It was in the final days of February 2020 when we crossed the border into our host country, Mozambique, after a month away in South Africa. When we entered the border, we were stopped and told that we all had to get out of the car and be sprayed down with what I’m quite sure was pure bleach. At the time, we thought it ridiculous and joked about how they must have seen it on some international health site and thought it would be a good idea. Two weeks later the world changed completely.
In the months that followed I remember some things in vivid detail and others as hazy memories recalled only in passing. What I do remember is watching in disbelief as the entire world ground to a halt around us.
In our rural village we felt completely set apart from the craziness but it still reached into our lives and ministries and routines. I remember using cell data every night to watch WorldMeter count the number of cases and deaths, encouraging people in the States that they could homeschool their kids, rejoicing that toilet paper was still available in the city two hours from us, and stocking up on peanut butter and learning to make my own bread as our helpers stopped working in our house and the walls closed in, containing only the five of us. The hazier memories are of the disbelief, uncertainty, and a fear that dominated those early days. Our choice to stay in our home in Mozambique compounded some of those feelings but also gave room for growth in different ways.
We were in what felt the minority at times as we chose to stay abroad and not return to our passport country. In making that decision, I now realize how different our experience with the pandemic truly is. We are located about two hours from any major city so our life revolves pretty tightly around the people we live next to and the shopping that we can do nearby.
When restrictions began to close things down, we were fairly unconcerned and the people we live among were completely unconcerned. The idea of a disease that we couldn’t explain, couldn’t show proof of, and couldn’t see affecting our friends and neighbors made our village an odd oasis of denial mixed with limited knowledge. The people followed the restrictions at first, haltingly. As the months dragged on and we faced new restrictions every month in a “state of emergency” to eventually an ongoing “state of public calamity” our community struggled to make sense of it all.
Churches were among the first things to close and the people deeply missed the opportunity to gather for worship and some even took to covert meetings far out in the grass to avoid detection. The police regularly imposed their own interpretations of regulations, hitting people up for money or sometimes just hitting. We tried to encourage, we told people that the disease was real and that people were dying, we started leading churches to visit their congregations individually, and we followed the rules ourselves. Then the months just kept ticking by.
Disease weariness crept in to our lives as we looked at our own mindsets and those of the people around us. We watched as people would arrive at a church without masks, enter the building and visit, and then when it was time to start they would all leave and reenter one at a time being sprayed down and having their temperatures checked as they now wore their masks. At the end of the service, things would proceed in reverse eventually leading to all people once again visiting inside without masks. The police became more sporadic, sometimes running into the crowded market to yell and hit people without masks, and other times ignoring completely.
Life moved on as usual with only small reminders that a disease still existed and people were still dying. We pondered this as we fought our own thoughts of how we had started restrictions too early, of how some of the requirements were good for cholera but not so useful for Covid, and how restricting the communal life of rural Africans made living almost impossible.
We, like the rest of the world, have dealt with grief and loss over the last year and a half. We have rescheduled trips multiple times, watched ministry plans disappear into Covid restrictions, and questioned whether we made the right choice when we didn’t return to our passport country. Yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t see how God has used this time for our good.
Our experience with the pandemic is entirely different from the experiences of those in the Western world. The concept of available medical treatment or a vaccine is something of a fairy tale where we live. On a regular basis we attend funerals for people who likely could have survived if they had access to the right diagnosis, the right medicine, or the right doctors. We live where death is a part of life and Covid is just another layer of the already complex puzzle of health and sickness we regularly experience.
Through this season we have had opportunities to explain disease to our friends and to help them understand medicine and, at times, the world, better than they did before. We have started some small group Bible studies where people who want to study the Word of God are able to come and ask their questions. We have learned to do with less as we were unable to restock our supplies outside of our own area. We found new things to do, new places to visit, and new ways to live well in our host country.
We have learned that there is no right answer to whether we should have stayed or gone but we are grateful to have been here to help those who need it as they have need. As I write this, we are watching numbers spike again and we still live in a country with minimal medical assistance. This is just another year, month, and day where we are reminded to hold plans loosely. We learn what we can where we are, serve those around us in whatever capacity we are able, and trust the God who has shown up every day for the last year and provided well.
How has God provided for you and those around you through the pandemic?