Checkpoint Autumn 2022: Discipling through lockdown
Posted on: 28th February 2022
Both Frances Cook and Stefanie Overhall (with her husband Chris) serve with CMS in Chile, and both have needed to work out what discipleship looks like during lockdown when meeting face-to-face became difficult or impossible. Read on to discover how God worked through the challenges.
The COVID pandemic in Chile has been long and hard. There were 18 continuous months of curfew. The first five months saw us in total lockdown. With a digital permit we could go out to shop twice a week but there were no permits to go out for exercise. Many people have had COVID, and everyone knows people who have died from it. Cautiously, classes and small meetings—including church services—began only late in 2021.
But God has not been quarantined.
I live in a condominium of ten 3-storey buildings set in a small, grassed area. Early on, many of the people who work on maintaining the buildings and grounds were not able to come, so we, the residents, had to start raking leaves, cleaning the stairways and so on, which required us to cooperate and get to know each other.
An elderly neighbour on my floor contracted COVID and suffered a brutally isolated death in hospital. His widow Laurita, of 60 years’ marriage, was also sick and immediately shut inside her flat to do her grieving in total solitude. We spoke on the phone every day and, as a committed Roman Catholic, she allowed me to pray with her often.
Once she was better and restrictions eased a little, her fear of learning YouTube and Zoom meant that she would sometimes come and join church with me, via Zoom, which she loved. Laurita, who had become much more ‘religious’ after a family tragedy early in her marriage, now listened very attentively to the sermon, loved connecting with others for 10 minutes after the service and would always offer me a brief and remarkably accurate summary of the sermon. After one on the book of Joshua, she reflectively repeated something the preacher had said just once: “Jesus is our promised land.”
A unique gospel opportunity
The pandemic and subsequent lockdown have meant that I now know many more people in the condominium too. Though not all appreciated it, I would always share the link to our services in the condominium WhatsApp group, (created in response to the pandemic to help us stay in touch). I know of only one or two other people who would sometimes watch it, but one lady joined me in recent face-to-face services and more frequently in my home group. Praise God! Due to her own religious loyalties and family pressures not to meet with many people, Laurita has not come to church with me since we began meeting in person. However, a very dear friend, with whom I sometimes prayed on the phone, has offered to ring her sometimes during my current time of Home Assignment in Australia. God is Lord over COVID.
Meeting church leaders at an outdoor park for the first time after a long lockdown.
One-to-one Bible reading has long been a passion of mine, and this didn’t change when we moved to serve in Chile three and a half years ago. I’m convinced that God’s word gives us everything we need for salvation and a godly life. So, it just makes sense that Christian women share life and spur each other on with a Bible open in front of them.
Arriving in Chile with no Spanish meant that I couldn’t hit the ground running. But I thank God for providing my friend Mely, who approached me to read the Bible together! We decided to read the Bible in Spanish and discuss it in English and were meeting fortnightly before the COVID pandemic hit.
Bible-reading ‘Phone a friend’
With tough lockdowns and schools closed, it soon became apparent that much of my ministry would be at home with my three kids. Although my capacity for ministry outside of the home was greatly reduced, I knew I could commit to a weekly phone call.
So, over the last 18 months Mely and I have been reading the Bible over the phone on Thursdays after lunch. We usually catch up on life, read the passage and discuss it verse by verse. We finish by praying through what we’ve learnt and anything else that’s going on. I don’t prepare before our meetings, because I don’t see myself as the ‘leader’ in this context. We’re simply two Christian women who open the word and listen to what God has to say.
What a privilege it’s been to pop in my earbuds, grab a cuppa and share God’s word with my friend each week.
Mely has gone through some huge life events over the last couple of years, including marriage and the birth of her first child. She’s had a close shave with COVID and we’ve both struggled with living under strict restrictions. Yet each of these experiences has been informed and shaped by the word of God. The Psalms have taught us to cry out to the Lord in hardship and await his salvation. The Old Testament prophet, Joel reminded us of God’s righteous judgement and made us even more thankful for Jesus’ saving work. The letter of James revealed our sinful hearts and spurred us on to live with wisdom and integrity.
You don’t have to be an expert to read the Bible with a friend and you don’t even have to be physically present! I challenge you to invite a friend to read the Bible with you and see the blessings that flow into both of your lives.
Frances, Stefanie and other CMS missionaries would be greatly encouraged to hear of CMS friends in Australia putting some of their examples into practice. As Stefanie says: “I challenge you to invite a friend to read the Bible with you and see the blessings that flow.” You can even contact Stefanie here to share what you are doing in response to her challenge.