Saturday, November 9, 2013

Coming to America

Like every person who has ever immigrated to US, I have my own coming to America story. It is not a story about beating the odds to get here. I was not poor and I did not come here to strive for the American Dream. Those stories are often inspiring and encouraging and I love to hear them. My story, however, is one of rags to riches in a different sense. I came from a spiritually dry, very secularized country, the UK. The English Church Census announced in 2006 that 6.3% of the population attended church. Even this dismal number is likely inflated because many people over-report church attendance because of their self-perception and identity as churchgoing people. And of this 6.3%, it is unclear how many are true believers.

During my developing years, I was deprived of the biblical community I needed to grow and thrive in my faith. I was an insecure, acutely self-conscious, teenager, whose strongest desire was to fit in. I was far from being salt and light. I was a lone believer in a godless society, and my faith stagnated. My poor parents had no choice. There were not many Christians for me to befriend in the area where we lived! And I was not willing to go it alone. But despite my failure, the Lord used this experience powerfully in my life. My husband and I are now passionately committed to building biblical community and investing in the Body of Christ--due in large part to my experience growing up.

But the Lord did not abandon me. He heard my cries and my anguish and he saved me out of the rocky land of weeds. And the way He did it, I will never forget. The Lord has spoken to me two times in my life in the form of a dream. I am not particularly charismatic in the way I express my faith and I have often lamented the fact that I am not too sensitive to hearing the voice of God. I need the Lord to shout at me once-in-a-while! And in His graciousness, He made it clear to me that it was His will for me to move to America.

It was a Saturday night, when I was 22 years old. I had just finished a Master's degree in Modern History, but had decided that I didn't want to work towards an academic career after all. I was back at my parents' house having recently returned from school, with no idea what to do next. The dream was a very specific message from God. I can remember the dream clearly and here it is:

I was an insect (weird, I know) flying about in a field. I was hovering at the edge of the field trying to find strands wheat where the ground was rocky. I then heard a powerful voice, which said: "Why are you looking where the wheat is sparse? Turn around and look over there." I turned and saw the rest of the field spread before me full of golden wheat as far as the eye could see.

The next day, I went to church with my family. The sermon was about the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (Matt 13) and it was uncanny. In the parable, the the field is the world; and the good seed are the children of the kingdom. I told my Gran--a very godly woman--about the dream in the car on the way home, and she said that God had spoken to me. I knew that God was telling me I had been looking for fellowship and spiritual growth in the wrong places (pubs and clubs) and that I needed to go to America where there are so many more Christians. Literally a week later, I made the decision to travel to America and I left very soon after. I arrived here with no job and no health insurance.

The Lord made it clear to me in the weeks to come that He had me in His hands and He provided for me in miraculous ways when things seemed impossible. When I got stomach flu during my first Philadelphia winter, I lost dangerous amounts of weight and was desperately ill. I remember lying on the floor on a thin foam mattress and cockroaches were running about me! I knew that if I called my faithful parents, they would have been on the first flight over to help me. But I didn't want to make them do that. All the doctor's offices I found in the Yellow Pages would not see me without health insurance. Eventually, I stumbled through the snow praying and walked into a doctor's office about 10 blocks away. A doctor happened to be standing behind the reception desk when I walked in and he took one look at me and brought me in. He asked me if I was starving or on drugs. He gave me his wife's phone number and free healthcare for months thereafter. Soon after this, I found myself with no money and no food one rainy night. I prayed all the way home and asked God to be with me. When I arrived at my West Philly apartment building I found $30 in my mailbox, randomly mailed to me from an aunt in Ireland who had found some American money in her dresser drawer. I cried right there in the mail room as relief and a strong sense of God's love for me came over me.

God sometimes allows us to fall, so He can pick us up when we least deserve it and show us that it is by Grace we are saved, not by works, so that no one can boast (Eph 2:8-9). And we can trust Him, because even when things seem hopeless, God shows us that all things are possible with Him (Matt 19:26).

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