Almost seven years ago, our family packed our bags and were driven to the airport by a good friend. It was at that point when I began to feel the panic and it only intensified as we were nearing our destination.
Of course it was until the last leg of our travel that it began to take its toll. I was not mentally aware of it and was not prepared for it either, so when it suddenly showed up it was abrupt and debilitating.
As a family, we spent a couple of years preparing to go overseas. We took several classes that aimed at preparing us to live among a new culture and a different religion. Throughout that time many people had expressed their concerns to us about the danger and foolishness of leaving the US for North Africa. We even had some of our friends telling us that we were the worst of parents since we were taking our kids out of the American school and putting them in harm’s way in the Arab world. During this time of preparation, I didn’t realize that I was taking all of these words in, waiting for them to spill out.
At the departing gate of our last leg to our destination, all the fear suddenly surfaced and panic began to control my actions and thoughts. I could not move or speak, I looked at everyone with a suspicious attitude and did not want to continue with our travel. I wanted to be back in the safety of what I knew and what felt comfortable and familiar.
My wife said it was time to board, not knowing of the struggles I was having inside. I nearly turned back around without my family, I wanted to run away from there, I wanted to be in America with my friends and my community. I wanted to feel safe and be free of the panic. My wife’s words brought me back from my trance of fear and suspicion, “can we pray before we get on the plane?” she said. I nodded and she began to ask the Lord for protection and guidance, that brought to my mind Isaiah 41:10:
"Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
This gave me the courage to continue to our destination. And once I arrived, I realized I had so much to learn. The Tunisian people are warm and loving. We are honored to have many friends whose lives are not unlike our own. They cry when they lose a loved one and cry with you or for you if you lose a loved one. They sing and dance when they are happy, they will open their home to you genuinely without reservations. They work hard and suffer just as hard. We love them and love living among them.
I know that the words of caution by our friends were well-meaning. But I also know that our lack of knowledge prevents us from seeing beyond our fear and it festers and grows until we panic and are paralyzed. But God knows this about us. And He helps us to conquer our fear so that we can live.
About the Author: Tony is the IDEAS project operations director for North Africa. He and his family reside in Tunisia and enjoy calling this their home. For more on Tony and his move to Tunisia, please read: What Do You Love About Tunisia?