* Part II: A reflection of the time I left home as an Overseas Filipino Worker or OFW. Filipino workforce is the number one export of the Philippines. You can read Part I here.*
Arriving In A Strange Land
It was bright.
Yet the room was dimly lit. Everything was so vivid to me. I dragged my feet and my despondent heart along those worn-out, carpeted, immigration area floors as I forced to calm myself. I had felt unsettled amongst people with various hair and eye colors. My eyes hurt seeing these features in real-life.
I desperately sought to lock in on something familiar. My gaze swept across the room. Nothing. All was not the same. I was suddenly engulfed with an intense cocktail of emotions apprehending for the first time the drastic change of my surroundings. I felt the last sandwich I ate climb its way back up to my mouth; I swallowed hard to keep it down.
It was loud.
People were moving quietly yet the shuffling of their feet was deafening to my suddenly highly sensitive ears. Some were whispering almost inaudible words to friends and family as they piled up to get to an officer. But every syllable they uttered — English spoken with so much ease — registered with such clarity in my head. I almost forgot they weren’t speaking to me.
I desperately sought to lock in on something familiar. My gaze swept across the room. Nothing. All was not the same.
I screamed as loud as I could in my frantic self, “Please let this be a dream. Let me hear people speak in ‘bisaya’ (my dialect).” Nothing. Even the Filipinos I flew in with were unusually silent.
It was my first night.
My first night in a country I had yet to know and understand. All was magnified in my senses. I was simply overwhelmed with the contrast of what I had left and what had welcomed me in my arrival. I was exhausted like never before. I tried to keep what ounce of energy I had left from the trip. I attempted to switch off my brain, urging it to rest. I failed. My thoughts, as usual, was in a rampage.
You’ve made it, Kezia. You’re here. That wasn’t too bad, right?
So here you are now in the land of milk and honey.
Am I really going to live and work here?
You can do this. Don’t worry too much.
No, you can’t do this. Don’t kid yourself.
I didn’t even remember You. I was too addled in absorbing unhealthy amounts of strange information while battling my own thoughts.
I couldn’t find it in me to be excited about this new undertaking. I ate a sumptuous, Vietnamese-cooked dinner in an obviously expensive restaurant (a treat from our agent) wanting nothing but rice and fish while secretly hoping I was back in my own dining room.
No, the thought of You did not enter my mind.
Nine o’clock in the evening. I hesitantly unpacked. I put on my pajamas. I remember missing the scent of my own home. I turned off the lights in my new room — a hint of light bled through the blinds. I pulled it up, not exactly knowing how, trying to look outside. The sun was still high, burning in searing brightness the way it does in my country at three o’clock in the afternoon.
Why is it still so bright out?
Fresh, warm, unsummoned tears ran down my cheeks. My earlier realizations asserted: Surely, I am no longer in the Philippines. Then thoughts of You flooded my heart.
Abba, Father, I am afraid. What have I done? Am I wrong for coming here?
These questions haunted me for the next two years.
Trusting God’s Word
I kept questioning Him. I kept doubting. I kept my eyes shut from what was truly happening to me seeing nothing but my misery. Daily I had thoughts of leaving and going home. I was fighting an uphill battle against myself. Life as I knew it literally collapsed before me.
I was losing the battle. I was about to give up. I was ready to leave.
Until one morning, one of my housemates suddenly appeared in front of my bedroom door and declared these words: “Kezia, I just felt God wanting me to tell you this: Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” (2 Chronicles 20:15)
Stay and trust Me. This battle is not yours, but mine.
When our lives take a hard turn, it shifts our focus to Him and removes the scales from our eyes. We see with much more clarity that our souls are shaped to need Him more than anything else this world can offer.
It was God’s answer to my questions. I held on to that word, to that promise. Yes, He wanted me where I was. The battle was not mine but His. He was fighting it for me. He just needed me to hold on to Him and stay.
Father, I want to trust You. Help me trust You.
Yes, Lord, I am staying.
It was one of the best decisions I had ever made. It led me to lasting friendships with brothers and sisters of the faith. It led me to China. It led me to Jason, my husband. It led me to Thailand. It led me to Cambodia.
It led me to a beautiful, intimate relationship with Jesus — something I have always yearned for but never thought I could have.
Living through that stage in my life taught me this: Sometimes being displaced is exactly what we need to restore our weak hearts to Jesus and make them strong in Him. When our lives take a hard turn, it shifts our focus to Him and removes the scales from our eyes. We see with much more clarity that our souls are shaped to need Him more than anything else this world can offer.
I pray — wherever God takes me — that I be reminded always: His hand is gentle, His heart is pure, and His love for me is without bounds. I can trust Him. He longs to give me life and not death.
While contemplating on my journey as an OFW and writing this piece, I inadvertently came to a realization: The struggle I had gone through was not exclusive to me. Thousands, if not millions, of Filipinos, who have left home and family so that they may provide them basic needs of shelter and food, have most likely scuffled with their circumstances as I have. Many have sacrificed far more than I have. Many have never recovered from the abyss of homesickness. Many were (or are) in harsh conditions.
I don’t dare diminish what each of my fellow OFWs has undergone (or is undergoing), but sometimes we get so nearsighted that we don’t see the good we have been given. I know I had been. I am grateful for finally seeing the blessing that came out of being separated from my support system. It shattered my composure and showed me what I was made of. It helped me grasp: In this world, I will always be a bungler never truly able to master life. Getting lost in a strange land was how I found myself.
Finally, I want to ask families of OFWs to thank them for their sacrifice. Many will not show you how sad they get living in a foreign soil constantly fighting to overcome its challenges while being far from the people they love. Many will not allow you to see how hard it is for them to be away from home. They will try to mask what they truly feel for your sake.
A simple “thank you” and “I love you” will give them immense strength to go on. Don’t neglect to show them your love.
August 4, 2015