Saturday, February 23, 2013

What God is Teaching Me: Trusting God With A Smaller Safety Net

We have now been in Tanzania for almost 6 months. One of the joys and challenges of living overseas is that it enables us to examine our character and culture through a new lens. Aspects of who we are, which may escape notice in our home setting, become very apparent in this new setting. For example, a fish may not realize that its environment consists of water, until it is no longer in water. God is definitely using this time to teach me valuable lessons. In my deaconess community, we use the term “growing edges,” places in our lives where there is room for growth. I might have discovered these growing edges even if I hadn’t left the U.S., but for me they have taken on a new intensity here in Tanzania. This post is only part one…more reflections to come:-)

“The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1. This is both my and Eric’s confirmation verse. It was sung at my deaconess consecration and at our wedding. These words are far easier said than lived out. In some ways, it was easier for me to say them in the United States, because I had a huge safety net.

In the United States, if I got sick, I went to a doctor I knew I could trust. I knew that doctor would have access to the latest advances in medical equipment. If something went wrong with my teeth, I had a dentist I could trust. If I had financial problems or computer problems, my family was right there with assistance. At the pharmacy, I knew I would get what was described on the label. For my car, I had a trusted mechanic and AAA. If I went to a restaurant, I could be reasonably sure that it had met certain health/sanitation standards. If there was a fire, the fire department was right around the corner. If I was in a car accident or was the victim of a crime, the police were a phone call away. Things are very different now.

Having lived in Papua New Guinea, I am somewhat accustomed to a reduced safety net. However, I have noticed one significant difference this time around: In Papua New Guinea, I lived with an American missionary family who had lived and thrived there for over 25 years and my father-figure in that family was a surgeon. While we didn’t have all modern medical equipment at our disposal, I knew I could ask him any question and he would find me an answer. He was personally invested in insuring that I would return to the U.S. in one piece. This gave me a measure of comfort.

In Tanzania, I find that whenever I get sick, I am terribly afraid. Since there is a lack of diagnostic tools, a lot of medical practice here seems to be throwing several different medicines at the problem and hoping that something works. Additionally, each medicine has its own side effects, so it then becomes a question of “What is symptom and what is side effect?” This is not a criticism of the Tanzanian doctors or nurses, because they are doing the best they can with the tools and information available. It is, however, an adjustment for me. I am learning to trust that while I may not have the safety net to which I am accustomed, my God has not changed. I am never outside of God’s reach.

I also realize that I am not devoid of a safety net. I have access to a significant amount of financial resources. I have cataclysmic insurance. There is a network of Lutherans across Tanzanian that would immediately come to our aid if ever we should need it. We have Tanzanian and ex-patriot friends who offer wonderful advice and encouragement. The fact is that most Tanzanians have a vastly smaller safety net than I do, and yet they are not paralyzed by fear. They live and trust God, perhaps with an even greater intensity thanks to their lack of safety nets.

Maybe this is what Jesus is addressing when he talks about the difficulty of the rich to put their faith in God. I find it ironic that we Americans put “In God We Trust” on our money. Is it God we trust, or our resources? I’m not saying we should abandon our safety nets as a society, and I think we should try to improve the quality of life for others. I agree with Bono that “where you live should not determine whether you live.” I am just wondering where we ultimately put our trust. How much is our worldview shaken when the safety nets disappear? I can only speak for myself, and these last few months have left me with the disconcerting realization that I am not as brave as I once thought I was. My confidence in God’s benevolent love is weak, but this reality was previously veiled by my habitual reliance on my safety net. Praise the Lord that He can still do mighty things with faith as small as a mustard seed. I am praying for growth.