The Father’s love is all around us, but sometimes we don’t recognize God’s love for us. In my own life, I have even run away from His love at crucial moments in my life. This is a story of the Father’s pursuit. This is a story of how He works in our sinfulness and will do anything to be part of our story.
In January 2019, I attended World Youth Day (WYD) in Panama as a communications volunteer and NET delegate. It was an honor to be able to go and serve this worldwide mission, and I didn’t really know what to expect. I experienced WYD Krakow in 2016, and this time I planned to figure everything out once I made it to Panama City. I did the same in Krakow and it all worked out, so what could go wrong, right?
Panama City, it turns out, is very different from Krakow. The city is spread out, communication (even through WYD) is primarily in Spanish, food and accommodations aren’t what I am used to, and I only knew one person attending the whole two-week long event. Over the first few days of being there, I realized that this experience was going to be different from Krakow. At least I have my one friend, I reassured myself.
Checking in at volunteer registration, my friend and I realized that we were actually being housed in completely different places an hour away from each other. I spent all day making my way to my new home, which was a school that was cleared out so that 300 of us could sleep on the floors in the classrooms. I randomly chose a room and three of the women there, from Nicaragua and Columbia, volunteered to translate WYD communications for me. This was awesome because they could tell me how to get meals and attend training. These women were a few years younger than me and became my friends quickly. They took me under their wing and always checked up on me to make sure I was alright throughout the day. Internally I rejoiced: Yes, friends! Things are going great. Sure, I don’t have any of the comforts of living I’m used to at home, but at least these people will talk to me.
Because of the culture and age differences, living with the other girls was difficult. From listening to music late at night and early in the morning, to being very late to commitments, to remembering to speak in English only halfway through a robust conversation, I found myself exhausted just by being around them. They loved me so well, but I was adjusting to their culture and habits. I found myself tolerating them and stealing away when I could, to be alone. They were so kind to me, but I found myself resisting true friendship with them.
A couple of days later, I was out and about when I got an unexpected message from my South American friends telling me that I had to come back to our accommodation because we were being moved to a different place. Alarmed, I rushed back to the school to pack up and hopefully get more information. I found that my friends had already packed my things for me and were hanging out, waiting for further instructions from the organizers. Things were not so chill for me. Internally, I was stressing out because I wanted to know why we were moving, where we were moving, how it was going to affect my volunteer position, etc. It seemed like I was the only one worried about these details. I took a deep breath, realizing that these questions were not going to be answered, and waited with my friends. They soon changed their conversation to English so that I could participate. After an hour or so, we were put on buses that took us to a different school.
Once we arrived, we were given a choice: get in the line for a room with air conditioning, or get in the line for a room with no AC. This is where I wanted cultural differences to play to my advantage. My South American friends were not fans of the AC and immediately chose the line to avoid it. I slightly preferred AC, but also saw this as an opportunity to break off our friendship. I couldn’t stand living with them anymore and I wanted a fresh start. I thought, Maybe I could find a room with people who are quieter and would just let me be by myself. So I did it. I told them that I had to have AC and I got in a different line. They were anguished, but I stuck to my decision and said, “I’m sure I’ll see you around at meal times.” In my head, I thought, This will give me the freedom I need. No more do I have to stay up late listening to them, and they won’t make me late for my work anymore.
Finally alone, I set up my sleeping bag in a room and I even met someone from the USA who seemed nice (and introverted). Just after getting settled in, I heard people calling my name and searching for me all over the school. At first, I didn’t respond. I just stood there, hoping that the ruckus would pass me by and they would give up and not find me. It was my old friends, but all I wanted was to be alone. After several minutes, I realized that they wouldn’t relent, so I called back to them. They came running into the room excited and told me that they couldn’t stand the thought of not rooming with me, so they found a room with AC that we could all share. I silently smiled and nodded yes, and they joyfully took all of my things and moved them to the new room. Trying to talk myself into this situation, I thought OK, at least I’m settled. They are happy and I guess I can still share a space with them.
This was not the end of musical spaces. Not long after, I noticed my friends moving all of my things to a different room — again. At that point, I gave up. I lost all attachment to where or with whom I stayed. I trusted that my friends had good intentions and I didn’t even get up to help them move my things. I resigned to their will and felt too tired to do anything about it.
Finally, I made my way to the new room and asked my friends what happened. They told me that they found out that our previous room’s AC was broken, so they moved us to a room that had AC, since they knew it was so important to me. Yes, it was important to me, but not for climate control reasons…
So I found myself standing in an air conditioned classroom facing three women who spent all night searching for me, moving my things, and caring for my needs despite my hiding and brooding. They sacrificed their preferences for my friendship. They ploughed through my melancholy to give me what they believed would make me happy. They gave up their native tongue to have a friendship with me.
And isn’t that how the Father pursues us? When we are far from Him, he searches for us. Even when we make decisions that we know will draw us away from Him, He is relentless! God our Father sacrificed His only Son so that we could have friendship with Him in Heaven forever. He wants us to make our home in Him and He is willing to do all the work. All we need to do is cooperate with Him. We just need to surrender to how He is at work in our life and, conventionally or otherwise, He will become part of us.
My discomfort made me want to be alone. I wanted to control my circumstances, so I sought solitude because I thought that was control. I thought that all I needed was myself, to get a grip on my needs and emotions, and then I would be fine. The answer to my struggle was in front of me, then it chased me, and finally I faced it head on. Friendship. The people God put in my life to be His guiding hand were these people that I wanted to distance myself from because they didn’t do things the way that I did them.The Lord took all my comforts away — my friend, food, even comfortable housing to show me how much He comes after me. I am thankful that He brought me to such an uncomfortable place in order to show His love to me in a new way. He showed me another aspect of His love through friendship with unlikely women.
Despite my wandering and running away from those three women, they were actually the only way that I could survive in such a different culture. Their love and support enabled me to belong and to be happy. How many times do we run away from the thing we need the most?