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Pandemic fatigue: Checkpoint Winter 2021

CMS missionary Gillian Law works alongside university students in Italy. As one of the countries hit early and hard by COVID, Gillian and others have encountered both opportunity and fatigue. 

Italy was one of the first countries to be severely hit by the pandemic. What started as isolation of a few towns in the north became closure of all universities and schools, followed shortly by a national lockdown. 

Although some students were afraid, lockdown responses were mixed: solidarity for the sake of the country, enthusiasm because of the novelty, and a general belief that the situation would be resolved within a few months.  

An unquarantined gospel 

Gruppi Biblici Universitari (GBU), which exists to minister the gospel among university students in Italy responded with this principle:

the gospel cannot be quarantined.

Working with tech savvy youth, it was not hard to move ministries online. Soon one-to-one Bible reading, prayer meetings, and weekly Bible studies were on screen. GBU held national prayer evenings, apologetics talks, and our national conference, all online. 

We discovered benefits. Rome is large and transport is poor, so when we moved online, we saw people participating in GBU who hadn’t joined before.  Sofia’s* timetable clashed with the Bible study at her uni. She was able to participate at another campus without needing to travel.  

Camilla, a non-believer in her final year, loved reading the Bible but had stopped, and left the GBU. Thanks to the lockdown she was able to return, simply by logging in from home. She said, “How good is it to read the Bible in a year of great anxiety?” 

Andrew, an international student, joined us for the first time during lockdown, having found us via social media.

Fatigue 

But as the pandemic has continued, fatigue has set in. 

We can’t drink coffee or eat together—both crucial for social engagement in Italy. We can’t do the chit-chat that informally builds relationships among us. Some students have been around for a year now, but I only know them as faces on a screen. There are students I haven’t seen since 2019. We’ve lost students who don’t want to attend another online meeting. First years haven’t met their classmates and so haven’t grasped the vision to share the gospel with uni friends. 

How tempting it is at this time to believe that success in ministry is based on appearance: good numbers, flashy events, chatter on social media. Instead, I’m reminded that the God who leaves 99 sheep to look for the one who is lost, rejoices when one person takes steps in the direction towards Christ.  

Francesca contacted two friends to ask them to read the Bible with her. Of the two, Antonio has joined the weekly Bible study via Zoom. He has many questions! 

Jenny, an international student from a closed Asian country has taken the opportunity while in Italy to investigate Christianity. We connect weekly to read John’s gospel.  

Struggle with rejoicing 

Life this side of heaven will always be characterised by struggle. We recently studied the prophet Habakkuk, and while his context was very different, we asked, like him, “How long O Lord?” With him we too have learned to say, “Though the fig tree does not bud, and there is no fruit on the vines” (Habakkuk 3:17-18) … and we can’t meet together, and passing exams online is too hard, and our parents have lost their jobs, and a relative has died from COVID—yet we will rejoice in the God of our salvation. 

CARE

A hand-written note or card is a rare joy when all are forced onto their screens. Consider writing a personal card or letter to one of the missionaries you are praying for.