Almost six years ago we decided to immigrate from South Africa to New Zealand to plant a church. We clearly heard God to leave – we had nothing against South Africa and loved the country, but we loved God more and wanted to go where He needed us for a season. We really had to trust Him to open all the doors for us to go. Financially we were not well off – we owned a run down, half- renovated home that we had felt God tell us to buy the year before we left. We worked exceptionally hard on our home as all renovations had to be done by ourselves as we had no cashflow. We fixed the leaking roof and repainted it, put up new gutters and replaced numerous broken windows. We stripped off layers and layers of enamel paint on the walls, knocked down walls and rebuilt walls. We worked day and night to get it ready. God even brought a buyer to our door before it was complete and the house was sold on condition that certain things were finished. We finished sealing the wooden floors the day we left town. Hubby and I painted ourselves out of the door, we locked up and handed the keys over to the new owner. That was how we left town – no time for sadness – pure exhaustion and relief to be finished on time was a blessing. When we flew out of South Africa one of the hardest things was asking our family not to be at the airport for a tearful and long goodbye. We wanted our children to be happy and excited about the next adventure in our lives as we had prepared them for this, so all goodbyes were done in advance of leaving.
Immigrating had its challenges for us, as technically we weren’t immigrating but going to New Zealand as tourists. We did not have our residency at that point and we were going just trusting God to open the doors for us. We arrived in NZ with a suitcase and a sleeping bag each. The first thing we did was to open a bank account and buy a car. We had enough money from our house sale to buy a second hand car and to live for a few weeks. Fortunately the church we came from were still paying us a salary for a few months. Then the paperwork chase began to get work visas to be in the country. There were many challenges and nail- biting moments, but we never doubted that God had called us here and that He would open a door for us.
Immigrating to a new country, whatever the reason might be, can be stressful. I remember shopping the first few times – I couldn’t find half the products as they were packaged differently. The items that were cheap in SA weren’t necessarily cheap here and so I had to change the way I shopped and try new products. The bread aisle alone was an education. In SA we got to choose from white bread, brown bread or wholewheat bread but now I was assailed with white, wheatmeal, wholegrain, soy and linseed, barley and oats, multigrain and many more varieties. Who knew that buying bread could be overwhelming.
The other thing that was different for us was the people we connected with. Whenever we saw an African person who spoke an African language we would just about fling our arms around them in glee as there were so few of them. Some of our best friends in the early days were people we met in the immigration office and we would find ourselves sitting in their homes eating a traditional Zambian meal with our fingers – probably something we would never have done in SA.
Everything is different for you when you immigrate – but not in a negative way. Yes it takes time to meet people, but then again you make more of an effort with people you meet as you need to connect with people. Your mind is broadened to new ways of doing things and seeing things and it can be very refreshing if you allow it to be. We learned that actually people are obsessed with possessions in SA – the car you drive is very important and the home you have etcetera are all status symbols there. It was very refreshing for us that very few people here worry about those things. The first time I went into an opportunity/thrift shop to buy some clothes for the kids I felt embarrassed to be shopping this way (nobody buys 2nd hand clothes in SA) but actually I discovered what a good idea this was and got some amazing clothing for next to nothing. This is still one of my favourite ways to shop today. A key to successfully immigrating in my opinion is to not always look back at where you came from. I don’t mean lose your heritage, but to constantly be comparing what you had there and what you have now will frustrate you. The reality when you immigrate is this – for a season you will probably have to start over to a degree and have a bit less than you had, but the benefits after a couple of years begin to really pay off. People who constantly speak about where they are from and complain about where they are now are painful to everyone around them. Remember that you chose to immigrate – get out and about and explore your new city, country. We would spend heaps of time discovering all sorts of places in and around our city. We would always be bemused when we met locals who hadn’t even travelled across the city. Another thing I did before we left SA was to surf the internet looking at pictures of the city we were going to and houses to get an idea of where and how we would be living – this was hugely helpful.
I wouldn’t change anything about our lives – I do miss family and friends, but with the internet these days, they are able to talk to you with skype, email you news and photos – it makes it all a lot easier to keep in touch.