Funny how living in a different place or encountering new situations and experiences causes your perspective to change on certain issues. In new situations where you don’t have something you had previously your appreciation for certain things takes a quantum leap. In addition to that, your empathy with and understanding of people who lacked some of the things you took for granted increases. That’s what has happened to us in our move to South Africa. Our learning curve on certain issues has gone through the roof.
Now, lest you misunderstand me, I want to say that we are thrilled to be in South Africa serving the Lord and His people. And more than that, South Africa is a beautiful land and by and large the people we have met and are coming to know are some of the finest people we’ve ever met. The people here have been unbelievably helpful and kind to us; people are so responsive to and interested in God’s Word. After counseling with two sets of people this morning, Carol mentioned on the way home that the people here are so perceptive and ready to receive the Word and change. After every counseling session, the ones we have counseled are profuse in their expressions of gratitude for the help they are receiving. So whatever I am about to say must be set against this background.
The learning curve we have experienced has to do with learning to appreciate some of the promises of God’s Word. In particular we have come to understand certain promises in a new way. Some of them are: "The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever" (Psalm 121:5 -8). "You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day… For you have made the Lord, my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place" (Psalm 91:5, 9). "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them. O Taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed are those who take refuge in Him" (Psalm 34:7, 8)
I don’t want to exaggerate the situation, nor suggest that what is happening here in any way equals the danger that many Christians in other parts of the world experience. In comparison to what many experience on a daily basis in other parts of the world the dangers faced here are minuscule, but nonetheless it’s not like living in most sections of the USA. Carol is involved in teaching two women’s Bible studies using our book The Fear Factor as the lens through which they are getting a biblical perspective on understanding and handling fear situations. In her Bible studies this week, almost every woman present could tell of times when robbers broke into their homes and stole things from them. One said that in the last ten years the home in which they were living had been broken into six times. One pastor has had several computers stolen from him. The pastor and his family with whom our daughter Beth works was recently held up at gun point in the driveway of his home with the robbers threatening to kill him or his wife and baby unless they gave them what they wanted. Our daughter who was in the office close to where all of this was taking place called the South African alternative to 911. God providentially intervened in this situation and they escaped without bodily harm, but nevertheless it was a learning curve experience in experiencing the reality of His promises under fire, not in a cozy room or house where it is unlikely that this kind of danger will be encountered. I could go on and mention numerous other incidences such as these that occurred to people we have come to know, but these are sufficient to make my point.
The point is that some of the promises of God have taken on new meaning for us. Thank God for His promises and for His watch care over us. Every night when we go to bed , we ask God for His protection over us and others and every morning we thank Him for a night of safety. And during the day when we are out and about, we are reminded that we must be vigilant. We don’t live in terrifying fear, but we are realistic about what does happen here all too frequently. We sleep well at night and function well during the day, but there is a danger level that we never experienced in the USA. Oh yes, these kinds of thing do happen in the USA, but not on the broad scale that they occur in other parts of the world. This is one reason why the question we are most frequently asked by people who know we’ve come from America, "Why did you come? Why would leave America to come here?" Many unsaved people just can’t comprehend why we would do that and it gives us a marvelous opportunity to tell them about Christ and the fact that there are things that are more important to us than the comfort and safety and security that we experienced in the USA. We are not out own, we are bought with the price of our Lord’s own blood, we serve a higher calling and we rejoice in the opportunity to reach and strengthen others for Christ.
I say all of this for a couple of reasons, none of which have anything to do with a desire to impress people with our heroism because we’re anything but heroes. Apart from the relative safety we had in the USA we have everything we had there. In many ways the South Africa we now call home is a first world country that just happens to have more third world aspects to it than we previously had. When we’re asked what’s different about living here than living in America we have to honestly say not much except the security issues and the fact that we are away from most of our family and our old friends. My main reasons for choosing to write this post involve a desire to encourage people in the USA to be thankful for what they have that others may not have and to encourage them to pray for Christians in other lands who experience hardships that they don’t experience.
Never allow yourself to take your blessings for granted, never think you deserve them more than others and never forget to pray for others who would like to have your privileges but don’t. And don’t allow the thought of some hardships prevent you or some of your family and friends from personally considering whether or not God might want you to serve Him in a foreign land. Yes, there may be differences in culture and customs and some external details, but the needs and opportunities for serving Him are great and people in every land need the same Gospel and instruction in righteousness. And remember also, His great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:3, 4) take on a new and deeper meaning when confronted by challenges and difficulties that we are not usually accustomed to. The Psalmist was absolutely right when he said "It is good for me to have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes" (Psalm 119:71). In the context of the removal of former blessings the Psalmist tells us his learning curve was expanded greatly. We’ve known that in theory for a long time, but now we’re experiencing that truth more fully by some of the differences we’re facing. What an opportunity and privilege to serve and to grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Well, thanks for letting me pour out my heart to you and may God expand your learning curve wherever you may live and serve. We’d love hearing from you in our comments section of this blog.