Six weeks ago, I found myself stranded in China, knowing nothing and no one but my destination and the teammate I’d been paired with moments before. This is my crash course on learning to fully trust God.
Stranded and Anxious
Here was the most extreme example of a time in which I have had to trust in Jesus rather than myself—especially since mine and Brad’s combined Mandarin skills and sense of direction were more likely to get us stranded than to take us across two different towns in a foreign continent.
My short-term mission trip had given us a faith exercise from Luke 10. As Jesus sent out the disciples into cities with no money, baggage, or sandals, they were stripped of any capacity of self-reliance and had to complete their task with strength not their own.
Similarly, we were told our team would be divided into groups (girls in threes and guys in pairs), and be left behind as directors went ahead to our eventual destination 11 hours away (by public transportation). Each group would have to find its own way there by noon the next day after receiving the name of a small rural town to travel through by nightfall.
As in Luke 10, we were also encouraged not to stay at a hotel, but to find a home with a family hospitable enough to feed us and provide shelter for the night. From that town, we were to leave the next morning and find a way to our destination.
400 Renminbi and A Phone Number
By this time, the majority of the team was shaking with anxiety. Each group was provided with 400 renminbi ($58 American) to use for food, transportation and emergency lodging, as well as the phone number of one of our directors. As none of us were even allowed to bring cell phones to China in the first place, these little contingency safeguards did little to comfort us. After the groups were formed, Brad and I found ourselves as a pair with almost no collective ability to speak Mandarin.
It was clear however, that beneath anxiety was a greater sense of exhilaration. The activity was described as a faith exercise, and I have to admit: what better way to practice than through a depravity situation? If I claimed to believe 2 Corinthians 12:10 had any merit, why would I not welcome this journey with open arms?
Kidney or Intestine
Brad and I kicked off our journey with lunch. Within the first thirty seconds of entering the restaurant, the reality of our predicament hit us. Neither of us could ask for a table or read the menu. We sat down hesitantly and pointed at two items on the menu which had the only character I recognized: rou (meat). Neither of the dishes resembled any meat we had seen before (though after some analysis, we settled on kidney and intestine).
After lunch, we walked to the train station and came across students from our team. In talking, we realized none of the towns assigned to any of the groups was directly accessible by train. We took a bus with another group to the main station, where we found yet another group. From there we split off, leaving the comforts of familiar faces and Mandarin-speaking friends. The two of us managed to get bus tickets to our destination, and after showing them to one of the station workers, we were dragged (literally) onto an empty bus.
Brad and I examined a map on the bus, but realized that none of its Chinese characters matched those of our town, which we carried on a tiny strip of paper. I asked the driver if our bus really stopped there, but unfortunately was unable to understand his answer. I tried several more times with other passengers as they got on, but was unable to comprehend them.
After a while, Brad noticed my anxiety. As I was about to make another attempt at asking where our bus was going, he stopped me, "Hey, we're trusting Dad, right?"
Leaning on Each Other, Leaning on Dad
For some reason, those words provided not only a slight rebuke of my disbelief but also a huge encouragement. They were repeated by both of us more times than I can remember during the rest of the trip. We found that in leaning on each other we were able to lean on Dad.
The rest of our journey was more or less repetitive: hopping onto a vehicle with a mysterious destination, asking questions without understanding answers, getting stares from locals and laughs for our cluelessness, following strangers while unsure where we asked them to take us, and intense charades. Ourlevels of uneasiness fluctuated more than was comfortable, but at least one thing remained stable: when one of us began to panic, the other asked, "Hey, we're trusting Dad, right?" And somehow, things seemed to keep working out for us.
Releasing control in every aspect was tough. Brad and I are both control freaks in our own ways. Yet at the end of the day we found ourselves sitting on our beds journaling these things in the home of a man we’d just met, in the little town of our halfway point. We could not understand 90% of what he said, and he did not understand a word of English, but a day full of confusion and wandering ended with our paths crossing. We took our much desired sleep, with high hopes for finding the right train the next morning.
We sadly parted ways with our host in the morning, leaving a small goodbye gift of Ghirardelli chocolate. Brad and I went through impromptu Pictionary and charades with some locals at the train station, which was both fun and embarrassing.
But we eventually found ourselves on a train on the way to our final destination. One of the workers at the station was kind enough not only to walk us all the way to the correct car, but to also explain to the conductor on our train that we are two Americans unable to speak Chinese. He made sure that we would be told when to get off.
Both Brad and were struck by the hospitality of everyone we encountered in those 36 hours.We were met by nothing but kindness, patience, and understanding. Our host checked in on us every 30 minutes, shared his food and home with us, and asked nothing in return. Yet no one there was anywhere near an American definition of "well off.” The money Brad and I brought to China was likely more than he will make in the next year, or perhaps, his lifetime. Our host’s town had no paved roads, only muddy streets, and was filled with run-down brick houses, oftentimes lacking ceilings or completed walls.
One house we saw was about ¾ the size of a typical American kitchen. It had no ceiling, a missing wall, and the three standing walls looked like they were about to crumble. Yet, people lived there. Despite the extreme disparity between our lifestyles and theirs, they treated us with utmost respect and seemed to be more content than most people we knew back home. I have never seen such a clear example of happiness and contentment standing free of material possessions or wealth.
This little adventure was full of lessons and confirmations of faith which I cannot hope to contain on paper. We’re both immensely glad and thankful to have had such an opportunity. Brad and I made more friends that day anda half than I can even remember. The funny thing is that these friendships were not (and could not be) based off of oral conversation, but rather an unspoken acceptance of different cultures and a compassion which surpasses racial barriers and ethnic prejudices.
Looking back on our faith journey even six weeks after the fact, I continue to be filled with both amazement and thanksgiving to our Father. Although our faith was not constant, His provision was steady. And when our strength was weak, His power revealed itself all the more strongly.
“What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7). I think I may now have a better understanding of the awe Moses must have been trying to convey at the consistency of our God’s care.
Despite how hard it is to see, recognize, or believe in at the time, His guidance is always there. And in all things, from trekking through a foreign land to simply getting lost while driving home, I can ask myself, “Hey, we’re trusting Dad, right?”
Author's and other names changed and omitted for security reasons.