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Trusting God through transition

CMS missionaries Daniel and Olivia Webster are based at Namibia Evangelical Theological Seminary with their four homeschooled boys. Olivia looks with honest eyes at the ways that God has blessed them through a ‘sink or swim’ transition.

I can hear birds singing sweetly outside our house as I lie on our couch and steal a few minutes of rest from a hectic day. The smell of wood smoke wafts in the window with the breeze as our neighbours get ready for their regular Friday afternoon Braai (BBQ). Dan will come home from teaching at Bible college any moment. Our boys aged 9, 7, 6 and 4 are reading or playing quietly.

Moments of joy through confusion and difficulty

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? To be honest, it doesn’t happen very often (even an hour ago the boys were fighting!) But in the past few weeks and months I have been surprised by more and more moments of peace and even joy in life here in Namibia.

I’ve witnessed God’s kindness in providing special friends for different family members at just the right times. I’ve been surprised by how much my boys play creative imaginary games together. I’ve been refreshed by glorious sunrises on the way home from early morning swims and amazed by plants that can survive and even flower in this dry country. I’ve enjoyed being called a ‘sister’ by a college student, even though I feel so culturally inadequate. I’ve seen faithful NETS students graduate and start ministry. I’ve seen God orchestrate the timing of the new Physiotherapy course that began last year—meaning that I could start teaching this year. And I’ve seen our boys grow and learn through their homeschooling.

The 11 months since we moved here haven’t all been easy. We have had several transitions over the past eight years of ministry life in Sydney and especially preparing for mission, but moving here was the hardest thing we’ve ever done as a family. Our kids, our relationships and our marriage have been strained like never before. Our challenges have included unsettled children, being disconnected from our family and friends, the trial and error of beginning homeschooling and lecturing, marital tension, cultural confusion and the time-consuming logistics of life in a culture where everything seems to break and you don’t even know where to buy underwear. It’s hard to convey just how much we need your prayers to sustain us on location!

St Andrew’s Hall helped our transition

And yet here we are nearly a year later. By the grace of God, we continue. Our time at St Andrew’s Hall (SAH) prepared us well for the challenges of transition. We learned some great tips for helping the children feel like our family is a safe bubble that we can take anywhere. We’ve done that through new family traditions, routines, familiar pictures and toys and regular communication with friends at home. We had the benefit of practicing transition when we moved to SAH for training. It was a safe place to talk through the emotional and physical challenges of living in a new place. One picture that stuck in my mind from our training is that going through a big move is like crossing a lake.

Transition: like swimming a large lake

Imagine a picture of a family on the edge of a large lake. Their plan is to swim across the lake to the country on the far side to tell them about Jesus. They are excited. They start strong, buoyed by the enthusiasm of a new adventure and the encouragement of those back at home.

As they get to the deepest part of the lake they start to falter. The adrenaline has worn off. They feel like they can’t go back and don’t want to. So, they swim more slowly. They are not sure if they are going to make it. They wonder if they were right to come. How could they possibly be of help to God’s mission here?

But then they start to notice the water is getting less deep. Shopping takes half the time it used to. They have some people they can even call friends in their new location. The children don’t complain every day about school. They don’t fight every spare moment. They aren’t afraid of someone breaking in at night anymore. They don’t dread going to church. There is less illness and bed wetting and more spontaneous laughter. As they teach at the college and university, they see that the students seem to be grasping concepts. And by the time they reach the opposite shore, they find they are slowly becoming part of a new community—one that God has prepared them to be part of.

We now feel like we are reaching the other side of the transition lake. There are still challenges here, but we can now look back and see that there were many times where God encouraged and sustained us when we felt we were sinking. And, because of our training at SAH, we knew this was normal. So we didn’t panic but just kept paddling.

Our youngest son, Reuben, recently learned to swim without a floatie. It was a very special moment for me, because helping ensure my children don’t drown has been an important goal in my life! But until that time, Reuben would have drowned without a floatie. Coming to Namibia has been like learning to swim all over again. And without help we would have drowned many times. We praise God for the floaties we were given at SAH that have enabled us to keep trusting in him through the transition.

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Shifting cultures for gospel reasons is a wonderful but daunting challenge. Is God calling you to go? Contact your CMS branch to find what steps you can take to prepare.

Read CMS Director of Training and Development David Williams’ ‘Five tips for new missionaries’