It’d been over two months since I arrived at Burtigny, a village about half an hour’s drive from Geneva, Switzerland. I came to the training center in the village for a three months course on Communication. This training center belonged to the mission organization I was working with at that time.
When it’d been the time to board the plane for Switzerland, I didn’t have enough money for my school fee. I only had about 400 Swiss francs while the school fee was 3500. I’d shared my situation with the school leader via email. And she said, “God’s already provided for you the visa and airplane ticket. Let’s trust that He will provide for the school fee in the end. Just come.” She was right, I thought. How the Swiss embassy granted me a three months student visa without asking me to show thousands of francs in my bank account ( which I didn’t have ) as a financial proof was a mystery I would never understand.
By the time I came to Burtigny, I’d been working in ministry with the non-profit organization for six years. I didn’t get paid by my organization but was financially supported by several like-minded people. The living expenses in China was much lower than Switzerland, as you could imagine. And I had zero savings.
The school was phenomenal, exactly what I needed. There were eight students, one staff, plus one school leader, six nationalities in one classroom full of vibrant discussions and creative energy. I loved every minute of it. While I was enjoying the course feeling super thankful, I didn’t forget for one second my obligation to pay off the school fee. People had supported my work in staffing schools, leading mission outreaches and translations, would they give me money for my expensive education in an expensive country? I’d sent out my newsletter to my supporters and potential supporters to share with them my financial needs, yet with this question mark at the back of my mind.
November arrived with the greeting of the first snow at the village. Growing up in the South, it was my first time seeing so much snow in my life! The houses, fields, forests, and mountains were soon thickly covered by pure white. The winter here was stunning but so cold. I’d been waiting and waiting for money to come to pay the school fee in time. I prayed so hard. I sent out another newsletter. I baked cookies for fund-raising at the training center. I did everything I could.
I received some encouragement from some people, letting me know they were praying for me, as well as some money. However, when the three months training ended, I still owed the school about 2500 francs.
“God, I’d hoped the money would come in time! I’ve done everything I knew how. I’d never owed anyone any money before. Now I’m in debt for doing what you wanted me to do and stuck in this tiny village?! Why?” I was devastated, and mad with God. I couldn’t just go back to China with my significant debt unpaid here. I had to return my air ticket and figure out a way to extend my visa. I didn’t speak the local language, French. There’s a bus going to the nearest town only every one hour, which had nothing to do with me for I didn’t have money for the bus ride. The snow was as thick as 20 centimeters on the ground, and I didn’t have snowshoes. I certainly didn’t plan to be stuck in the building most days without seeing the sun, but I had to. Soon it came the holiday season, and most staff and students went home. The fifty years old building was empty and quiet.
Here I was, in my tiny dormitory, sitting on my bedside by the window, hearing the tree branches rustling in the wind and the silent falling of snowflakes. I felt so lonely and confused. The walls were closing in, and there was no one around I could reach. I could only reach up.
I poured out my emotions to God, tears, and snot, the whole thing. I had to repent my attitude of questioning Him, my pride. He is God. He is always good. I confessed that my understanding was limited, and I couldn’t always fathom His ways and deeds, but it didn’t change the fact that He was trustworthy. I chose to hold onto hope, and believe the money I needed would eventually come. I believed in His faithfulness that He would provide for me, as He did before a million times, as I followed His lead by faith.
A couple of days later, someone knocked on my door. I opened it and was surprised to see Susi, the accountant, standing at the door. My heart was racing, for I thought I was in a big trouble by delaying to pay for the school fee for too long. However, there was a subtle smile on her face. She asked me,
“Do you know someone named Norris?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“We just received a check from them for your school fee. Now all your fees are cleared. And you’ve got some extra pocket money.” She gave me a wink.
Just like that, my 2500 francs debt was paid off. That was the most significant amount of one-time financial support I ever received, from a couple who weren’t rich, who I hadn’t heard from for a long time, and who I least expected to give me any money.
Dear reader, we all need to be reminded, don’t we, of God’s faithfulness in a chaotic life. God had provided for me the visa for Switzerland, but I struggled with fear when the provision for my school fee didn’t come on my term. Isn’t He bigger than our plans and expectations? I eventually extended my visa and joined staff for the communication department at the centre. It turned out, He wanted me to stay in Switzerland longer than what I’d thought.
Today, in a rattling world with disasters of the locust swarm, coronavirus, wildfire, and so on, or in our personal lives, we feel the walls are closing in and desperation rising inside. Let’s reach up to God. Let’s choose to believe that He’s been working on our behalf, and the breakthrough will come on His term.
Back in 2013 January, on that cold winter day in my dorm in Burtigny, I said, “Thank you so much for letting me know, Susi.” and quietly closed the door. The ecstatic joy fell into my heart, as gentle as the falling snowflake outside my window. That, my friend, was the taste of His grace. May we savor it every single day.