A Note from Peter

June 21, 2021

I want to update you on the status of Uchenna Anyanwu on our church staff.  You will recall that we hired Uchenna to be our Interim Director of Missions for one year back in January.  The purpose was to give the Mission Task Force time to complete their work on re-visioning for the missions area of our church and develop a new committee structure before we launched a search fo a new Missions Pastor/Director after Tim Norton left to become the senior pastor of an ECO church in Florida.  We also applied for a R-1 (religious worker) visa for Uchenna which would allow him to work at First Pres for the year.  Initially, we were led to believe it would take 5-8 months to review the application for this visa.

Uchenna was permitted to work at our church under a provision called OPT under his F-1 student visa for one year after he completed his PhD at Fuller Seminary in 2020, but that provision ended on June 18th last week.  We had hoped to hear back from the UCSIS (the government agency which reviews visa applications) regarding our application for the R-1 visa by this time, but unfortunately, we didn’t.  We even enlisted the aid of Senator Burr’s office a couple of months ago to see if they could expedite the process, but even their efforts proved ineffective.  It appears the agency has a big backlog of applications, partly caused by the pandemic, so they are just now reviewing applications from April 2020.  And they notified us it is likely that it wouldn’t be until December or even April of next year before we will hear back from them on our application.

Uchenna and Dolapo

This left us in a very difficult position.  The Personnel Committee directed me to consult with a labor attorney and an immigration attorney to explore a work-around that would allow Uchenna to continue to work on our staff as a volunteer (like Dr. Elms Allen as Parish Visitor) until we hear a ruling on our application and support him as a missionary, and we explored a number of other alternatives to see if this could happen.  Unfortunately, all of these options led to a dead end.  On Wednesday of last week we exhausted the exploration of all the possibilities we considered.  The net result is that Uchenna will no longer be allowed to be part of our staff after last Friday.  I’m so very sad about this, and I know you are too.

Uchenna and Dolapo plan to remain in Winston-Salem, and they will continue to be very active in our church as covenant partners.  They can stay in the US while she continues work on her PhD in nutrition through Tufts University, and Uchenna will change is immigration status to F-2 as a dependent of an international F-1 student.  And Uchenna will remain active as a lay person, but not as a member of our staff, in the missions area of our church, and he will continue to help support our growing prayer ministries, etc.  And we will find appropriate ways to support the Anyanwus in this time of transition.  If you’ve gotten to know Uchenna, you will not be surprised to learn that he remains positive, though disappointed, and he and Dolapo are trusting that, as he said to me, “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose,” and they look to God to show them what they are supposed to do next.

Let’s hold Uchenna and Dolapo in prayer.  And please find ways to reach out and express your love and support for them in this time of great disappointment.  And let me know if you have any questions.

Peter Barnes
Senior Pastor