like an eventuality.
Then came college. I became a Christian in my freshmen year and my worldview changed in many ways. The big move I was planning now involved other people; a community. I began loving people more and my dreams shifted from caring only about myself and what I wanted to caring about Jesus and helping other people and starting a family.
I was encouraged by friends to make a list of qualities I would look for in a wife. College pushes on youth a strong urgency to date (among other things) and I didn’t want to date just for fun or get caught up with feelings for someone if they blinded me to logic and compatibility. Having a written list also kept me from adding to it later so that I wouldn't attempt to graft the list onto someone as justification. So I made my list and pursued other things, choosing not to date for almost 4 years. I learned more about God and focused on studying in those years. My dream of traveling overseas became more focused on mission work and church planting, but it was still much the same dream.
I'd occasionally look at my list of wife-material. The list was all about personality, only one criteria of the 20+ mentioned being physically attractive. The list was mostly items like: she has a good relationship with those around her, she has a compassionate spirit, she has a similar worldview, she has similar theology, she would rather tell the truth and risk hurting someone’s feelings than shy away from honesty, she exudes authenticity, she is spiritually mature, she loves children and wants to have them, she is self-sufficient and could kick me in the teeth if I needed it, etc.
When I met my wife, I was so adjusted to not dating that it made me uncomfortable to like her and admit to others that we were a couple. But she was incredible. We both agreed that we didn’t want to date for the sake of dating but to look for a life partner. So after dating for several months we went through a fun list of future questions: Things like, where do you see yourself in 10 years? How many children do you want to have? What are your short-term and long-term goals for your life? How were you disciplined growing up? What are you like when you’re angry? All these questions were meant to probe compatibility and prompt discussion.
Talking about the future, we were both individually passionate about leaving the country and starting somewhere new. She felt the calling, and she was committed and had been for most of her life to following that calling somewhere that wasn't here. Looking through the list I made 4 years prior, I was amazed that Katie met every criteria. I went out immediately and bought an engagement ring and asked her parent’s permission to marry. Within 2 or 3 weeks we were engaged, and 4 months later married. I had no doubts.
As we grew together we constantly discussed the future. At first, we decided to relocate my job to Florida (my first dream!). My employer at the time had a factory there and family was close by - it seemed perfect. Suddenly we were pregnant. And we wanted to be, but we didn’t realize how helpful and crucial having Katie’s parents, who are wonderful people, close by to help us acclimate to parenthood. We decided that it would be wisest to stay close by while we were still having children in order to have reliable and constant support. So the move was postponed and we kept dreaming. I see God’s hand in it now - there were times when we were first pregnant and Vincent was young that I regretted putting off our move to Florida. It had been my dream for 20 years, after all. Why didn’t it work out?
Something better was in store for us.
As we taught each other how to be better parents and loved on our son, the discussion of what the future looked like picked back up. We knew we would stay local until we were finished having children, but how long would that be? And was Florida still the goal?
So we researched independently. We knew we wanted to live on the coast near the sea, but where? We decided to consider places outside of the US. We were somewhat set on an English-speaking country, but we were both willing to learn a new language to adapt to a new culture if necessary. We also didn’t want to stand out too much so we could fully integrate. Our dream quickly grew out of just wanting to live on the coast to something much more robust - we wanted to replant our entire family tree. We wanted, and still want, to completely immerse ourselves in the local culture and be indistinguishable and a contributing part of that culture. In the entirety of the world, Americans probably have more to prove and make up for than most other traveling people groups.
It was Katie that first stumbled on New Zealand. NZ kept appearing on every positive list we could find - best standard of living, best quality of life, best educational system, best economy, ranked top 10 countries in the world, over and over and over again. We began falling in love with their culture, with the Maori natives, with the immigrants, with their way of life, their form of government, their economy, their business culture, their schools.
Have you ever wanted to live an adventure? Have you ever went on vacation and thought, “I could totally live here”? Why don’t you? What stops you? Have you ever found in yourself a cool and weird dream for your own life that sounds crazy to many of the people you share it with? Have people tried to talk you out of your dreams?
Katie and I are relatively young still. We understand that our memories will be some of our most cherished possessions if we are blessed enough to make it to old age. We work hard to accomplish our dreams while we are still fully capable of enjoying them. And we want to bring our children along so that they can learn through example that the status quo is not the only option and that hard work pays off. Dreams can become destiny. And when they grow up to have their own beautiful dreams we will be able to support and encourage them, no matter how strange or against the grain they are.
Katie and I want to raise our children there. We want to grow old together there. We want to immerse ourselves in the culture there. We want to be a part of the community there. We want to listen to ocean waves crashing against the shore every single night. We want the sounds of those waves to loll our children to sleep. We want to teach our children about true diversity and what it means to respect cultures completely different than our own. I want us as a family to travel and dream and be uncomfortable in life together. I want us to experience the world together.
I'm taking a “run face-first as hard as you can” approach to pursuing God’s will for my life. If I’m not meant to go, God will slam the door. It’ll break my nose but there will be no doubt that I shouldn’t go and I will never have to wonder if I could’ve tried harder.
So what are our plans? What will we do there? Stay tuned ^_^
We are Will and Katie Ritter, and we have dreamed of living by the ocean since we first began dreaming. Chronicled here is the arduous journey we've thus far taken to get there. We have 3 children: Vincent Wake, 6; Eden Vela, 4; Rosalyn Isla, 2.