Mom and I are waiting at the gate of our guest house to catch a taxi to the airport. The taxi should get us just before 2:00 a.m. It’s 1:30 a.m. now. Time ticks by. I stand with the gate opened a crack, staring out into the surprisingly busy street. I feel jumpy. I feel like I’m staring into something significant, but don’t know what. I feel like my next move will change everything. I memorize the twisty design of the gate, the handle, the shadows. Time passes. 2:00 a.m. comes and goes. I convince Mom to leave me by the gate while she calls for another cab. It is interesting to me how I can be calm with my mom here, even in circumstances where I’d have been trembling in my sandals without her. But I wonder if I underestimate the courage God’s given me. I don’t feel courageous. I wonder if people face something terrifying and think, “And now I have to be brave.” I don’t think I’m thinking that. I just wonder, “What will help most now?” And then I act. I am constantly looking for ways to help.
But right now, I really am jumpy and—unnecessarily—afraid. I think of the verse in Isaiah—God is our shield and protector. Refuge and strength. Mount us up on Eagle’s wings. I just repeated this to myself again and again. Refuge and strength. Refuge and strength. God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. I think I learned that in VBS. Thanks, VBS.
The cab arrives finally and we set out. As soon as Mom and I walk into the airport, we both stop short. The airport is flooded with men, all in the traditional garb, and it is overwhelming for a moment. Just think of that little nagging insecurity you might feel when you see someone you consider a threat in a place like an airport. You might tell yourself you’re being stupid and racist, but you probably still feel it. Now multiply that person by about 50 men, with no women or Westerners in sight, and you can understand why we had to pause to take a deep breath.
All the strangers do nothing to help my shaky nerves. As we move around them, I find myself trying to feel what they are thinking—to guess their thoughts and use that to guide my actions. Should I pull my veil up to my face? Should I keep my eyes on my feet? It’s odd because I hadn’t noticed before just how much I depended on this intuition—the gift of knowing a culture well enough I could instinctively feel my role. But as I walk, I realize I have no idea what these men think. It makes me feel oddly vulnerable and detached.
We eventually find the place to check in. This is a complicated process that is very boring and takes forever.
When we get to our flight and begin to board, we are one of maybe five women on a full flight. All the other passengers are the same traditionally clothed men as before. Everyone is packed into a bus. I am pressed against the glass door. I am glad my reflection is dark—too dark to see—because I feel pretty sure I am showing my nervousness.
We board the plane in the dark, me by the window and Mom in the middle beside a Western-ish man. I open my book to read for a bit. About two hours later, as we begin to descend, I close my book and peer out the window. The vast brown mountains are mind boggling, and I remember what a friend told me before I left—just think of all the armies that have had to brave those impossible mountains. I wonder if the people of this country are like those mountains. I try to make a comparison, but I know so little about the people that the comparison doesn’t work. So I just look.
And then I see it. At the base of the mountains, where there’s a snaky river, I see a green valley. It’s lush and bright in the early morning, stark against the brown. And I think: God always provides.
Somehow the green and that thought touch my soul and I’m tearing up. God provides. God always provides.
The fretting, nameless nervousness I’ve felt recently dissolves and I feel safe. God provides green in the desert. God provides life in the impassible mountains. God can provide for my meager needs. And seeing God’s provision below me in a canopy of green—I actually believe it, and in belief I can surrender some of that anxiety and relax.