Recently Sarah wrote this article as a guest writer for another missionary’s website. These are Sarah’s reflections about the challenges she faced when we first came to Portugal in 2008 and what God taught her through it all.
Once upon a time, I was a capable American adult. I knew two languages, taught in a public school, did my own banking and grocery shopping, drove my car, and served in my church. I was competent.
And then I moved to Portugal.
I stepped off the plane, and all I heard was, “Mush, mush, mush.” I couldn’t drive the car, didn’t know how to read the signs, wasn’t sure what I was buying in the store, and had to give strangers kisses on both cheeks. Church was a two-hour struggle to stay awake through messages I didn’t understand. I was lost and nervous. I wanted to hide in a corner like the verbal and social toddler that I was.
After stick shift lessons and some Portuguese 101, I tried bumbling my way through errands. My husband severely sunburned his feet. When I went to the pharmacy, I accidentally asked for medicine for “my wife’s cheesy feet.” (Queijado instead of queimado. Come on! They’re pretty close.) At the ATM, I needed to make a withdrawal. Do you know how many follow-up questions the ATM asks about your withdrawal, all in formal language instead of the simple present tense? Do you know that if you mess up three times in a row, the ATM thinks you are nuts and won’t give your card back? Do you know that if you say “inferno” instead of “inverno”, you can tell a sweet lady at church that her soup recipe would be perfect in hell instead of perfect in winter?
Thanks to my debacles, I learned how to say “sorry” and many other words. I took the advice to laugh at myself, and that usually helped, but there were days I got tired of being the idiot that everyone was laughing at. It was embarrassing and tiresome. I just wanted to stay home and be left alone. I knew people were unsaved, but the fear of trying to speak this new language often kept me in the house instead of out chatting with them or calling them on the phone. God used His Word to remind me that “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Tim. 1:7). Yes, it was scary, but, with His help, I would learn this language and reach people for Him.
As I worked to overcome my fear, I recognized another opponent festering inside of me. It showed up in situations like this one: My husband and I ate supper in the home of an unsaved couple. They understood my husband’s role in the church, but then the man looked down at me and snorted, “Why don’t you get a job?” Boom. Right there. I wanted to burn holes in him with my eyes and scream, “I moved all the way to this country. I’m learning new languages, adapting to your culture, and taking ridicule from you people every day. The whole point of this is to help save your soul. Don’t you get it? YOU ARE MY JOB!!!!!!!!!!”
Why the anger? Why did I want to shake people and demand some respect? Shamefully, it was pride. The Bible hit me right where it hurt when I read Philippians 2:5-8: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” I left America to be unappreciated and embarrassed as I share the Gospel. Big deal! Jesus left heaven to be mocked and crucified while opening the way of salvation. He embodied humility. I should tear out the roots of my foolish pride and follow His example.
What about you? Whether living abroad or on the street where you grew up, what keeps you from reaching those around you? Are you too afraid to pick up your phone or talk to your neighbor about Christ? Is pride keeping you from serving people who don’t appreciate you? Fear and pride are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but they can both paralyze the believer. Lord, please help us be courageous enough and humble enough for You to use us.