Studying Abroad and Trusting God

By Tessa Marnay Moehlmann, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA

Trust. I’m not sure I ever really knew what trust in God meant until my junior year studying abroad in Paris. I pretended that I knew about it, but it wasn’t until I was in a position of complete helplessness that I finally began to understand the implications of that trust in my relationship with God. Feeling lost and alone in another culture, another language, and starting from absolute zero forced me to recognize that my faith in God’s work in my life was the only lifeline I had.

I knew living in France would be tough spiritually, but I had no idea what more to expect. I soon learned that being an evangelical Christian in France is different from in the U.S., because you are immediately forced to choose sides; either you are, or you aren’t. Confronted with the secularism, spiritual cynicism, and the complete obsession with the material and the temporary, I felt very weak and insignificant. It was impossible to “ride” on other people’s spiritual lives; next to no one in France is a practicing born-again Christian. But the first lesson I learned about God was that he really is everywhere, and that abandoning me was never (and never will be) part of his plan. Although he let me feel what it is to be in a spiritually barren place, just trying to make it through the day, by his grace he also showed me what it means to have life in abundance. I found myself without many of my familiar supports, and learned that only God could fulfill my deep spiritual needs.

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I was able to get involved with GBU (Groupes Bibliques Universitaires) during the year, and it had eternal consequences. I found fellowship with other French and international student believers, and realized how privileged I had been as an American Christian, basically protected from the spiritual challenges that they faced daily in their cultures. One particularly life-changing friendship I developed was with a French student, Kristine, who was a seeking non-Christian. Over the course of the year, and after many spiritual conversations, God showed me just how deep her spiritual need was, how much he could meet that need, and that he was going to use me in order to bring her into his kingdom. It was the first time in my life that I felt God’s clear call for me to invest my time, money, love, and energy into one specific person. God helped me understand that it was he who had brought Kristine into my path. After many ups and downs, right at the end of the school year she came to tell me that she had prayed to accept Jesus into her life!

This event was pivotal because in the process I learned how God really does work things out for the good of those who trust him. He put in my heart a desire to learn how to pray, and because of that I prayed for Kristine’s salvation more fervently than anything else, ever. And God delighted in answering that prayer and bringing her to himself. I saw for the first time that the power of the gospel is alive and well, and that it can change people, even those who are close to me.
God also taught me a lot about myself and my relationship with him. For a while I was struggling about what my purpose was to be during my time in France, as well as for my life in general. I was searching deeply for a reason to be, for a goal. I was overwhelmed by the immense need in Paris (mostly spiritual but also in many cases physical) and felt so unimportant. When God used me in Kristine’s conversion, I realized that the only things we do in life that have eternal value are those things we do for Christ and in Christ. I saw my overall priorities for my life and future flipped upside down; I now wanted the advancement of the gospel to take priority in my life, and my “academic pursuits” to be secondary. God graciously showed me what was truly worth my time: not prestige, not money, not a sense of belonging, but the pursuit of a growing relationship with him, and relationships with others that have eternal meaning.

Over the course of the year I was discipled by a British IFES* staff worker, Laura, and she not only challenged me to grow in my faith, but also sparked a passion in me to spread the Good News in France. The French have put up many barriers to the gospel, but they still desperately need Jesus’ salvation. Now, God willing, I’m ready to return to France for missions after graduation. How incredibly God changed me, all because I chose to trust him!

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