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Building resilience through life’s trial and errors

By Simon Johnson

Simon and Helen Johnson serve with OMF in East Asia, and are currently in New Zealand on home assignment. In this article, Simon reflects on the topic of resilience, and discusses how developing resilience has helped him in his time living in a cross-cultural context.

Resilience is defined as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”. Given that definition, I don’t think I could claim to have been that resilient of character during our first term living as missionaries in Taiwan. There was a lot of change to deal with, after all.

The first change was the lack of a clean, green environment. We spent our first two years living and language learning in Taichung, Taiwan’s third largest city… and it was polluted. Out on the coast, just 30 minutes from our house, was Taiwan’s largest coal-fired power plant; it turns out that this plant is the largest emitter of CO2 in the world. And on days when the wind was blowing inland, a thick blanket of smog would cover the entire city and hang around for days. I didn’t adjust to this change in environment well, and found it tough.

During this time, we were studying Chinese Mandarin – another great challenge, and another thing that had to be adjusted to. It is very humbling to live in an environment where you can’t even get out the door to merely order a coffee, let alone talk to your neighbours. This wore on me, particularly as a man who had gotten a lot of my sense of worth from what I did for a job. I felt like a nobody. Thankfully things on the language front did improve, but this unfamiliar feeling was again something I had to adjust to.

So in the midst of this season of change, how did I become more resilient? There were a few key things I found especially helpful:

Having a regular monthly Skype call with my mentor back in New Zealand, where I could talk about many of the challenges I was facing. This was an hour of sanity for me.

I also started to run regularly and enter organised races. This gave a focus, and was not only good for my physical health but was also a space of calm and quiet where I could process my thoughts.

However, the key thing I have learned about resilience is: it is the result of developing your relationship with God. You take it for granted when you are in your home country that you can draw spiritually from many sources; weekly church services, meeting with friends, popping down to your local Christian book store. Many of these things are not available when you are living in a foreign culture. It wasn’t until I got back to New Zealand that I realised just how pressured our life had become; dealing with language, culture, and environmental issues. On reflection, my spiritual life had also wound down to survival mode.

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them (John 7:38). This is my prayer for myself - and indeed for you all. As I was out walking in nature recently, I wrestled with aspects of my life where I wanted to maintain control, and resist change. God reminded me as I walked along that I had to let go. It was God who had to be in charge. As I repented of these things, and with tears flowing down my face, I walked toward the glowing light of Jesus in my mind’s eye. As he brought me to a waterfall alongside the track, he sat me down and spoke: “As you believe in me, streams of living water will flow out from you. Flow out to many others in healing and mission to the nations”.

Resilience was coming.

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