That very first flight I was terribly frightened. It showed on my face as I handed my passport to the security officer, the airport quiet at 4:00 a.m. “Don’t worry!” he told me as I went through the scanner and gathered my things.
I was 20 years old, flying for the very first time from Omaha, Nebraska all the way to Quito, Ecuador with a group of summer study-abroad students from my college. My professor had spent the last two days walking us through what we would need to know about the culture of Ecuador, what our days would look like and what assignments would be required of us. But no one really thinks to tell you how to go through a security line, how to find your seat on a plane, things most people know how to do but this farm girl was experiencing for the first time.
There were lots of ‘firsts’ on that maiden voyage out of the US, living with a host family, studying another language for four weeks. I learned to enjoy cheese in my hot chocolate and popcorn in my soup, how to slow down and enjoy relationships and not worry so much about a schedule, how to barter in the market and get the best deal. Everything was new and exciting, and I returned to America seeing only the good in Ecuador and frustrated with all of the negative I saw in my own culture.
Several (many) flights and security lines later, having traveled to and lived in other places, my perspective is a bit different. I have learned that there is beauty in all cultures, and I love discovering this. But it is not all good. There are things that must be redeemed through the Father, in the culture I am currently in and in the one I still call my home culture. I am discovering this in my role too. Sometimes I marvel at what the Father allows me to see and experience and other times I wish I could be in a place where I can communicate clearly and my head doesn’t hurt because of constantly operating in a language that is not my first. There is a beauty and pain in this season, as in other seasons. But my God is the constant, teaching and guiding.
I returned from Ecuador much more confident, navigating security lines, even a baggage search and immigration lines with ease. Until I got to the customs officer at our first stop in America. He checked out my passport, glanced at me again, and then began to speak to me in German. I was caught quite off guard, and having operated in Spanish for the last month I responded to him in Spanish that I had no idea what he was saying to me. He pointed to my passport and said, “With such a German last name, you don’t speak German?” We both laughed and had a lovely conversation. There is always something new to learn, always a reminder that I cannot lean on my strength.