My first Sunday in Portugal I drove to church on the main highway, through city streets, and across a major bridge. The teammate I went with disliked driving so much she entrusted her life to an early twenty-something who had never driven overseas. In the following months I traversed the traffic circles and narrow streets, regularly reversed downhill around a corner into a parking spot and attempted not to become lost.
Driving on the left-hand side of the road for the first time with a car salesman and teammate in the car was the next stage of my overseas driving adventure. However, the most exhausting part of driving in South Africa wasn’t remembering the correct side of the road to be on; it was the heightened sense of awareness each time I went anywhere. Entering and exiting the car quickly while being completely aware of my surroundings, immediately putting my bag on the floor, so it was out of sight – the realities of living in a country with a high crime rate meant living with a degree of stress at all times.
When I landed in Ireland, I felt prepared to drive. After all, I’d learned how to drive like a European in Portugal and how to drive on the left-hand side of the road in South Africa. However, the plethora of open farmland, high hedges and curvy roads meant fewer landmarks to help me find my way and constantly using my high beams at night. For months I used my GPS to find my way to Bible study, and one missed turn could mean driving a kilometer or two (at least) before being able to easily turn around.
All of the hours of driving in Europe and South Africa taught me one main lesson. Trust God. Trust Him when I was scared to drive somewhere new. Trust Him when I was lost and unsure of how to get home. Trust Him when the anxiety set in as I drove down an unknown, dark road at night. Trust. Always, always trust.
Cross-cultural living provides ample opportunities for learning to trust God. Raising financial support to actually head overseas and praying for continued provision once you arrive require trusting God for your daily bread. Organizing housing logistics, whether in your adopted country or home country, can be complicated and stressful, and at times all you can do is trust God for a roof over your head and a bed to sleep in. Deciding what the best schooling option is for your children, learning a new language, finding your place on your team – all teach us to rely on God and not on ourselves.
For me trusting God for help with the details and logistics of life was slightly easier than trusting Him for the strength and energy and grace to work through one more transition or one more difficult circumstance. Never mind how many times God had helped me through the early days of culture shock in a new country or how He stayed right beside me during dark moments, trusting Him when I wanted to catch the first flight home or not interact with people for a week, proved difficult. Instead of trusting Him to help me navigate my emotions, I tried to ignore the problem– eat chocolate, read a book, binge watch an American TV show, Skype with friends –anything to distract myself from how I really felt. However, when I finally decided to trust Him with my cultural frustration or feelings of inadequacy, the road ahead became clearer and easier.
Maybe today God is asking you to trust Him with the final details of departing for a new country. Or maybe He is asking you to trust Him with a tricky teammate situation. Whatever your specific situation is today, I pray you will choose to trust Him to provide, to work in hearts, to strengthen you.
What driving lesson has cross-cultural ministry taught you? In what area of life is God asking you to trust Him?