On our way back from a family bike ride in the park we stopped for gas. My husband spoke briefly to the petrol attendant and then went into the kiosk to pay. While he was gone, the attendant opened our driver’s door to have a chat with me. He wanted to know if we belonged to a certain ethnic group because we speak the local language. Then he asked where we were from, how we learnt the language, etc. and ended with:
“Excellent! You speak such good language, welcome to this country.”
This interaction was nothing new, we often rouse the curiosity of local people when we speak their heart language yet look different from them. Pre COVID-19 I would have enjoyed the interaction, practising my language, thinking how I could “season the conversation with salt” or “sow a small gospel seed.”
But on that day, after almost three months into lockdown and quarantine and fully aware of the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases despite the lifting of the restrictions, and despite my smile and conversation, all I could think was: “Why did you open my door? Please put your mask on properly! Are you spreading the coronavirus to me and my children sitting in this car right now?”
I hate it. I hate that I was thinking about these things while we were talking! We are living in this country to show God’s love to people, to be a fragrance of Christ to those who have never heard the good news, but I was only thinking of my and my children’s safety in the face of the virus.
In this Central Asian culture, trust is built through handshakes and sharing meals in close contact with one another. Once you get to know them, people are expressive with hugs and kisses and they are affectionate and friendly (our kids hide from the grannies in church so they don’t get smooched).
We’ve watched two cars crash on a busy road. The drivers (men) both got out of their cars, shook hands and then began with the arguing, calling the police, etc. The handshake is essential as the basis for everything.
We’re still trying to share God’s love and care for people through Zoom chats, WhatsApp messages and sending care packages, but it’s not the same as a hug or the fellowship shared over a meal.
God’s teaching me that He can be present in the midst of a family when I can’t be. I long to be able to be with the kids with disabilities we usually serve and to encourage their caregivers. I can’t physically be with them, but I know that God can reach them — He’s not affected by the virus and His power isn’t limited by social distancing. Therefore, often the time usually set aside for therapy is now online prayer times with our therapy team bringing the families before God’s throne of grace.
Is it possible to show God’s love in this culture in a real way which touches the heart of the receiver, from a distance and with a mask on?
When is our fear preventing us from building relationships and when are we simply being wise in the midst of a pandemic?
I don’t know if there are clear cut answers. The usual stress of day to day living in this Central Asian country is profoundly increased as we live in the tension of loving people during the spread of coronavirus.
May God give us all wisdom for each day as we navigate how to share and show His love in a mask-wearing, two-metres-social-distance-keeping, COVID-19 world.
Beth is from the global South, and she loves the ocean and cold Christmas dinner on a hot day around the pool. She is married to an adventurer, and they have three wonderfully unique children.