I’m Tunmise Owotomo, a student leader with CSPC missions partner Bridges International at UT, and this is how I’ve been living deeply.
There were people all around me, but I’d never felt so alone. It was my first night at UT Knoxville this past August, and I was at orientation- I didn’t know anyone or have any friends. I was sitting there in this big arena for Torch Night, and I’ve never felt as lonely as I felt that night. I called Kathy Dolson, whose home I live in, to come pick me up because I didn’t want to be there. I remember crying so hard when I got home, and Kathy was just there with me offering comfort and prayer. Kathy would always pray over me every morning when she was driving me to school. Even though I drive myself now, she still does that- still sends me prayers every morning. I’m so grateful I have that support system in Kathy & her husband Darin. How I came to live with them is quite a story. I first came to the U.S. in March of this year. My mom, who’s worked as a nurse for 22 years, got a nursing job offer in Johnson City. She had the opportunity to bring the entire family along, so all four of us came- my parents, my brother, and me. It had been my parents’ dream to live in America, but I didn’t want to move. I’d lived in Nigeria my whole life. I was going to my dream college there, was part of the student government, had a lot going for me. Leaving everything I’d worked for to start a new life was very upsetting. I like to be certain, to feel like I’m in control. So through this transition, the Lord’s been teaching me to trust Him more- I feel like I’ve been stepping out of the boat for my ‘walking on water’ moment. Most of my friends back in Nigeria, we shared the same faith and had common ground. Here, I didn’t know anyone, so it was very lonely, especially at first; very, very hard. But God’s brought people my way and my family’s way. We met a family from Congo at our church in Johnson City- they helped us finish our house and took us to church before we got a car. I was grateful for this form of community. God showed up. I didn’t have friends my age, but I saw Him showing up in this other way.
It was a priority for me to start school here as quickly as I could (I’m studying electrical engineering), and I got a late admission to UT. I knew I couldn’t afford to live on campus- by the time I was admitted, most of the scholarship applications had ended. Housing was also literally already full. I was still looking for housing about three weeks before the semester started, and it was a trying period. At one point I was like, ‘God, if I do not find housing, I’m going to commute from Johnson City every day to Knoxville!’ I didn’t know how to drive yet, so I didn’t know how I was going to do that! I didn’t know how God would provide, but I prayed about it. And each time I prayed, it felt like God was telling me I was going to live with a family. Of course, I didn’t know anyone, so I didn’t take it that seriously. Things were looking bleak, and my parents suggested reaching out to the Congalese family we’d connected with at church, thinking maybe they’d know someone in Knoxville. It turns out this family volunteered with Bridges International at East Tennessee State- they said they didn’t really know anyone that well, but they’d pass along my contact info. Not long after, I got a text: ‘I’m Kathy with Bridges International at UT- do you want to meet up for coffee?’ Kathy reaches out to international students like me all the time, but she didn’t know about my bleak housing outlook. I was like, ‘I’d love to meet up for coffee, but I’m not in Knoxville. I’m still looking for housing. So maybe we can hang out when I find it.’ A day or two later, I got a text from her asking, ‘Would you like to come live with us?’ I said, ‘Yes, if it could work, I’d like that.’ We Face Timed that night- I saw the room I’d live in and thought how nice it was, but I had a budget and feared it would be too expensive. We talked about pricing briefly, then she texted me the next day- what she suggested I pay was well below my budget. I said, ‘Perfect!’ I remember crying because of the way God came through for me! It was beautiful to see firsthand how God can be so intentional with His children.
So I started living with Kathy & Darin- from the first time we met, it was like we’d known each other a long time. We get along very well- we often laugh together, and they took me to school before I got my driver’s license and car in October. Because I met Kathy & Darin, I know God has a purpose for me being in Knoxville. I haven’t totally found out what that purpose is -don’t know what the greater plan is- but I just know there’s something I’m meant to do here, and God is preparing me for it. I’m enjoying serving Him for the moment as one of the student leaders at Bridges- helping with events, helping Kathy & Darin, and just doing whatever is needed. I like living in the U.S. more than I did when I first came here. It’s not home to me yet, but days are getting better. I have people I can text, I’ve been meeting new friends and potential friends, so I think it’s getting a little easier with time. When I go through challenges, I remind myself: ‘The fact I’m living with Kathy & Darin is proof God wants me to be here. He provided this for me.’ And that’s really the bottom line for my whole time of transition so far. He’s showing up, growing me, and providing for my need. Of course it’s still hard, and I’m not sure when the answers to my big questions will come. But when I look back at the past several months, I mainly just think of how God is very faithful.