By Alex Gonzales, our travel contributor
Mark 4: 35-41: The disciples and Jesus are crossing the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has had a long day, so he’s fallen asleep. A storm starts brewing and causes much turbulence and fear to the disciples on the boat. The disciples wake Jesus up from his nap because of their sheer panic, and then Jesus, like a boss, tells the winds and waves, “Quiet! Be still!” and the winds and waves stop. Ya know, like magic.
But it gets better as Jesus brings on the tough love…He turns to his followers and questions their lack of faith. Why are they fearful? Do they not have faith to know that Jesus has got their back? And they learn their lesson in awe-struck wonder of what Jesus just did to the sea: faith is the real deal, and this Jesus guy is somethin’ else. But we’ll get back to that
I recently had the opportunity to let Sagra Alvarado tell me her story of turbulence in a strange land she is still adjusting to. Alvarado relates to this story on a personal and challenging level. She’s a fresh college graduate with a Bachelor’s in History and a minor in Middle Eastern Studies and is now a teacher in Morocco for the next year. She’s traveled abroad all her life, so she figured she developed the immunity to culture shock, right? Well, a dominantly Muslim Morocco ended up being the shock of her life to this young Catholic woman.
Alvarado cannot seem to find fellowship to share her faith and intense burning love for Jesus Christ. Yes, she attends weekly French Mass at a little church (used not only for Catholic Mass but for Protestant services as well), yeah she reads her daily readings, she listens to Catholic podcasts and Christian music, and she reads her fair share of articles having to do with the Church. But there is more to it.
Alvarado said, “So, even though I still consider the Catholic Church my true home, I do not feel at home within this parish….Instead of feeling peace when I come out of Mass, I typically come out feeling even more frustrated.” She does not have daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration or the physical company of her friends and family to aid her in growing in her faith. She puts it in the words of Moses: “I am a stranger in a strange land” (Ex 2:22).
When traveling or settling in new lands, it is easy to feel that estrangement, even when you find a Catholic church. To be somewhere like Morocco living out the Catholic faith is trying and not for the faint of heart, but God calls the strong to fulfill his earthly mission, and for Alvarado and any other Christian reading this, God thinks you have more potential than you may give yourself credit for; something we all need a reminder of.
As Alvarado put it, the physical Church she is attending doesn’t feel like home, and in all honesty, that’s okay. We are One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. We are a universal Church that unites through one thing: the Eucharist, the ever-present, ever-loving Eucharist. Sometimes that physical home does not exist but it will forever exist in the spiritual. Jesus in the Eucharist exists in all lands, even if the lands do not seem to accept Him or persecute Him or simply do not know Him enough to share in fellowship of Him like in Alvarado’s case. Jesus already covered the whole “they do not know what they do” and he forgave and loved them anyways (Lk 23:34); something that every Christian must do in all lands.
So how does this all relate to Mark 4?
Being in a strange land with an unpleasant situation like Alvarado in Morocco or even being in a fearful or stressful circumstance in life (because let’s admit it, sometimes that feels like a strange land), faith is the real deal. Jesus is capable of doing the impossible like quieting a storm in seconds, but he needs you to know that even though He can do that, sometimes He won’t right away. He needs you to know that He doesn’t always stop the storms in life because he needs you to grow in character of trust and especially faith in Him. It all goes back to not giving ourselves enough credit or faith in ourselves to know that we are strong. To walk out on that water.
God knows we are strong enough because He created us, but He wants us to discover that for ourselves. That's why He beckons us out on the sea, though our feet may fail. He loved us so much to give us the free will to discover our inner strength and faith. Strength to conquer the storms of life is found within every human, and it takes faith to find it.
It’s easy to think during these times that God is abandoning us. Ignoring us. Leaving us. Forgetting us. But He’s not. He’s resting and watching, and we must remember that He exists in a different time. God sees what’s coming ahead. God sees that wave that will ultimately turn over the boat and ruin everything. You don’t. And you never will because God will awaken His mighty love and protection over you before that ever happens.
Keep Sagra Alvarado in your prayers for the next year while she’s teaching in Morocco, growing closer to Christ, and keep up with her at her blog here.