Beth* serves in Central Asia with her family. She shares about the impact the new coronavirus has had on her ministries and communities as well as the opportunities to provide physical and spiritual care during this time.
Women’s groups – fruit of lessons learnt in times of uncertainty
The areas where we run our women’s groups are on the outskirts of the city amongst the poor and marginalised. Here families and single mothers struggle to have enough food on the table at the best of times – so the new coronavirus pandemic has made the situation dire for many of them. Yet amid all this, we hear stories of hope as the women support each other and grow community through the crisis.
Over the past two years, ladies have been meeting together and learning lessons about how to live life well, with a focus on key relationships in their lives. In an inherently distrustful context, trust has been built as they have shared in each other’s stories and burdens. During the state of emergency, groups have not been allowed to meet, but the women are continuing to encourage each other to be strong and keep applying what they have learnt through messaging groups on their phones. They are checking up on each other and sharing their struggles as well as stories of how they are applying their newfound truths.
Aigul is a faithful member of our women’s group. She has four small children. Her husband was fortunate enough to have had a job as an informal taxi driver. Now with the state of emergency being enforced in the city, people are not allowed to move around, and the family has lost their only income. Aigul’s biggest stress is how she can keep on feeding her family during this time.
One of the lessons that was learnt recently was to acknowledge the stress that we are under and keep from putting it on to our children. With Aigul’s children at home due to schools in the city being shut, she has many opportunities to apply this new concept in parenting: “Before I would get very angry with my children. I would hit them and shout at them. Now I am trying very hard not to say bad words to them as I realise the stress is on me, not on them.”
The women are looking forward to meeting together again. For now, their biggest worry is how they are going to feed their children. Their joy is that they have a deep connection with their neighbours, so they are not going through the crisis alone.
Women’s groups – empowering self-care in crisis
With the global awareness of what isolation means, it has been wonderful seeing communities rally together and break down isolation as they share their own abundance of joy, peace and strength.
Poverty increases isolation. As you become more needy, people start to distance themselves from you as they also often lack the resources to help, and your own self-worth soon starts to ebb away.
Over the past two years, we have been getting a group of women together from a marginalised community, and they have been learning lessons around how to live life well with a focus on key relationships in their lives. The start of good relationships is to realise you have value; you are valuable to God and so can have joy, peace and strength from seeing yourself as God sees you.
By looking at yourself differently, you can start to care for those around you differently – even if you don’t have an abundance of physical resources. It might be something as simple as taking the time to do your hair nicely and remind yourself of the value that you have even in such stressful and uncertain times as we currently find ourselves.
One lady in the group encouraged the other members in their phone chat to be content in themselves so they can encourage others: “I am also trying to remember what I have learnt in the group; I am trying to look after myself and be the beautiful women I know I am, even when I am worried. I try and remember that God loves me.”
The coronavirus pandemic has done good things in terms of slowing down the movement of people internationally related to international trafficking of people. With flights suspended, and many borders closed, international trafficking has become significantly more difficult. With cities on lockdown, ladies who our team reaches out to that are caught in sexual slavery, have no clients.
And yet, without clients, the ladies have no money to buy the essentials that they need to live. They also have no money to pay rent for the places where they live and do business, and this is bringing them more and more into debt. One of the main reasons that women find it difficult to get out of trafficking situations is that they are caught in deep cycles of debt. So this situation is not all good news for the ladies we are reaching out to.
With all this extra pressure, one of the ladies decided that the situation was so bad that she chose to go back to her family in a neighbouring country and deal with the shame she would face. With the borders closed during the state of emergency, this was a difficult task! One of our team members managed to find a reliable driver, and after an arduous journey, the lady is now safely home and out of the trade. We rejoice in the small successes during this time.
The persecuted church
Being a believer as a young professional allows a certain amount of freedom from traditional family obligations. A young professional can live apart from family in the city and where they are able to afford the rent and share the space with other believers. This allows freedom to read your Bible, spend time praying and being alone with God, along with being close to friends who are also believers.
During this time of coronavirus crisis when many cities have been locked down, families have been called back together. Young, believing professionals are expected to go home to their villages during this time where they take on their role in their extended family. Being unmarried and younger, there are many responsibilities that they are expected to assume, and older family members enjoy their privileged position of ruling over those younger than them.
Sly comments from cousins or talking downs from grandparents about deserting cultural traditions happen often. At times where refreshment is sorely needed, times alone with God or opportunities to read the Bible evaporate. The burden of sharing God’s love with those so dear around them, along with old sins that arise when they are face-to-face with their family of origin, causes extra stress.
Pray for our brothers and sisters in such circumstances.
Serving the needy
With the looming shut down in the city, one widow was extending her opportunities for work as far as she could so that she could provide for her four children. She thought that the bounds on the city limits might not be as hard as they were, and she was prevented from re-joining her children when her job finally ended. A small home church has been working with this lady as she seeks to provide for her children, and this has given them a further opportunity to witness to her and her children as they care for them during this time.