In 1999, armed with 5 suitcases and a child in my belly, we traipsed halfway around the world to begin our overseas adventure.
We spent each morning being compared to one another in language class, while our afternoons were filled trying to meet students and figure out this new culture.
My less-than-stellar cooking skills became even more limited because we could not find many western products, unless we were willing to shell out a lot of extra time and money to buy them at the western store across town.
My pregnant belly garnered more attention than I wanted. Once my lily white children were in the world, it seemed everyone had an opinion about how I was raising them (and mostly I was doing it wrong) and felt inclined to touch them.
It was enough to keep me inside many days.
And the language. Oh, the language. Good thing I was in a mime troupe when I was younger so I could draw off those skills when I just did not have the words to make myself understood.
It was polluted. It was dirty. It was crowded. It was, in a word, hard. But when I look back, that’s not what I remember now.
I remember the simplicity of those early months, just the two of us learning how to navigate a new culture. Every day forced us to search for new words, new understanding, not just the “what” but the “why” of what we were experiencing.
We made mistakes, but we were received with grace. It kept us humble.
Trying to meet people and learn a new culture made for fearful days, but they drove us to our knees. It deepened our faith.
So often when we talked about God and Jesus, we were met with blank stares. We had the privilege over and over of being the one to introduce someone to Him.
Other times, we met someone who said, “Yes, my teacher told me this story” — evidence of Him at work. We were in new territory, unknown to us, but not to Him. It was an awesome honor.
I remember long walks on campus, listening to praise music on my Walkman, marveling that even here on the other side of the ocean, God was God. Their language was His as much as mine was. It drew me to worship.
Having so little was freeing. We saved money and time by not trying to maintain the lifestyle we had known. We learned that less was enough. No, I couldn’t find maternity clothes, but it didn’t matter because pajamas were a perfectly acceptable and common form of outdoor wear. It simplified life.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and those early days stirred our innovative bones. We learned to cook from scratch. We made a playpen for our son out of a cardboard box. It sparked our creativity.
When some new western product hit the market closer to home, it was cause for great celebration. Diet Coke at the nearby grocery store? Let’s go! We celebrated the little things.
While I tired of the constant attention my babies and I received, I knew what a gift it was for us to live in a place where people loved our children, accepted us, welcomed us, and yes, cared enough to be involved. It gave me perspective.
And the language. What a gift! We were blessed to serve in a place where people are gracious to those learning their language. It made even someone like me who hates to make mistakes and look foolish in front of others be willing to try. Now, knowing a second language is worth the effort of those years of struggle. We have something to show for our work.
Yes, it was hard. It was “What am I doing here? When’s the next flight out?” kind of hard at times. Some days the hard weighs us down and sucks us dry. I believe wholeheartedly that we should not dismiss the impact the challenges have on us.
But equally true is that none of it is wasted. All of it is being used by God to develop our character in ways we desperately want and need. In light of eternity and his plans for our sanctification, these wearying days are light and momentary troubles, achieving something glorious in us.
Stop and look around today. What is He cultivating in you through the challenges of your life?
Gina Butz has served in ministry for 21 years. She planned to spend three or four of them overseas, but ended up staying 13 years. She and her husband are currently raising two third culture kids and an imported dog in the exotic land of Orlando, Florida, where they serve in global leadership for Cru. She blogs about being wholehearted at www.ginabutz.com and loves to connect on Twitter @gina_butz