Trusting God on both sides of the ocean

Trusting God on both sides of the ocean

It was about 9pm here, and about 3am in Conakry, Guinea. Cathérine, one of my dearest friends from Guinea messaged me. (Can we just throw out a few cheers for modern technology real quick?) I asked her what she was doing up so late and she said that she couldn’t sleep. “Trop de bruit?” I asked, knowing how loud the streets of Conakry can be. No, no, that wasn’t it, she said. “Il n’y a pas de travail.” (“There’s no work here.”) I immediately wanted to cry for her, because I knew what that meant. This friend has been through a lot, and Guineans fight daily the corruption that surrounds them. They’ve been through wars, and hardships that I can’t begin to understand. When she says that there are no jobs, it’s a literal issue of survival. When I hear an American complain, “There’s no work here”, it usually means they can’t find work in the field they want, with the pay they want, in an area they’re passionate about, or a job that fits the degree they’re trying to pay off. But there’s always work.
My friend was discouraged, depressed even. And I felt too guilty to even write back right away. Here I sit in my beautiful home, with a country full of opportunity, food always within reach, and more than I could ask for. And may I remind you that I’m the friend that was able to evacuate the country when things turned violent in the capital where we were living, where she and her family lived. They didn’t have the option to evacuate. But backed by our mission board, our embassy, and our passports, we had the option to evacuate. And that’s what we did.
Life is so vastly different for her and for me. We lived there for a time, and so we caught a glimpse of how hard it can be when there’s a shortage on propane or charcoal and you can’t cook dinner, or there are riots on a part of town where you need to go, or there are long power outages where you lose that meat that wasn’t easy to come by. I have an idea, from living there, what life must be like for her, and for my other Guinean friends. But even during our time in West Africa as a whole, there was always that backup plan in our back pockets: if we needed to leave we could. If we wanted to go back to America, we could. But this is life, day in and day out for our friends, and the struggle for them goes beyond the inconvenience, or the temporary hardships that we may have known while living there.
So I didn’t know what to say to her problem of not finding work, to her very real issue of daily survival. I didn’t know how to respond because I was so distracted by my guilt of never really having been in a place of real need. I’ve never had the burden of being so desperate to find work that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have food, and my family wouldn’t have food and daily essentials.
I sat there and thought for a minute, trying not to look up at the chandelier mocking me in my moment of comparison, her life and mine, me trying to find some way to encourage a sister many oceans away.
I just sat there thinking. I didn’t want to just throw out a common, “Oh, you’ll find something!”, slapping a Band-Aid on her situation, and moving on with my life.
Instead of writing her back I took a video of myself talking (because speaking French is one thousand times easier for me than writing it…) and I sent it to her and I said, in sum, that no matter where you come from, no matter where you live, there is the daily struggle and the daily joy of learning to trust God where you are, and in your given circumstances. That’s not to belittle the situation she’s in. But to urge her to pray. To remind her that God sees her and cares for her right where she’s at: laying on a foam mattress on the floor, at 3 am, with sisters sleeping next to her, up worrying about the future. I highlighted that common thread between us – worrying about the future. It’s a part of our human nature it seems. And what does God want us to do with this worry and fear? He wants us to bring it to him, to lay it at his feet, and to look up at him and say, “Help me, Father God. You are more powerful than this situation, than this circumstance that I can’t see a way out of. I need you to help me trust you. I know you’re able. I know you’re worthy. But in my humanity, I need your help. I want to walk with you, trusting that you’ll take care of me.” I explained to Cathérine that there are things in her world that will stretch her faith, and there are things in mine that challenge and stretch my faith. She may not have to worry about being hit head on by a drunk driver. She may not have to worry about the flu attacking her baby. There was a time I was worried about getting Malaria. But living in Texas now, it’s not even on my radar. She is often worried about getting Malaria, and Yellowfever, and other diseases. She hopes to have enough mosquito nets for her family, and I hope that there isn’t a shooting in my child’s school one day. All of these issues are real, and legitimate concerns and fears. But the lesson in all of it, for me in my world, and for her in hers, and you in yours, is that God is bigger than our “what ifs”, our “worst case scenarios”, and he CAN BE TRUSTED. It’s a choice to trust God. It’s not a flippant, “Oh just trust God” but a way of handing off our weaknesses, our perception of the situation, and the risks of a given situation, to a God who works in ways we can’t even always see or fathom. If we look at the character of God, even from the beginning of time, we see one common thread: faithful he has been, and faithful he will be. And with that, we wished each other a good night, and left our worries and our futures, as similar, and as different as they may be, at the foot of the cross.

Our old neighborhood in Conakry, where Cathérine and I became good friends.

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