Okay, I confess: I used to hate winter. Even as recently as the 2012-2013 winter, I would often mutter under my breath “I hate winter! I hate winter! I hate winter!” I have never liked winter, not even as a child (though I admit I was more tolerant toward it then than as an adult).
I grew up in Niagara Falls, New York and returned there after leaving the Navy in 1992. From October 2001 until January 2013, I lived in Buffalo, New York, which is about 20 miles (just over 32 kilometres) south of the city of my childhood. Winters there aren’t all that bad (despite the undeserved reputation to the contrary, thanks to a major blizzard in 1977 where snow drifts buried entire houses).
In fact, the winters there since the beginning of the 21st century have been milder than normal – except, of course, for a few brief storms. (The one around November 22, 2000; the more than seven feet or two metres over a three-day period at Christmas 2001; and the freak “October Surprise” that started on Friday, October 13, 2006 and knocked out the power throughout much of Western New York, for weeks in some areas). We experienced nothing like people in such places as International Falls, Minnesota or parts of Montana and Wyoming experienced. Even some parts of New York State (like the area at the eastern end of Lake Ontario) experienced worse winters than we did.
Still, I was a winter-hater. Having spent most of my adult life in much warmer climates because of my Navy career, my body had acclimated to those warmer regions. Japan, where I spent two years while stationed aboard my first ship, had winter weather, but it was nothing like what I had experienced growing up in Western New York. South Korea was bitterly cold during the few port visits there in March after participating in an annual joint US-South Korea military exercise, but those port visits didn’t last more than about a week. Everywhere else I had been – Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Southern California, Hawaii, Diego Garcia, and Bahrain – was much warmer. Returning to Western New York (after leaving the Navy in 1992) and experiencing the winter weather I had grown up with took some getting used to. Frankly, I never did, especially as a condition I had grown out of before starting Kindergarten returned: asthma.
When my asthma returned sometime around 1996, I found cold weather particularly difficult to deal with. Once the temperature got below 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 Celsius), I would have trouble breathing. If there was more than a slight breeze, my lungs would actually hurt. I also had occasional asthma attacks. Still, though, my asthma was a fairly mild condition. By about the winter of 2010-2011, I was better able to handle winter weather, though I still experienced occasional pain in my lungs, shortness of breath and a few asthma attacks. During the winters of 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, my asthma was practically asymptomatic. In fact, I had no asthma symptoms at all during the mild 2012-2013 winter.
During those years, I had the opportunity to travel a bit. I went on a short-term mission trip to Ecuador in 2009. The air was a bit thin in Quito, which caused some breathing problems, but the air was easier to breathe when we went to much lower elevations into the jungle to work with the Qechua tribe. I loved the warm weather, though.
Also in 2009, I started participating in an alternative teacher certification program in Texas and traveled to San Antonio several times in September-November that year to do some of the course work. I really enjoyed the warm, not-very-humid climate there. San Antonio is now one of my favorite cities and is one of the cities where I wouldn’t mind working as an educator in the public schools.
In May-June 2006, I spent a month in Bandung, Indonesia teaching English to 3-6-year-olds at a Christian school there. I enjoyed the experience so much that I didn’t want to leave, but God used that event to show me what He had planned for my future (more about that a bit later). In November-December 2009, I went to Costa Rica to participate in an immersion Spanish language course. In 2010 and 2011, I had opportunities to travel to other warm locales: Laredo, El Paso, Brownsville, and Amarillo, Texas – I especially loved the dry climate of West Texas and would very much like to teach in the Rio Grande Valley. I also went to the Dominican Republic to tour a cigar factory and I spent a week in Mexico City just to practice my Spanish.
I would often comment to people “Give me 95 degrees” (Fahrenheit, 35 degrees Celsius) “and 30 percent humidity and I’m a happy camper.” People back home in Western New York would complain about the summer weather, especially if it occasionally got up into the 90s Fahrenheit (32-37 Celsius). Granted, it could get a bit humid (in the 70-100 percent range), which made it a bit more difficult to bear, but I loved it and spent as much time outside as I could.
So, what changed to make me an ex-winter-hater? Well, God had been preparing me since at least 2006 to serve Him in tentmaker ministry overseas. After the previous mentioned month I spent teaching English that year in Indonesia, the Lord put me into preparation mode. Then, in June 2008, He sent me to my current home church, an independent Reformed church in Buffalo, New York called Refreshing Springs Church, and it was there that I underwent most of my preparation for my current work. Yet, while I knew the Lord was preparing me spiritually and vocationally, I didn’t know He was also preparing my physical body.
Earlier in this article, I mentioned my history as a winter-hater and the issues I had with winter weather. However, God was doing a work in my body and, during the winters of 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, my asthma was practically asymptomatic. In fact, I had no asthma symptoms at all during the mild 2012-2013 winter. When I went outside during the winter of 2012-2013, I often went out in just a light jacket and was perfectly comfortable. What was God doing? I wondered.
I had obtained, or so I thought, a job in Africa. Actually, I had previously applied – or so I thought – for a job in Cameroon, but that turned out to be a scam. Anyway, I had subsequently applied for a job in Nigeria and everything seemed legitimate. I even had a copy of a visa (that I had just received around the time I left my job with the Social Security Administration in early January 2013). I was waiting for my electronic plane ticket that the employer was going to send. I had only left my job the day before I was supposed to fly out. I moved out of my apartment and into a hotel. After trying to deal with the agent handling all the flight details, I managed to contact the school (whose actual letter head was on the paperwork I had received regarding the job). The school informed me that it hadn’t hired anyone and that I was the victim of a scam. So, here I was unemployed and, technically, homeless.
Thankfully, my friend, Tim (at whose wedding I was best man), asked his father if I could stay with him (Tim had been taking care of his dad, who was no longer able to care for himself). So, I was no longer homeless. I spent the next six months staying with Tim’s dad and taking care of him part of the time while Tim was at work (which allowed Tim to save some money on a home health aide, who now only came in for the mornings during the workweek).
Now, mind you, I like being alone. I like my alone time perhaps way too much. What was God doing putting me in a situation where I had to live with other people? This was taking me way outside my comfort zone. This was, of course, part of the preparation work God was putting me through. I didn’t like it, but I submitted to it while continuing to wonder what exactly God had planned for me.
So, as I said earlier, when I went outside during that winter, I often went out in a light jacket and was perfectly comfortable. I had no breathing problems at all and didn’t consider the weather particularly cold. What was God doing to me? I wondered.
As soon as I went to live with Tim’s dad, I wasted no time looking for work – both locally and overseas. An opportunity came to take a job in Tajikistan. I hadn’t considered Central Asia before. After going back and forth with the employer over the contract, the details of which I wasn’t entirely comfortable with, and after reading about the persecution of Christians in that country, I really didn’t want to take that job. When I had been learning about tentmaker ministry, and how tentmakers could go where “professional missionaries” (people who are sent by missions agencies and supported by donations from churches and individuals) couldn’t go, I wondered if God was sending me to such a place. I really had to question whether I was ready to go. Was I really willing to trust God if He sent me to a place where Christians are persecuted (as in imprisoned and even killed by the government)? I resisted.
Then, I took the opportunity to further my education by obtaining a graduate certificate in Global Studies, which focused on cross-cultural communications and was essentially an intensive missions training course. I graduated from that program in May 2013 with a 4.0 GPA.
During all this time I was applying and interviewing for various positions. A school in South Korea wanted me, but it couldn’t pay much and would have preferred I raise my own support; so, I turned it down. An employment agency in Spain had something in the works for me, but it was taking too long and wasn’t particularly responsive. I didn’t receive positions in Japan and Indonesia that I had interviewed for. Meanwhile, I had also applied for a position in Kazakhstan. I don’t know why I applied for that position. It was in Central Asia and it was a country where Christians have reportedly been persecuted. As I had been going through my graduate certificate program, though, I decided that I wasn’t going to resist going to wherever God was sending me. So, I told the Lord I would go wherever He sends me and meant it. No more resisting. God is sovereign and I’m not! I’m His to do with as He pleases.
So, toward the end of May, I was informed that I had been accepted for the position in Kazakhstan. There was some visa processing I had to do, after which I could obtain my flight (which the employer would later reimburse up to 800 dollars). Everything was coming together. The very day I received my visa delivered by FedEx at the door of where I was staying, I arranged my flight to Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana. I arrived there on June 28, 2013. A representative from my employer met me at the airport and took me to my apartment, then to the language school where I would be working.
Okay, what does any of that have to do with being an ex-winter-hater? Well, not long after I arrived at the language school, my colleagues and some of my students started telling me about what winters were like there. They told what I would have considered horror stories about temperatures going below -40 Celsius (it’s at -40 that the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales meet; it’s the same temperature for both). I admit I was a bit concerned. I definitely had to buy appropriate clothing for that kind of weather and, once October rolled around, I was able to start getting what I needed. Emotionally, though, I wasn’t sure I was ready to face such brutal winters. I’d never experienced anything like that before.
We had our first snow fall in late September, then nothing for most of October. It was steadily getting colder since then. We started getting winter weather right around the first of December (my neighbor and friend, Yersultan, who is trying to practice his English, said that winter had started that day; though I told him that winter doesn’t officially start until December 21). Temperatures weren’t as bad as I had thought they were going to be. Through most of December, temperatures were unseasonably warm, barely going below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (just below -18 Celsius). For a few days, it did get down closer to “normal” for Astana – hovering around -30 Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit), but even that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, especially as there wasn’t much wind to go with it. We’ve had a few days below -30 Celsius and it once got to -37 Celsius (almost -35 Fahrenheit). As I write this, it’s reportedly supposed to get down to -36 Celsius later tonight (almost -33 Fahrenheit) – down significantly from the very balmy -2 Celsius (just above 28 Fahrenheit) last night.
Wait! Did I just describe -2 Celsius as balmy? Amazingly, I’ve been finding this winter weather quite tolerable – even when it was in the -30s Celsius. God had prepared my spiritually and vocationally to come here, but what really surprises me is how He has prepared me physically and emotionally for this place. It isn’t the coldest place on the planet, but it is the world’s second coldest capital.
I’ve been razzing my family and friends back in the States because of the unusually cold (for them) winter they’ve been having this year. Maybe I’ve been having a bit too much fun at their expense. However, what I’ve been experiencing this winter has convinced me that I’m no longer a winter-hater. I can now confidently confess that I’m an ex-winter-hater – not someone who’s ready to start taking up winter sports (not that I particularly like sports, other than watching an occasional football, aka soccer, match), but someone who definitely finds the weather tolerable even when it hits -40.
To God goes all the praise and thanks for His work in me. Even when I struggle with what He has for me, He remains faithful. (“if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself” – 2 Timothy 2:13 ESV) What does the future hold? I don’t know. My contract here ends this coming June. I will stay here as long as He wants me here. If it’s His will that I stay, my contract here will be renewed or I will receive employment with another school. If not, He will open a door elsewhere. That is, of course, unless Christ returns to take His Church home by then.