“You have thirty days to leave the country.”
That was the order we were given within minutes of discovering our residencies had been denied renewal. The city hall official was not hostile or aggressive, simply delivering orders.
I responded that we would “absolutely not be leaving in thirty days.”
She mentioned they would send a police officer to our door if we did not comply. I told her she could send the king; I still would not leave after thirty days. That was impossible!
You would think that hearing these words would have shocked me. My wife and I, who had been doing ministry for nearly five and a half years at this juncture, were now in an emotional place of anger. Our pain, confusion, and sadness had to be buried again. The shock and sadness began almost ten months before that day of being denied residency. My wife, who held a work visa that secured our residency in Europe, had called me in July of the year before recounting that her employer had terminated her contract.
“I have good news and bad news,” she stated. “The good news is that I can spend the remaining summer days at home all day with you and the boys. The bad news is that my contract has been terminated, and I no longer have a job.”
Over the next five months, we experienced the most intense emotions of anxiety, sadness, disappointment, and surprise we had ever encountered in our marriage of almost ten years. The move to the mission field was one of the scariest things I had done in my life. Within the first year, I had many recurring thoughts that we missed the word of God, that this was not it, and that we needed to move back home. On that day, now that we were almost six years in, I was loving life, enjoying the pastoring role in my church community, learning and ministering in a new language, raising three boys in a public school, and believed God had directed us to the location we would one day retire.
And, in one decision, outside of my control, everything changed.
I had prayed, fasted, pleaded, appealed, and in the end, I realized it was too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence. I was not going to be living there any longer. The pain of something stripped from our hands was gut-wrenching. The desperate pleading with church leaders to give us recommendations only to witness reluctance and hesitation felt like complete abandonment. I felt like a failure, I felt alone, and I felt like God was not interested in what I had given my life to in the last six years. Amid this tumultuous, emotional roller coaster, what I can remember from this time as I reflect are two specific moments of impact.
The first impact was during a call to fast. I spoke with my father and asked him to pray and fast with me. I was asking for a few specific things to happen.
With enthusiasm and compassion, he responded, “yes, absolutely!” He continued, saying, “Son, I will pray that God hears these requests and answers favorably. But I will add a request to this and ask that you also consider God wanting to lead you into something you have not yet considered or seen.”
Admittedly, I was not interested in other options. We had application deadlines and financial obligations for the immediate future. We needed decisions made fast, and I wanted answers. By contrast, in the context I am in now as I write this, I can confidently state that God is with us in our timelines, even as timelines do not bind him.
The next impactful revelation came one morning as my wife, and I sat in a local café and ate what was going to be our last few pastries in that town. I remember explaining to her the pain, anxiety, and fear that I felt looking at starting over again in another location. (I wouldn’t say I like change on that scale to this day.) My fear of tomorrow is often clouded with frustrating reminders of restarts in my past, mainly when I focus on my disappointments or the seeming success of others. In these circumstances, I am faced with determining whether I choose to view this as something that I look back on that I have overcome or has defeated me. Disappointment does not always equate to failure.
Loss and disappointments challenge us to look inside, forcing us to evaluate and assess what we think and feel at that moment. Mental health is not avoiding but instead engaging with thought and reflection. Our brain’s functionality moves instantaneously, and most do not regularly slow down to consider their impulsive responses. The severity of emotion experienced in loss or disappointment challenges our minds as we long for a place of safety, comfort, or familiarity, possibly even at the cost of long-term good.
God uses these moments to position us to see and better understand ourselves and him.
No amount of preparation can perfectly handle all that life presents to us. An important and effective way to address life’s challenges and triumphs is a disciplined belief in the goodness of the Lord. Each triumph is a moment we would mark as a monument to accomplishment and fortitude. Each loss/disappointment is also a monument, but whether or not it can be labeled as an accomplishment is only something we can decide.
Faith in God, while remembering his goodness, is a meaningful tool for reminding us of his presence WITH us through the darkest moments of our life.