Last week I went for a ride in a vehicle I haven’t stepped on in a long time. I’ll spare the suspense and spill the beans. It was a newer model school bus. No, I’m not taking a joyride back to my teen years. And I’m not staging a bullying intervention. I rode the bus for almost eight hours to welcome some exchange students to our country, our city, and for one lucky contestant, into our home.
For the past several weeks our church has talked about seeing and receiving the “new” with God. Sitting behind these students on a school bus, I couldn’t help but draw some comparisons.
Each of these teens made a choice to be here. Sure, some of them will get homesick. I doubt any really understood what it is like to cold before today. But no one forced them to be part of the program. In fact, they are the lucky ones. Out of all of those who applied, these were chosen to participate. How many didn’t make the cut?
For one reason or another, they decided that it was worth it to apply. Are they facing obstacles and difficulties every day? They sure are. Some of them cannot communicate with a translation app on their iPhone or iPod. But was that going to stop them? No way.
What is like for them to leap into the unknown? Consider these quick thoughts:
- Language Barrier. Like most students traveling to a foreign land, these teenagers spend several months learning English. But that was in a classroom in Brazil. I remember being in Spanish class back in Minnesota and thinking that ninety percent of our class would never make it in a Spanish-speaking country. Sure, we could cram for tests and memorize the occasional skit performance, but real conversation and understanding just weren’t there.
- Culture Shock. Or in our case, weather shock. It’s a far cry to jump from a Brazilian summer to Canadian winter. On the bus ride one student told me that the temperature in his hometown was 40°C (104°F) when he left. That day it was a balmy -15°C (5°F) when we picked them up. Throw in the fact that our city is sixty percent French, and they are up for a lot of challenges.
- Loneliness. Each of these students packed up and left all they knew for what they had only heard rumors of. Some of them get a chance to connect with their host families via email, Facebook or Skype, but they still wonder what these people will really be like. Even though they travel in a large group from their home country, they may only know one or two students beforehand, if at all. They can’t speak the language, it’s freezing outside, and the people they live and go to school with are complete strangers.
Does it make you wonder what the appeal is to travel into such an experience? Would you dare to do the same?
In the next few days we are going to say “Goodbye” to the student that has lived with us the past five months. Thankfully we live in a time when connection is a lot easier thanks to the internet and social media. But who knows if we will ever get to be in the same room together again. She is able to understand and speak English extremely well, even when I talk really fast to bug my daughters. We are so used to her being around at dinnertime, in the living room, getting up in the morning. It is going to be hard to say that goodbye.
And it’s going to be hard for her, too. Over those five months she has built relationships at school, with other Brazilian students she lives far away from, and with us. When some of her friends started returning home a couple of weeks ago they were all tears and hugs, and planning how they could find a way to visit each other in Brazil, Germany, Colombia and Canada. It really was worth it to try something new. It was so much more than just tasting a bite of a new menu item or spending a week on vacation somewhere. They immersed themselves in it, hoping for the best, and receiving more than they could have expected.
Now it’s time for a new group of students to do the same. Imagine what awaits them! What about you? Be willing to step out of what you’ve always known to go and find the fresh experience that God has for your life. If you’ve heard rumors of what is out there, go and look for it. Test it through the Scriptures, without a doubt. But know that God is willing to do a new thing, if you will just open your heart and spirit to Him.
If you’d like to hear more about pushing beyond the old and inviting the newness of God into your life, check out these message from my All Things New sermon series.