“You have ten days to leave the country.” I was shocked. There I stood, pregnant with our first child, excited about the future, and this government official was bringing it all to an end. What had we done? “You’re a risk to national security,” he said. Though I should have held my tongue, the words came quickly out of my mouth in Arabic: “I’m five months pregnant! How am I a risk to national security?” Unlike me, my husband, Raouf, didn’t argue. He knew it would do no good and could even make our situation worse. He thanked the man, and we left his office.
Heading straight to the home of our colleagues, we hugged, cried, and prayed, knowing the days ahead would be crazy and uncertain. We had so much to do to quickly bring closure to our two years in this precious land. While Raouf spent hours doing paperwork and arranging transportation for our belongings, I packed and poured my heart out to the Lord.
I wish I could tell you this would be our only move in twenty years of overseas service, but it wasn’t. I’ve experienced a lot of closed doors and can tell you this for certain: when one door closes, another opens. Knowing that fact does not remove the pain of the closure, but it does remind me of who’s in charge and helps me to accept the change of course.
Sometimes doors close before you can get into a country. Though our original appointment was to Lebanon, doors were closed to Americans at the time. We would live and serve in two other countries before we eventually arrived there, due to being kicked out of Syria. In my mind, I should have been excited that we were finally going to get to move in, but my heart was torn. I had fallen in love with another place and people; I wasn’t ready to leave yet, but we did—we had no other choice.
We crossed the border with our cat and my hormones raging. It was a place still recovering from years of civil war. Chaos ruled. Families who had been protecting mission property were displaced because of our arrival. No one seemed to want us there. What was God thinking?
As I wallowed in my grief, in a land I now saw as a place of exile, the Lord spoke to me out of Jeremiah 29. “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” This was the land in which I was to “build houses, settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters…” God was showing me that even when he leads us to a hard place, we are to live.
So, that’s what I did. Our four years in Lebanon were a season for me—the season of having babies and pouring into them. I had not one but two sons in that country, and when I look back, I realize the healthcare in my land of exile was so much better than the land of harvest. My husband had ministry opportunities there that allowed him to touch believers from across the region. We still had struggles, but we determined to put our hand to the plow of good deeds and harvest and not look back.
Then it happened—I settled. I became comfortable in Lebanon and thought we’d live there for the rest of our careers. We were preparing to move into an area of the country to better serve the majority, as soon as we returned from a short furlough. However, just weeks before we were to leave, our own organizational leadership asked us to move. What!? How could they?
They had good reasons, but I didn’t want to hear them. I stayed home and packed for an actual move to an unknown land, while my husband made a survey trip to one of the possible places we could go. While he was away, I came across a magazine about that land—it revealed there was no established church. That did it for me. We were needed there. God’s hand was in this. My husband returned and asked me what God had been saying before he shared about what he had seen. What I heard, he confirmed. We moved again. One door closed, another opened.
The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has probably closed doors for many of you in recent months. That door may have been just a wall of separation between you and the people you love, or it may have left you stuck either in your home country or a place you simply went on vacation. Sudden change is hard and can shake our faith until we realize that the shut door hasn’t separated us from the God who guides our steps.
Our biggest hurdle in facing some changes is coming to terms with the fact that we had no say in the matter. It’s a matter of control. When Scripture tells us to number our days, it doesn’t mean everything that happens in our lives should be neatly laid out in our daily planners. Rather, it means that He alone knows the number of our days; my job is to give each one to him, no matter what it brings.
When 2020 began, I wrote a prayer in my journal. It was full of expectation and hope at all God was doing in my life. I was looking forward to increased speaking engagements and upcoming books I’d write. Then, just like you experienced, everything that was good and hopeful stopped. But because I had thirty years of closed doors behind me, I recognized this for what it was—an opportunity to stop and see what God was doing.
While I had my own struggles during the pandemic, it also gave me the margin I needed for God to speak and work in my life. I was able to pivot and see that I had more time to write than ever before, since I work full-time as a librarian. Other activities were taken away, so my evenings were freer and quieter. I was able to work hard and actually finish a book on, of all things—closed doors. God has a sense of humor too.
When doors closed during my time overseas, I wasn’t always so willing to go through the next one, but God, in his patience, didn’t let that prevent me from seeing what he was doing in this new place and how he wanted me to join him there.
I don’t know where you are today. Maybe you’re standing in front of a closed door and don’t know what to do next, or you’ve been pushed through another and are floundering with loss of purpose. It’s also possible that you recognize a door needs to be closed, because this season in your life is changing. Wherever you are, remember that the One who led you through this first door continues to be by your side and even goes before you through each door ahead.
Rest in the knowledge that he has the big picture in view and only asks your obedience for the next good thing he opens before you.
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 31:21
Carol B. Ghattas has over thirty years of experience in cross-cultural ministry and has lived in five countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Now back in the United States, she maintains an active blog site, lifeinexile.net. She is a writer and speaker on missions, Islam, and other topics. Her newest book, When Doors Close: Changing Course in Missions Without Losing Your Way, is now available through online book distributors. For more information or to contact Carol, visit her website: lifeinexile.net.