Una Extraña en Una Tierra Extranjera (A Stranger in a Foreign Land)

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
Proverbs 3:5–6
Imagine opening your eyes to begin a brand new day. It takes a minute for your eyes to adjust to the bright sunlight pouring through the window, but once they adjust you quickly scan your surroundings. Panic runs through your body when you realize the unfamiliarity of the room that you are in and the bed in which you just slept. You lay there almost paralyzed until the reality of the situation hits you. You have moved your life to a different country. This room may be unfamiliar and uncomfortable right now, but you have to make it your own for the next four months. Once this sinks in for a few minutes, you slowly get out of bed and make your way to the bathroom. You have to catch yourself as you put toothpaste on your toothbrush and remember to use the bottled water and not the tap or else you’ll be sick. Next you have the decision of which clothing you’ll choose for the day. Will it be hot? Will it be cold? You’re unsure. You have yet to learn about the typical temperatures of this new city. Once you’re done getting ready for the day you grab your backpack and open the door to walk down to the kitchen. You’re walking downstairs to a brand new family who doesn’t even speak your language. Then it hits you—the entire city doesn’t speak your language. How are you supposed to last four months here? You have no choice. You swallow the panic and anxiety and walk down the stairs to the new faces. Papá is waiting there for you. He says good morning and asks how you slept (you think). You answer with a hodge podge of phrases and incorrect conjugations, hoping it was understandable to him. He smiles and you follow him to his car outside of the house. The next fifteen minutes are spent in silence. You’re too afraid to speak so instead you watch the new surroundings fly past you. Colorful houses, darker-skinned people running to catch the buses to work, children dressed in uniforms waiting to go to colegio (school), vendors putting out their fresh empanadas to sell. You’re in a trance as you soak in the city. The trance is quickly broken when a voice fills the car. You turn towards papá who repeats what he said to you, and you smile because you have no idea what he just said. He looks back at you almost sympathetically and continues driving. You turn your head back towards the window just in time so he can’t see the tears welling up in your eyes. How are you supposed to do this for a whole semester? You crave your life you had some 48 hours ago. A life of comfort, family, and familiarity. You have never felt more alone.
I could continue this story for many more pages. Except this isn’t a fictional story. This was my life last year when I studied abroad in Arequipa, Peru. Did you feel anxious as you read this? Maybe even nervous? I know I did. It’s pretty difficult to relive that first day. The first day and even the first month made me really question God’s calling for me. Maybe Spanish wasn’t meant for me. Maybe teaching is not my future vocation. I was doubting God. I wasn’t trusting in him.
Living abroad changed me in so many ways. It changed me as a person, it gave me many more friends and a second family, it gave me more fluency in a language I have fallen in love with. But what changed most was my outlook on life. It changed the way I view situations and circumstances. I struggled to think of ways to make this relevant to all of you readers. I can’t put you in my situation in Peru. I can’t send you all on a semester abroad. But I think I have found a universal theme that we all can relate to in our lives.
I don’t know about you, but I love to feel in control of my life. My future career as a teacher is all about having proper control and maintenance of the classroom and the learning of the students. In Peru, I felt totally out of control. I didn’t know the city, I didn’t know how to speak and understand the language very well, and I didn’t even know the plan for the day when I woke up. Obviously a routine was made and I became accustomed to life in Arequipa, but it was very unsettling for at least the first month. I had to learn how to be calm, flexible, and that I needed to trust in God to lead me through each day. I could wake up in the morning and feel so overwhelmed with the thought of getting out of bed and leaving for the day, unsure of what the day would hold, or I could take a deep breath and remember that I am not alone. Even though I left my family, friends, school, and life in Michigan, I did not leave God and my faith there too. He held my hand every step of the way and gave me the assurance that this is my calling and Hhs plan for my life.
I don’t doubt that you have felt the same way. Overwhelmed, filled with panic and anxiety, unsure how you’re going to get through the day. Getting up in the morning feels like such a daunting task, and you prefer to stay in the warm bed where you feel safe and secure. We like to feel safe. We like security and comfort. We like to feel in control. But this is exactly how God does not want us to feel. He doesn’t want us to feel safe and secure in our own selves. He doesn’t like us to feel like we have control. He wants us to realize we are only safe when we are walking hand in hand with him. He has absolute control of your life and of mine, and each situation in our lives is used by him for our good and our growth. He used every awkward and painful Spanish conversation to help me grow in the language. He used every moment of fear to push me to trust in him completely. He used the four months abroad to show me that I am not in control. He made me absolutely sure of my calling as a Spanish teacher, and he made Arequipa a second home that I love and miss every day.
I encourage you to view your life as though you’re living in a foreign land. That’s what we are: pilgrims and strangers on this earth. Don’t let the world and your life make you feel safe and secure. Let the safe and loving arms of our God encompass you each day. Trust in his control.