By H, a missionary serving in East Asia
When COVID-19 struck in January last year, I was home for Chinese New Year and my mum’s 103rd birthday celebration. Initially, I was not too concerned as the numbers of infection were few. Besides, I had successfully applied for a visa to return to the field. We had a community health project with a Township Hospital since 2019 to screen villagers for hypertension and diabetes, and to train the local township and village doctors to diagnose and manage these chronic medical conditions.
I was looking forward to work with the hospital to complete the screening for the remaining two villages, after which we would help them to set up a Clinical Centre for the management of chronic diseases. Besides the medical project, we were going to start a new project to sponsor poor rural students for university studies. Ten applicants were to be confirmed following home visitation and interview. Other ongoing projects included training therapists in the rehabilitation of children with autism and other special needs children.
Unfortunately, COVID cases increased rapidly around the world, leading to border closures. My visa then expired and applications for a new one became very difficult, if not impossible. However, colleagues from Taiwan and Hong Kong were able to return to the field from May 2020. At this point, I became envious and fretful. What was thought to be a temporary pause had become an interruption of uncertain duration. I did not know how or what to plan for. Thankfully, at this time, my counselling training and skills could be put to use. I was introduced to a local faith-based NGO to do virtual counselling for Chinese-speaking migrant workers. These migrant workers had either contracted COVID or were in quarantine.
Hearing their stories made me grateful that I was home, on familiar ground and with loved ones. They were sick and scared in a foreign land, and many had no one to turn to. They did not want to burden their loved ones back home with their anxieties or fears over their sickness or their employment situation in Singapore. The pandemic had heightened anxieties and revealed hidden fears in people. As mental health issues were discussed more openly, more friends and colleagues were approaching me for counselling help. I was also able to journey with some missionaries caring for their aged parents and with post-traumatic debriefing, which were totally unrelated to the pandemic.
As for field ministry, we had to adapt to new ways of working, especially in utilising technology. So medical training and work meetings went online via video conferencing platforms. We even managed to interview our student grant applicants through video calls. When the foreign workers were offsite, our local colleagues handled what we were unable to do remotely. This led to their growing confidence and increasing competence in the work. With restrictions in travel and quarantine requirements, shortterm teams were unable to help us in person. This would have significant implications on the effectiveness of skills training. But by having hybrid meetings with remote and in-person training, we partnered with other like-minded people and groups already on-site with the resources we need.
Being at home also meant I could assist with leading Bible Studies for my church cell group and facilitate a Bible Study on tentmaking for a group of young people from different churches. I was available to friends and colleagues needing prayers and visitation and also to my family, including caregiving for my aged mum. When one of our domestic helpers had to leave suddenly, I was able to step in quickly to help.
Honestly, there were days when I felt I had the best of both worlds; I could serve both the field and home. As ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, our team had grown in creativity and innovation. There was more collaboration with other like-minded people and more importantly, our local colleagues had been empowered as they took on more responsibilities in our absence.
There is after all, a silver lining to the pandemic!
Come, see the glorious works of the LORD:
See how he brings destruction upon the world.
He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
– Psalm 46:8-9
*This article was first published in Go Asia (May-Aug 2021)