The Immigration Experience – Fears

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Peace in the middle of uncertainties

By Carolina Acosta

When I am afraid I put my trust in You. Psalm 56:3

The Immigration Experience series - Christian Therapist Network
When we immigrate to the country that we decided would be our new home we arrive with suitcases loaded not only with clothes but also with a lot of fears and expectations.

Those fears begin long before we actually enter another country. They begin from the moment we start thinking about the decision to immigrate. It is the fear of the unknown, Am I going to adapt? Will I find a good school for my children, a house that I like, a good job?

Another common one is the fear of failure. Many people make the decision to immigrate, taking a great risk when selling their properties, some even invest everything they have, materially speaking, to pursue that dream. Some others leave in their countries of origin all their belongings they worked for their whole life: houses, cars, companies, etc. That is why many people can spend years making the decision to immigrate with the enormous fear of failing and losing everything invested in it.

Fears also depend on personal circumstances. It is different to arrive in a country with a job, with enough money to start, with economic stability, and at least family support, than it is to arrive without money, without a job, without knowing anyone. There are people who had not even visited the country they want to immigrate to prior to immigration. Some have had the opportunity to plan. Others have had to leave all of a sudden with no time to prepare due to security, political, health issues, or personal circumstances. All these factors will determine the severity of the fears they feel.


Listing my fears

I took the opportunity to interview some friends and family members about their fears when they immigrated and this is a
summary list from it:

  • fear of being rejected (Xenophobia),
  • fear of not being able to learn the language,
  • fear of getting lost because they don’t know the streets,
  • fear of going to the store and not being able to understand what they need to buy,
  • fear of driving in the snow,
  • fear of learning to do different things like paying for services,
  • fear of safety,
  • fear of not finding friends,
  • fear of not finding a good school for their children,
  • fear of being alone,
  • fear of making the wrong decision,
  • fear of the legal situation,
  • fear that the immigration documents will not be approved,
  • fear that the family that stayed in their former country will get sick and not be able to see them again,
  • some are even afraid of having their children kidnapped, of losing them in some way.

I know for sure the list is longer and everybody can add their own unique fears that they encounter during this life experience of immigration.

Learning to manage our fears…

It is normal to be afraid at a time of change. As we mentioned before, we have big changes when immigrating. The problem becomes severe when this anxiety starts affecting us negatively in our life. Anxiety steals our joy. Anxiety does not allow us to think clearly. Anxiety can affect our decisions. It can paralyze us, even can make us physically get sick. This is why it is very important to learn to manage our emotions and be able to feel peace in the middle of the uncertainties.

Some people have a natural tendency to be more anxious than others. One reaction when we have this tendency is that we want to control the different situations in our life. In an immigration experience we cannot control everything. There are too many variables in the equation. Plus, we cannot control what we do not know. In many occasions, we get into a position that we just need to stay still, like God is commanding us to:

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

Anxiety can provide us with an opportunity to see how God is in charge of organizing our lives for us, opening job doors, finding the right school for our children, the house we need, etc.

Trust map - A puzzle of fear solved when trusting in God - Immigration Experience - Christian 
 Therapist NetworkDuring these 25 years of my immigration story I have been by the side of many friends and family who have immigrated, and it has been wonderful to see how God developed his plan repeatedly, and of course, how He still does. I have been able to witness how He has been putting together everyone’s life puzzle according to His plan that He has prepared in advance.

In the Bible, there are so many stories about God helping his people during immigration experiences. One of them is when the Israelites led by Moses travelled in the desert about 40 years looking for the Promised Land. We can see miracle after miracle from the time they left Egypt until they finally enter to the Promise Land. God accompanied them, showing the way and provided for them materially and spiritually.

“The Israelites left Sukkot and camped at Etham, where the desert begins. By day, the LORD went before them in a pillar of cloud to show them the way; At night, he illuminated them with a pillar of fire. That way, they could travel day and night.  The pillar of cloud never failed to guide the people during the day nor the pillar of fire during the night”. Exodus 13:20-21

Immigrating becomes a life lesson of learning to Trust in God. “When I am afraid I put my trust in You” Psalm 56:3. It seems like a simple message. But those of us who suffer from anxiety know that it really is not that simple. It is a daily battle that we have to fight. But it is also an opportunity to learn to trust in God, not in people, not in our money, not in ourselves, but in God.

It can help us if we remember that when we were children and we were scared we ran into the arms of our parents. Our children may do that with us right now. In the same way, we must run into the arms of our Heavenly Father and find comfort in Him, and guidance for this new beginning. The more scared we are, the more opportunity we have to seek our Heavenly Father. Let us run into his arms. If perhaps you have not been so close to Him, then this is a perfect opportunity to get to know Him in His Word (God’s letters of Love to you). When we are most vulnerable and needy, then His Word will be a balm for our hearts and minds. We are going to be able to rest in His arms.

Resting in God means trusting Him. Trusting that if God solved my main problem, which is my salvation, of course he will be able to solve any problem or situation that the Immigration experience will bring. That is exactly what He want us to do, to trust him in every situation whether it is small or big. Then we are going to feel his Peace in our hearts and minds regarding any circumstances. Like God reminds us in his word:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Here are some PRACTICAL IDEAS:

  1. Identify your fears… “I am afraid of….” Pay attention to your “ What If…?”
  2. Share your fears. Talk to someone who is only willing to listen, without judging you… It is also possible to seek professional help if you feel it is necessary.
  3. Learn to confront your anxiety related thoughts. Understand that although I am afraid of… it does not mean that it will really happen.
  4. Ask yourself the question, “what is the worst thing that can happen?” Think that even when something bad happens God will be there too, helping us with solutions, giving us the strength and patience to endure any difficulties. We even has His promise He will use everything (good and bad) for the good of those who love Him.( Romans 8:28). Then we learn to rest in Him.
  5. Make a list of priorities, focusing on each of them, one at a time. It is like putting together a puzzle, one step at a time: school, home, work, etc.
  6. Choose a verse (or several) that will be your anchor for moments of anxiety. You can even memorize it. I heard one day that there are 365 verses in the Bible that talk about anxiety.
  7. Ask people close to you to pray for you.
  8. Remember self-care: in all aspects: mind, body and spirit. Strengthen your devotional life with your family, read the Bible, pray, go to church.
  9.  Take some time to do a physical activity that you like. Remember anxiety stays in the body. When we feel tense, we can even get sick because it weakens our immune system.
  10. Learn breathing and relaxation techniques.
  11. Sleep well.
  12. Avoid unhealthy coping skills. These are things like drinking alcohol in excess, substance abuse, emotional eating.

It is my prayer for you that this experience of immigrating becomes an opportunity to learn to trust and rest in God, in His plan, in the Holy Spirit that guides us making decisions, and that you live each day with your heart full of HIS PEACE, in the middle of all the uncertainties.

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This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series The Immigrant Experience