This Lenten journey of 2020 will be forever written in our minds, won’t it?
Lent is a time for retreat, and we have been catapulted into near reclusion. An infinitesimally small virus has brought global economies to a halt, has closed schools, churches and public places around the globe, has quarantined entire megacities, closed borders, prompted widespread panic and shuttered countless businesses.
People are afraid.
Some of us may find it hard to embrace the words of Jesus in what is known as the high-priestly prayer of John 14:27:
“My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid “.
How can we possibly NOT be troubled right now? What changes are going to happen this week – gosh – today, that will change our new reality? On journeys that are so bizarre and unfamiliar, peace is hard to come by.
When two colleagues and I visited Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo last July, it was right at the apex of the Ebola outbreak in the Kivu Province. We were troubled and indeed, a bit afraid. I learnt many important lessons during the few days that we were there, but none more important than this: The local church is the very best means to help heal a broken world. Pastors and church leaders were looked to as role models. Vital support was being channeled to people who were isolated. Care was provided to the families of the sick. Communities of resilience grew and were known for their faithful (yet cautious) presence in the midst of darkness. The congregants didn’t need to meet together to be the church. We learnt new communal disciplines.
Like most of our Christian communities, one of the disciplines we are practicing at CBM is to very intentionally ask ourselves how to care deeply and offer peace and hope to the “other” in these odd times. And we push our minds to think much more broadly – past the elderly folks in our churches. Or the single Mom across street. And the convalescing couple who had to rush back from their trip down south.
All of us have reason to be thankful for health care and emergency services workers presently. Yes, please care for them, and show them God’s peace at this time.
But what about the “other” around the world? A family living in a refugee camp in northern Kenya whose aid has been stopped because the transport systems into the region have been suspended? The partners in Lebanon who are unable to access banks, even though they want so much to continue to implement their programmes. Or the pastor of the house-church in China who has courageously distributed rice and soap to his local community?
We have also been considering how to support and encourage our field staff during this time. Most are in self-isolation, whether in the Philippines, Thailand, Bolivia or Hong Kong. Their plans have been turned upside down as well. Some of them have adult children here in Canada. And they find themselves an ocean away. Others are trying to figure out how to minister without the face-to-face contact they are used to, especially in places where internet access is non-existent or so unreliable. We are doing everything we can to support them and assure them in these uncertain times.
As disruptive and potentially threatening as COVID-19 may be, it will also be another means with which God can forge us into new levels of faithfulness, generosity, love and commitment.
Canadian Baptist Ministries
Allow me to leave you with these beautiful words from the Iona Community in Scotland:
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
With the beckoning and dawning of another day,
can the fragile, yet extraordinary words of Jesus
propel us to a wider awareness
a gentler compassion?
To the rediscovery of the sacred in ourselves and in our world.
To that risk-taking place
where we are free to be aware?
To a different journey
in a listening companionship
with these prophets of our time –
the wounded and weary
who, amazingly, announce the Kingdom
and carry in their stories
the seeds of the morrow?
The ‘hidden ones’ whose joy and pain
when threaded through our lives
enlarges the heart and brings new meaning to God’s story.
The God whose light still shines, and who tenderly invites us
to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Anna Briggs, The Iona Community