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The decision to remain

CMS Worker Caroline is married to Warwick, who pastors an international church in the Middle East. Here Caroline talks about a hard decision: remain on location or return home. This article was written just before Easter. 

COVID-19 has changed all of our lives. Freedoms in my city have been reducing over the last weeks. We are now on lockdown and need a special permit to visit one of two options, the doctor or the supermarket. Otherwise we must remain indoors. We are thankful for air conditioning and our balcony, but it is heating up here, so we don’t spend much time out there, even though traffic noise is now minimal.  

Like minded workers in other contexts have made the difficult choice to return to Australia. As I have read their newsletters and Facebook posts about making the painful and often rushed decisions to return home or having been forced home by their sending organisation it has caused me to reflect on our situation which is very different to most of theirs.  

An Aussie friend in a neighbouring country agonised about ensuring they were home for a very important family wedding in June. I told her to go while she could, as I am now unable to leave my country of residence.  

Explaining the context 

Our context is strange because huge numbers of those living in our city are foreign workers. We are not the only ones who had the option to go home, but most here are unable to go for multiple reasons. A friend from the UK left a few weeks ago, fearful of getting stuck here, but left behind her husband. Others regret that they missed their chance.   

Many have lived here so long or have lived in so many places as long term expatriate workers, that home is not their country of birth, but wherever they currently live. I cannot recall anyone asking me if I planned to go ‘home’. Our life is here for now.  

There is a sense of unity among the community here, as we are almost all from somewhere else. For many, home is not safer than here. Our government has acted swiftly to keep the disease under control, and the numbers of infections and fatalities is lower here than almost every else  

My planned trip in April to see my mother, children and granddaughter is now impossible, if I could travel I would have two weeks self-isolation in Sydney, then would be unable to re-enter my country of residence.  Unlike many of our community here, my husband and I try not to be apart for more than two weeks  

We don’t feel trapped, but we have ageing parents who are vulnerable at this time, and we know we can’t get back if they become ill. We know we can’t get back for weddings, funerals or anything. We never expected that air travel would grind to a halt, and that so many countries would close their borders.  

Lots of things have gone online. Church has been broadcasting on Fridays for about a month since all meetings in churches and mosques have been stopped. Interestingly the call to prayer has been changed, and now reminds people to pray at home.  

As I write, we have been filming segments at home with our simple camera and phones to include in the broadcasts on Friday and Sunday this Easter weekend. Warwick had been asked to preach a short sermon on Sunday for our traditional sunrise service at the beach. With the lockdown, we have been getting up early this week, working out how to film him from our balcony in the early morning. This will get sent to another team member for editing.  

How church and life happen 

Warwick serves as a pastor on the team of a large international church. The pastors wives used to meet up every other week to pray together. Many of them now find themselves home schooling their children, so even meeting up online is difficult for us. We have come up with a prayer buddy system, where we each reach out to one other person every week. Every week we are chatting on the phone or through messaging and praying for each other and remaining connected.  

All of my activities that used to be face to face are online, our ESL outreach online, my women’s bible study group, and twice weekly conversations with the Spanish speaker from church that I tutor in English. 

It is wonderful to read stories and draw online with my nearly two-year-old granddaughter. Some evenings if we get the timing right, I read the Bible to her as I have one just like hers. I have more time to fill, and it has been lovely to be able to video chat with my Mum every day to break up the boredom of her increasing isolation.  

A crisis both thrilling and overwhelming 

This crisis is both thrilling and overwhelming. It is unstoppable, and driving me to my knees, but also it is our time to speak out. Like never before, followers of Jesus can speak about our confident hope that helps us to trust and resist feeling anxious and fearful. We have a powerful God, which means we do not need to feel powerless, and most certainly don’t need to fear death
 

PRAY 

Ask God to give opportunities for the gospel in the Middle East to go out in times of lockdown.