by an IW serving in West Africa
We arrived in our former country of service on February 5, and I must say, the last week before we departed was a bit of a roller coaster. There were flight cancellations (two), a driver’s exam, last-minute COVID testing hiccups, flight re-bookings (and fees with two changes from our departure city plus three airline changes), and the general stress of goodbyes and international travel.
So, amid all of that, how do we know we are where God wants us to be? Were those cancellations and challenges warning signs about not going or testing from God to fortify our faith?
Let’s do a recap.
About two weeks before we were supposed to leave, the regional economic group imposed sanctions on our former country of service and closed land and air borders with it. France and the European Union agreed to follow these sanctions, and this created a problem for the tickets we purchased to come since they went through Air France. Because of pressure from France and the European Union, Air France canceled our ticket from Paris to our former country of service. This happened the week before we were scheduled to depart from the U.S.
T-minus seven days to departure: We get a notice from the airline that the last leg of our trip has been canceled. They invite us to rebook. We notify our travel agent.
T-minus six days to departure: Our travel agent confirms there are no new bookings through Air France. That evening, he sends a new proposed itinerary to leave from Missoula to Dallas to Washington, D.C. and go with Ethiopian Air. We would have to pay for one extra bag each and spend a night in Washington D.C.
T-minus five days to departure: We continue packing and praying about options. Friends in Flathead Valley offer to help us get our nine checked pieces and carry-ons to Missoula.
T-minus four days to departure: We attend our last church service before departure at our home church not knowing if it will be our last one or not.
T-minus three days to departure: We email our agent to cancel the first tickets and purchase the Missoula–DC Ethiopian Air option. We also take our son to do his driving test. The car was deemed unsafe because of a crack in the windshield; we contacted a couple of people and found a vehicle he could use. In the meantime, it started snowing hard. He passed his test in the snow while driving a pick-up truck for the first time. We finished packing and left for Kalispell. We received confirmation that we had booked our new tickets and canceled the original.
T-minus two days to departure: We did our COVID test and waited.
T-minus one day to departure: We discovered our COVID test didn’t have the magic letters “PCR” on the result, so we had to drive to another site, pay an expedited fee, and then received our COVID tests.
Day of departure: I woke up to an email saying our first flight from Missoula was delayed. Thirty minutes later, I received an email saying our flight from Dallas to D.C. was canceled. I called our agent who said they would recommend we drive to Missoula and hope to get a re-routed ticket to get us to D.C. I looked online back at Delta, and lo and behold, they had three tickets available for us to leave from Kalispell to go to D.C. We took those tickets and canceled our Missoula to D.C. leg of the flight. We kept the Ethiopian Air. When we went to the airport, we thought we would still have to pay for extra baggage, but Delta did not charge us for those and even upgraded our seats to the section of the plane with more legroom. We then spent the next 50 hours in transit and arrived at our destination with all our luggage.
Back on day T-minus seven, I had a conversation with our host in Cut Bank about our situation, and he asked a good question: “Do you think God might be telling you to wait to go back by this cancellation?” Those aren’t the exact words, but close enough. It really is a good question. How do we make those choices and read those signs? I agreed to continue to pray about those things, and as I reflected on his question, I had the following thoughts:
The first big myth to get out of the way is: “Well, if it works out, it must have been God’s will.” Although this can be true (and not to get bogged down in expressed and permissive will and other theological terms), I think there are many pieces of evidence in the Bible where there was a situation where someone was obeying and it turned out poorly—at least initially (Jesus in the garden, Paul going back to Jerusalem, etc.). There are also times in the Bible when something worked out and it wasn’t God’s will (Abraham and Hagar producing Ishmael, Balaam’s job offer, etc.).
However, I have come to appreciate four “principles” that help us when we, as a family, start experiencing those roadblocks:
1. Surrender—We make plans, strategize, and evaluate, and yet at the end, we have to turn those over to God and say, “Not our will, but Yours be done,” and “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” Importantly, it has been a good lesson for me to separate my relationship with God and my identity from any plan or outcome I may want, to have the humility to say “I don’t know.”
2. Fruit—What fruit am I manifesting as I “do God’s will?” By this, I do not mean results in terms of ministry success, but Galatians 5:22-23 fruit. I have learned that I need to make room for my emotions (anxiety, sadness, anger) as I process different situations, and as I do that, I look and ask others to see what fruit I’m leaving. If, in the process of doing, there is more of Galatians 5:19-21 than 5:22-23, then I have a problem.
3. Community—God loves to move in community, so having unity in sensing the Spirit of God saying “yes” is essential. For us, that starts with our family. As a couple and with input from our children, my wife and I pray to discern what God is doing. It can then spread out to other levels of advisors, mentors, and friends. We give weight to those voices of those who are actively surrendering to God and manifesting the fruit of the Spirit.
4. And sometimes, this leads to a Philippians 4:7 peace and assurance about a plan. Sometimes we get a confirmation in the opposite direction, and most of the time, it is somewhere in between.
That’s the answer we have: surrender with humility, the fruit of the Spirit, and in community, and look for peace. In the case of our most recent move, we had peace that somehow it would work out but not a specific word that this was the way to go, so we moved forward. Though we don’t know what the future holds in detail, we can say with Paul in Philippians 1:19-21, “We know that this will turn out for our deliverance through your prayers and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ according to our earnest expectation and hope that we will not be put to shame in anything but that with all boldness now as always Christ will be magnified in our bodies whether by life or death. For us to live is Christ and to die is gain.”