By Ann Chen
When I tell people about my time serving overseas in Malawi, the part that I usually get the most response about is when I tell them about the nearly 4 months I spent alone.
My intention in going out overseas was always to be on a team, and that was the plan we had made when I launched out. Plans change, however, and a few weeks in, it became clear due to unforeseen circumstances that perhaps my teammates wouldn’t be coming so soon or perhaps ever, and the short-term people who came out with me were also leaving soon.
So 3 months into my time in Malawi, I found myself alone. While I had some friends here and there around town that were locals or with other organizations that I would get together with, and while I continued to carry on with my ministry duties, I found myself having a lot of time to myself.
I often would find myself just sitting at my bed in the one small corner room of the house that I had settled into. The rest of the enormous house was totally empty – meant for my teammates and a daily reminder of my current state.
I wish I could say that I responded really well and just used all that time to pray. I didn’t. In fact, most of the time, I would just fall into TV marathons of Alias and Gilmore Girls, watching simply to be numb and avoid confronting some of the feelings and frustrations I was feeling. On occasion, I’d move into thinking, reflecting, praying, wondering, and asking God the question of “Why?” but even in that, I could find no answers and no peace.
That season did eventually end and my teammates did arrive. It was great to have teammates and since I was living with a family with young kids, there was rarely ever a time where I was alone. And when my time ended, I had forgotten a lot about those few months just prior.
Soon after I returned back to the States, God showed me something profound. At a workshop, a speaker had asked us to visualize a time when we felt God closest to us. Instantly, I saw myself sitting on the bed in my room that I had spent so much of my season alone, but I saw Jesus sitting behind me, wrapping His arms around me. There was so much comfort and joy in that picture.
I heard a former missionary recently share about a revelation he had about his time overseas. Like me, he was complaining to God about why He was sending Him alone to a foreign country. In that very moment, God gave him a vision of the airport he would be landing at. There, Jesus was waiting for him to arrive. When somebody asked Jesus what He was there for, Jesus responded that He was waiting for His friend to arrive, because that’s where their friendship could best grow.
I realized what God was doing in those months when I was alone. That time forged an understanding of God’s closeness in desiring friendship with me, even when I had nothing to give him. When I look back on my whole Malawi time, people are often surprised when I tell them my time alone was my absolute fondest time. It is there that I discovered a new understanding of God’s love for me.
Ann Chen was recently serving in Malawi, working to see a discipleship making movement raise up amongst the Yao. She is an International Staff member with Epicentre Church and has a degree in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary.