During our seven years in Madagascar, our family visited a church community in Sakaraha and was able to develop a special relationship. One morning, my husband was given the opportunity to preach, and perhaps because he was a little surprised, he talked about how, with God, we can expect the unexpected.
It got me thinking about how I deal with the unexpected and what sort of expectations I have for God to act. What about you? Do unexpected events or schedule changes throw you for a loop? Do you stress over the what-ifs of life?
The more time we’ve spent in the mission field, the more I’ve learned to roll with the unexpected. I remember my high school French teacher saying, “Travel, even at its best, is always a hassle.” I love to travel, but these are wise words to keep in mind. I find them to be especially true in the developing world where there always seems to be a curveball coming your way. There are times when I still don’t handle sudden change as well as I’d like, but I’ve learned that some apparent misfortunes can actually be blessings if we’re willing to see them.
A few years ago, we were scheduled to fly from the capital of Madagascar for ten days of ministry in the southwestern city of Toliara. We love our visits to the south and were looking forward to reuniting with friends and visiting our favorite pizza place. I know, nobody thinks of pizza when they think of Madagascar, but seriously, this place is the BEST. And did I mention the gelato? But I digress.
A few days before our scheduled flight, Air Madagascar went on strike. Nobody knew how long the strike would last, but we needed to quickly come up with Plan B. When it became clear that there was a solid zero percent chance our flight would actually depart, we prayed and took a leap of faith. We booked a car and driver and began a three-day journey south, through the heart of Madagascar. We knew people who had done the trip. We had heard stories of adventure and peril but weren’t quite sure what to realistically expect.
Could we trust our driver to find us safe food along the route? (I’m pretty adventurous, but typhoid fever is not high on my list of things I want to experience.) Where on earth would we be sleeping? Would Air Madagascar, affectionately referred to as Air Maybe, be able to bring us home or ever give us our money back? Well, we’d find out one way or another.
The long trip south, along with the high probability that we would have to make the same journey back, cut significantly into the time we had planned to be in Toliara. We were somewhat frustrated and disappointed, but we focused on the excitement of the unknown.
Crammed into the backseat with two teenagers on a twisty, washboard of a road, I was sure my back would never be the same again. As we crossed bridges that appeared less than structurally sound, we joked about what the headlines in our local paper would read after our car plummeted into a rice paddy. (Yes, everyone in our family shares a somewhat dark sense of humor.) We also listened to U2, lots of U2.
Eventually, we arrived unscathed at our destination. We’d lost a few days in Toliara, but we had gained so much on the journey. We saw parts of the country we never imagined we would have the opportunity to see. Every mountain pass provided a new breathtaking vista. We caught glimpses of the quotidian rhythm of dozens of Malagasy villages. We even saw a couple of funeral processions, which in Madagascar are boisterous celebrations.
As the airline strike continued, and we realized we would need to make the same trip in reverse, we actually looked forward to it. We wished we could take more unexpected detours. The journey had developed in us a deeper love for this amazing country and her hospitable people. God had transformed an annoying turn of events into something beautiful.
Certainly, there are unexpected events that nobody welcomes. A diagnosis of cancer, a tragic car accident, the loss of a job, or the discovery of marital infidelity will turn anyone’s world upside down. But even in these moments, we can live with expectation for God to intervene with hope, healing, and comfort. And it is often through the worst unexpected events that God’s hope shines the brightest.
His ability to intervene in unexpected ways can instantly shatter darkness and bring about resurrection, both literal and figurative. Just think of Lazarus. Nobody, least of all his sisters, expected his illness to result in death followed by a literal resurrection four days later. I promise you they never saw that coming. But WOW! Can you imagine?
Our God is full of surprises. He loves to intervene in unexpected ways. And no, it probably won’t look anything like what you imagined. The journey may require patience, perseverance, and courage. It may find you asking some really hard questions and wondering if you’ll ever reach the end of the road, or at least an oasis along the way.
But what if our faith in God’s ability to do the unexpected was greater than our fear of the unknown? What if, when faced with frustrating or disheartening challenges, we waited in eager expectation for God to act. What if we knew that his love for us actually leaves no room for fear? Friends, that begins to look a whole lot like freedom!
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Shay Mason