Want to have deeper faith? Try migrating to a foreign country eight thousand miles away from home.
I prayed to the Lord to deepen my faith, so about two years ago, He called me and my family to pack our bags and migrate to the United States of America. I tried as much as I can to assuage my fears of starting anew in a far, foreign country. Even if I’ve been coming to the US as a kid, migration is a completely different ballgame and living there consisted of a whole new set of rules. No more yayas and helpers to do my chores for me. No more parents having to shoulder every expense at home. No more random hangouts with familiar friends who I’ve grown to love and appreciate.
The Honeymoon Phase
My first three months as an immigrant were blissful. Together with my grandma (Dad’s mom), I came right in time for Thanksgiving, my first of many. Less than a month later, one of my many cousins got married at Diamond Bar so along with the wedding came a slew of other fun activities: bridal showers, lettering her aisle signages, gown fittings, and out-of-town trips with our extended families. It was also during my second and third months where I was exposed to my first job interview at a lone attic-cleaning office right at the heart of San Fernando valley. Thank God He opened a door for me to work at an advertising agency where I currently work. Life moved in freeway speed (60 mph) and I enjoyed the ride.
Then as soon as I started working and my to-do list became even more routine and ordinary, the honeymoon phase ended.
Moving From Known to Unknown
Two months into my job, I worked until 11 PM to meet deadlines and manage the workload. I expected the overtime having been exposed to advertising from a young age, but it was the feeling of not being sure if what I’m doing is right, or how I should respond if I made any mistake, that weighed me down. As I was new to the company, I couldn’t seek solace among my co-workers, so when I went home I poured out my heart to the Lord. During those times, I lived with my one of my many aunts (one of Mom’s sisters) as my parents and brothers returned to Manila. Although I told myself that I should be grateful that I had relatives who loved me, I couldn’t help feeling lonely. When my mom and I talked via Viber, I held back the tears for fear of my tita (aunt) seeing my fragility. I felt like I was in my freshman year of college where I knew no one and felt alone in a big pond full of stronger, tougher fish. I recall praying: “Lord, I don’t know what to do but my eyes are on you.”
As I continued working, I slowly learned how to process my emotions and stress when the pressure mounted. By God’s grace, I was evaluated and kept my job! I opened up more of my heart and mind to my teammates and gained their trust. I became more acquainted with how things worked, yet by all means remained an amateur and hungered to learn. The Lord built my confidence in Him as I gained more knowledge and experience, yet there was so much more to learn in another space: my local church.
When I first attended CCF LA, I thought it would be easier to adjust because majority of the worshippers were Filipino, not to mention their worship style was similar to CCF back in Manila. In some ways it was easier to adjust, but in the most important aspect of church life, i.e., in loving and serving fellow believers, it was (and still is) a struggle. I became someone I never got to experience back in Manila: a first-timer, that girl who attends Sunday service and wants to be part of a group but isn’t. My cousin, Deb, who migrated a year earlier than I did introduced me to her discipleship group and friends. I appreciated her effort in bringing me to her gigs and events even if I mostly just talked to her. Once again, the Lord pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone by sincerely and genuinely getting to know new people who happened to be brothers and sisters in Christ. Today, although my relationships with many of them are still works in progress, I can say that God is teaching me to love in ways I’ve never loved before.
The past two years as an immigrant were nothing short of boring–if any, they were years of what I’d like to call “introduction to more fruit.” In John 15, the Lord Jesus called Himself the Vine and His beloved church as the branches. He desires to see His bride bear fruit, to bear more fruit, and as if it cannot go any level higher: much fruit. God has been working in and through my life all these years since childhood, but He placed me in a whole new level of faith that would take some time to learn. Back in the Philippines, there were some ways of doing things that were quite predictable, like working and daily routines; they were so familiar and systematized, you needed only to follow a certain steps and success follows. Even if life threw a curve ball, that was somehow predicted so you would know how to respond. But when I started living in the United States, I encountered new challenges and unfamiliar practices that made me uncomfortable, fearful, and lonely. Back in the Philippines, it was easier for me to be diligent even if I felt a strong urge to be lazy because people were watching, the weather was warm (not ideal for lying around), and again, I already knew what to do most of the time. I didn’t realize how moody I can be and how easy it is to justify laziness: “I deserve to watch Netflix all day because I’m sooo tired from work this week.” Whenever I applied that reasoning, I soon realized that I failed because unlike in Manila, I had no helper to cook me lunch or dinner when I did not feel like cooking. The place dictated new rules, and I was not willing to submit.
The unpredictability of life unsettled me. At times I expressed my annoyance by binge-watching, bing-eating, and binge-spending. Not therapeutic at all. My intimacy with the Lord grew cold as my quiet time became quieter–that is, I was either falling asleep or prioritizing Instagram over my Bible. Not helpful either. I became a fool. What person in their right mind would, if their tooth ached, continue eating candy instead of visiting a dentist? Thankfully, my Physician took the initiative. He placed a discomfort in my heart that made me seek Him. Today, by His grace, I’ve never been more closer to Him.
A lot of the learning in the past two years happened as I unlearned my former ways, some of which weren’t sinful but were not effective for deeper faith. Through it all–the unpredictability of life, my moodiness and foolishness–God is gracious. He is patient and kind, yet in His wisdom He disciplines His legitimate children (Hebrews 12:5-8). Many instances I behaved like an Israelite fresh off the camel who complained to the LORD and wished she was back in Egypt (aka the comfort zone). God showed me through His Word how He trains His best soldiers by moving them from a comfort zone, to a discipline zone, and eventually to a pleasure zone. As I reflected on the greatest characters in the Bible, most of them were immigrants: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Ruth, Paul, even the Lord Jesus Himself. Imagine Him migrating from Heaven to earth–surely it was worse than moving from a first-world country to a third-world country. Jesus moved from a holy, loving and sinless place to a dark, evil, and wretched territory! He, too, experienced feeling out of place and endured loneliness. He, too, had to “unlearn” His ways of doing back in Heaven because earth was a completely different place with a whole new set of rules. He used to be served by angels, but on earth He served men.
Faith in the God Who Knows
As I reflect on God’s hand at work in me the past two years, I experience His promise in Psalm 32:8: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” I see how He humbles my mind to trust and believe His Word, not merely on experience and established habits. Surely, habits are necessary and helpful for growth, but when my Father deems it best to replace an old habit with something better, He would do so even if I find it uncomfortable or unsettling. Pruning and discipline are part and parcel of Christlike discipleship (John 15:1-2). Sometimes that would mean moving to a foreign place where life is lived differently so that you would realize (as I do) that it’s not the place or the circumstances that dictate your success, but God Himself. When God moves you into the unknown, chances are He will make Himself known to you afresh so you may realize that indeed life is made through and for Him (Colossians 1:16). To my fellow earthly immigrants and sojourners, let us deepen our faith and fight the good fight by fixing our eyes on the God we know–the good and gracious God Who loves, guides us, and will never leave us.