It seems like everywhere you turn, and every webpage you visit, likens to the old camp song where at the end of every stanza, you say, “Second verse, same as the first.” The reality of COVID-19 – both its current state and the fear of what is to come – has thrown us into a new reality. I have heard some say that this will be the event that will define this generation. Just like the 9-11 tragedy, the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, the Assassination of JFK and others, we will always remember where we were when we first heard the news. Of course, in this case, the question won’t be “Where were you when you heard?”, it might more accurately be “During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was quarantined at [enter your location here].”
I was walking to the store this morning (March 26) and I was pulling my carry-on luggage and a travel backpack. This is because in Bolivia, where our family lives and serves as Global Servants with International Ministries, the government has mandated a health emergency where we can only leave our homes one morning a week, in hopes of stopping the virus’ spread. I was thinking on my long walk to the store about how this situation is unfolding globally and realizing that we are simply walking into uncharted territory. We are shifting from one reality into another that is scary, foreign and different. This is why people all over the majority world (poorer countries around the globe) are having such a hard time with what is going on around them. It is also why, if we are all honest with ourselves, that we are all struggling with where we are and where we will go from here. While processing this reality, I was also surprised that I personally am not that overly concerned with it. Yes, I am stressed and at times not handling it well, but that wasn’t the case for this particular moment. Why??
It was at this point I realized that as a Global Servant living in a different country, my family and many others like us have been dealing with the challenge of facing new realities from the time we began our work in a different country. For some, the moment they returned to the US where things had changed while we had been gone were equally difficult periods, if not even more so. We have been living in a multiverse of realities (as a family) for over a decade, and it is proving to help us maintain perspective during times like these. With that said, permit me to share a few things that have helped us to navigate our own new realities and how God could use this global pandemic we are currently experiencing to do amazing things for His glory.
Here are some things we have learned over the years to help us cope with the changes:
Early on in our preparation to live cross-culturally, we went through a cultural training course to help us adapt to our new environment. One thing that we learned there was that just because something is different doesn’t mean it is wrong. We have encountered things in cultures over time that we thought were weird, bad or sometimes just plain strange. This phrase helped us put into perspective how privileged our lives were, as well as realize that all cultures should be respected. Just because they didn’t do it “our way” didn’t make it wrong. No, I am not saying that this pandemic isn’t bad or trivializing the situation, here. I am also not riffing about governmental response or lack thereof depending on the country you are reading this from. I will leave the politics to the would-be pandemic and political experts on social media. I am saying that adaptation to our new reality is a big part of navigating the stress of it.
Many times we walk into new situations and try to make them conform to our will, when this can prove to be the opposite of what we should pursue. Instead, we should live in that moment and invite the Holy Spirit to show us how to share his love and grace within it. Even if it is confusing and scary, we must trust that God will open doors so we can find common ground and lead people to Him in the midst of it.
Another tool we learned was called “yay duck, yuck duck.” This tool acknowledges
that every decision that we make will have both a positive and a negative side to it. In our first few years we would often sit down as a family to talk about the two ducks. For a time, we even had 2 ducks sitting in our home to remind us that every situation has a good and bad side. Picture it like this, the yay duck is this perfectly pristine rubber ducky, and the yuck duck is beat-up and dirty. For example:
This just helped us keep things in perspective and engage with both sides of the story. The Holy Spirit can use this tool to help us have empathy for others in hard moments and to be compassionate when seeing what is going on in the world around us. It gives a minute to pause and reflect.
This is when the draw for the comfort of our home culture begins to overtake the desire to be present where we are. We all go through this (anyone who says they don’t isn’t paying attention). The important thing about embracing a new reality is realizing that it is a process, that life really will go on, and we will come out on the other side of it.
Think of it like this, we are going from one mountain to another and culture shock is the swinging bridge in the middle. When we get to the low point of that bridge, things seem wobbly, scary and the potential for peril seems inevitable, but if we just keep moving forward, soon we will begin to come out on the other end safely. Coming out of it is what we are seeing happen all over the internet as the Holy Spirit is using this time to give us some space to be creative in communication, worship, et cetera.
We are seeing companies who are usually completely driven by profits give their services away for free. We are seeing factories get creative about what they do and retool their work so that they can produce much needed medical supplies in new and innovative ways. Despite and in the midst of this global crisis, we are in many ways seeing the best of ourselves. All we needed to do was just slow down and look. This is a reaction to culture shock. Sadly, for many others around us, they could become paralyzed by fear in the middle of the journey and turn back. This is where we need to keep up with our friends and loved ones and share our love for them, finding ways to stay connected and walk this bridge together to the other side.
Don’t forget what you bring with you. One of the best pieces of advice we received is that you bring your own “stuff” to your moments of crisis and transition. As we come to new realities, that “stuff” can get amplified if we lose our focus on Christ and his love. We can much more easily be overtaken by moments of insecurity and vulnerability if we aren’t maintaining our connection to God. If a person comes into these moments with fear, it can and will become like an uncontrollable brush fire under our own power. It may have started with a spark in good conditions, but now it’s out of control. If we come to this moment with some sin we are hiding, a lack of focus on God in this new culture and reality can cause us to rely on an old destructive habit because of our desire for familiarity. Pretty soon, we could find ourselves down a rabbit hole we can’t climb back out of. In this time of a new reality developing before our eyes, we need to keep connected with God and his family as a means of accountability and protection. This protection isn’t necessarily from the coronavirus, but from the viral reality of the temptations that we have within us and we are even more vulnerable to during this time.
Love to all in Christ in the time of COVID-19,
J.D. and Rhonda Reed