“In November 2019, I was deported from Zambia—my home for the past few years—because of visa issues,” shares Ivy. “I had to pack my bags in seven days and journey into the unknown. Then, the pandemic happened. I just had so many layers of unknown that the only thing I knew was that I didn’t know. Didn’t know when to go, when to return, where to stay, what to do, how to get visas…God sent me into exile.”
What reminders of God’s love do you find in unexpected places? What events have led you to experience God as far away?
Have you ever had the experience of being surprised that God seemed present when you least expected it? What happened?
What does silence offer you in this season of your life?
Is there a goodbye that is needed to create space for a new hello? What do you find yourself wanting to say hello to?
These were some of the reflection questions from an online retreat I was part of in August. We listened to the stories of Hagar, Elijah and Elisha and looked into how they found God in the desert.
In November 2019, I was deported from Zambia—my home for the past few years—because of visa issues. I had to pack my bags in seven days and journey into the unknown. Then, the pandemic happened. I just had so many layers of unknown that the only thing I knew was that I didn’t know. Didn’t know when to go, when to return, where to stay, what to do, how to get visas…God sent me into exile.
I still remember when the immigration officer asked me: “Where is your home?” I looked at him blankly before saying: “I don’t know…” I must have been one of the most confusing cases he had ever dealt with. I felt like I belonged nowhere. There was an internal earthquake in me. All I knew was falling down. However, through the shaking of my foundation, I realised all I have is God alone—which is good enough for me to face each new day.
Now I am back in Zambia after almost a year of exile. The stories in the desert echo in my heart. It is on this unexpected dry ground where I experience God’s love and faithfulness. I truly agree with Hagar’s words in Genesis 16:13 “You are the God who sees me” (NIV). This was not an easy road, but it was full of grace. Jesus walks with me step by step. The many tears are the water helping my spiritual life grow in this season.
Here are different areas where I have seen God work in my life in the past few months:
Provision from the body of Christ
When I left Zambia, I didn’t—and couldn’t—have a long term plan as COVID made my journey even more complicated. I felt like Peter walking on water. One step at a time and I had to fully rely on God with each step.
In South Africa, Thailand and Taiwan, no matter where I went, there were missionaries who took care of me. Many of them didn’t even know me well, but they still showed me hospitality. God met all my needs physically, emotionally and spiritually through the body of Christ.
I moved more than 14 times in the past year. Almost every month end, I was not sure where I would go next. Then, someone would contact me to offer a place to stay. Even with the little things like a haircut or winter clothing, God showed concern and blessed me through the people around me.
Though I joke that I was homeless, God actually gave me so many new homes all over the world. I gained so many new families during this season.
A call to be faithful, not successful
God calls us to Himself, and the requirement is being faithful. It was only when I was not able to do ministry that I realised I had built my identity and pride in it. God had to take me out of ministry to learn to trust Him alone. It’s about God, not what I do for God.
I am not in charge of my life and the ministry. Everything belongs to God. I need to let God lead and guide. In the beginning, I felt like God was wasting my time, and I couldn’t fulfil the purpose He created me for. However, God told me to let go. Glorifying Him is my ultimate purpose, and God is the one deciding how that looks.
I learnt to trust my team more because I was not there to do the tasks myself. It was a learning curve for all of us. It helped me refocus and gain a better picture of what God really wants me to accomplish in the field, instead of doing things always the same way.
Jesus weeps with me
There were days I just wanted God to tell me when the exile would end. He didn’t give me answers, but He promised me that He is there with me. I learnt to lament in this season and know that Jesus weeps with me.
He cares about how I feel, and He sent people to pray with me. In this season, there were more people reaching out through the internet to pray with me than ever before. Even when I didn’t have the energy to reach out, someone would drop me a message.
I am free to throw all my emotions to Him. Before He gave us the victory of the resurrection, He shared the pain of the suffering. Injustice, sickness and loneliness… He knows it all, and He is listening to the pain as He comforts us.
His grace is sufficient for today
“Don’t borrow tomorrow’s worry and pay it with today’s grace.” This was the quote that I held on to this season. When Israel received manna, they could only collect what they needed for that day. The need for tomorrow is not on today’s worry list. This was hard because I like to plan. However, God challenged me to let Him take care of me completely. Again and again, He showed up in unexpected ways where I could not have thought of the solution myself.
During the lockdown, South Africa was actually the best place for me to be. I could work with the Africa Area office and still be in the same time zone to connect with my team. I also had a better internet connection and the time to do online training and other new projects that I would not have been able to work on otherwise. I could also catch up with so many old friends and study materials for spiritual growth.
I learnt to walk with God in the present. Take the challenges one step at a time. Fix my eyes on Jesus, so that everything else falls into the right places. I don’t have to figure it out myself. Now looking back, exile was not bad at all. I truly see the hands of God sustain me through and through. Each time I wanted to give up, He gave me enough strength to move one more step or He would carry me for a bit. And by the way, for the people who read to the very end, the best gift God gave me in the past year was meeting a guy who loves Jesus and me. It was worth the journey.
Friends, please don’t give up. God is there walking with you. I don’t know how long the exile or the desert will last, but He sees you.
Ivy, previously a city girl rushing into the Taipei metro every day, now enjoys walking around beautiful villages at Lake Tanganyika, Zambia. She likes to listen to people's stories and write newsletters (really a rare species). Her dream is to become the shortest giant in the world.