Faith in a Foreign Land
Deuteronomy 31:8 “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
Traveling from East London, South Africa, to Tainan City, Taiwan, was a journey of eleven and a half thousand kilometers. It was a trip into another climate, continent and culture. But more than that, it was a spiritual journey. As much as I appreciate the friendships and the wonderful memories made in Taiwan, this aspect of my time there will always be the most significant.
Before leaving South Africa, my cousin reminded me to pack a Bible. Until he mentioned it, I hadn’t put much thought into bringing one. I had a really heavy Bible, and with a weight limit of only 20 kgs, I had to pack very carefully. At the last minute, I did pack my Bible, squeezing it in between clothes which would be too warm and some softcover Wilbur Smith novels which I would never read.
By my third week in Tainan City, I had moved three times. Thankfully, the third move would be the last. Without high speed internet or worthwhile English TV at my new apartment, I had time to kill. It was then that I started seriously reading the Bible.
I did grow up in a Christian home and I did attend a church in East London. But being born into a Christian family and going to church don’t make you a Christian any more than being born in a hospital and visiting a physician make you a doctor. I did have faith, but my relationship with God was not where it should have been.
I don’t know if it was because I had more time in Taiwan to read God’s Word or because I had fewer distractions there, but as I read it, the passages seemed so new. It was as if the scales had fallen from my eyes. Perhaps my soul was finally receiving the nourishment it needed.
Matthew 4:4 “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
For me, the first three months in Taiwan were an emotional rollercoaster. I came close to leaving several times. I struggled with the food, the language, even my job as an English Teacher. At one of my lowest points, a cram school manager let me know that the students couldn’t understand me. I promised to speak more slowly and clearly. I channelled all of my efforts into making the lesson for the young learners accessible and fun, but as the students filed out of the class that day, one of them came up to me and said, “Teacher no good!”
Those three words confirmed what I had been feeling up to that point: “You do not belong here.” I prayed about it, and instantly … nothing happened. I kept working at becoming a better teacher, but the situation didn’t seem to improve. Then one day while I was preparing a lesson, I received a call. I was needed to substitute at another branch – immediately. I hadn’t even finished preparing for my usual classes, and I had no idea where this other branch was! How was I going to do this? I threw books and teaching aids into a bag and ran to my scooter. On my way, I said a quick prayer. “Jesus, help!”
John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
I mounted the scooter and headed onto the highway. Suddenly, a calmness came over me. “Calm” isn’t a word that can be used to describe Taiwan traffic. “Crazy” or “chaotic”, absolutely – not “calm”. I can only attribute the peace that I felt to divine intervention. I did get lost on the way to the branch, and the lessons I taught that day would by no means be the best lessons I ever taught, but something changed in me that day.
After that day, the emotional rollercoaster didn’t stop. If anything, it intensified. But by regularly studying the Word and praying, I came to realise that I was not alone. God was, and always will be, with me. It is ironic that in Tainan City, Taiwan’s “Temple City”, my relationship with my personal Lord and Saviour reached a new level of intimacy. My spiritual journey did not start and end in Taiwan. It is ongoing.
- Bible in 365: Day 88 (themoptimist.com)