Out of Control
By Jon Kehrer
We could have learned to trust almost anywhere. But our adventure happened to be in the Middle East.
I remember climbing up onto our roof one night in January, just a few weeks after our family had moved to the Middle East. Cars, with horns blaring, filled the streets below. Windows were adorned with waving flags. People all around were shouting in victory—all because a major political leader in the Arab world had just stepped down.
We didn’t know it at the time, but our move had coincided with the beginning of a popular uprising in Tunisia, a movement that would spread to the rest of the Middle East and become known as the Arab Spring. Our motivation was not adventure; in fact, our move simply seemed like the next step in what God was asking us to do.
At the time, our move didn’t seem incredibly adventurous or risky. We were convinced that if this was God’s request of us, then our obedience was, to borrow a phrase from the late Dallas Willard, a test of our joyful confidence in God.
That January night, from our rooftop, I watched as people celebrated all around us. I wasn’t afraid; I was excited. This new life of ours was proving to be more adventurous than I expected, and I was eager to see what would happen next.
But I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of the uprising in the country where we had moved, or the bloodshed, or the tear gas, or the government-imposed martial law. Yet even in the face of all that, we found God was present. We certainly were fearful because of political uncertainty at times, but on a deep level, we were convinced God was sovereign and in control.
While we were living in extraordinary times, the reality of our day-to-day lives was often normal, mundane, even ordinary.
I taught English. It was not a glamorous job, and I was not the best English teacher ever to grace the Arab world.
I learned some Arabic, but I never spoke it fluently.
We lived around Muslims who looked, spoke, and thought differently than we did, and we felt those differences on a daily basis.
In the midst of all this, I found my own fears bubbling to the surface. It was relatively easy to trust God when it came to political realities well beyond my control, but it was much harder to trust him in my daily life. My fears began to materialize into frequent, poorly reasoned prayers intended to talk God into letting me maintain some level of control.
Yet, no matter what the prayer, God’s answer seemed to remain constant: “Trust me.” Indeed, the answer to my fear was faith.
Easier said than done.
Of course, God was trustworthy. When I surrendered myself to his plan, my fears would subside.
However, my desire for control always seemed to creep back in. I would limit how I engaged people so I could control the outcome; I would guard my exposure to those around me so I could avoid danger, or worse, embarrassment. It was hard to continually listen to that voice that whispered, “Trust me.”
Indeed, my deepest fears were not found in that moment when protesters marched a stone’s throw from our house. Instead, my fear increased in the moment I knew I needed to spend some time with my local friends, but I really just wanted to stay home.
My greater unease wasn’t in those times when I was moving debris out of the road while choking on tear gas. It was when I sat in a room full of men, knowing they were mocking my beliefs and perspectives on faith in a language I couldn’t understand.
I was far less anxious on the day I thought we might need to evacuate the country than on the day our daughter lay sick in the hospital, and I could do nothing to make her better.
Those were the moments my fears began to paralyze, to threaten to undo me, to drown out any voice of hope and lead me to deep despair.
Suddenly, I would find myself questioning everything: Is this worth our time? Why are we living here? Are we sure we even heard God at all?
Yet, somehow, the light of God’s goodness would pierce those dark nights of the soul. I gradually realized these struggles would not go away if we were back in America; it would just be easier to control some of the outcomes. God was using my life away from home to move my heart to a place of joyful confidence in his plan.
As we neared the four-year anniversary of our move overseas, we began to wrestle with a variety of factors that seemed to be pointing us to a life change. We struggled with the risk of moving our family—one that had grown from three to five (with one more on the way)—across the world to begin a new life in a new place. We questioned why God, having acclimated us to this Arab culture, would take us away to do something different. After four years, that once-foreign land felt like home, and we didn’t want to leave. Things were moving out of our control once again.
However, in the end, it was the joyful confidence we learned through our years in the Middle East that allowed us to make the painful decision to leave. It was his whisper of “Trust me” that led us back.
This, then, is our story. Our biggest risk has not been living in the midst of a political revolution; it has been mustering up the courage to live without being in control. Our story may not be extraordinary or dramatic, and it definitely has not been easy. But our journey of learning to joyfully trust God with everything has certainly been the greatest adventure of our lives.
Jon Kehrer is a professor of Old Testament and biblical languages at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. He and his family lived in the Middle East for four years, where he taught English.