Missionaries and the Coronavirus
Since 1980 I have been able to secure a visa to Thailand with few issues. However, like scores of other missionaries, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench wrapped in red tape into our plans. But for me, Proverbs 16:9 aptly qualifies as my “Verse of the Year,” “The mind of a man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”
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by Larry Dinkins
In 1980 I applied for my first visa to Thailand and since then I have been able to navigate the labyrinth of documentation with few issues. Enter the novel Coronavirus and suddenly all my “navigational aids” were rendered useless.
COVID-19 caused me to cancel flights, not once but twice. As a result, I missed my planned return to Thailand by six months. I found myself in early October with still no prospect of returning to the Thai with whom I have worked for 40 years.
The COVID-19 Process for Returning to East Asia
By this juncture my son, who works with the Free Burma Rangers, was ready to return as well. We decided to apply together as soon as repatriation flights became available. Our first chance was in mid-October. This meant we both had to scramble to complete the reams of paperwork, which for me included:
- Criminal background check
- Physical exam
- Health insurance
- COVID-19 test
- Hotel confirmation (triple the normal price)
- Flight reservations (double the normal price)
- Bank statements
We sent all that was required to the Thai embassy, but, alas, they were swamped. As a result, my son and I had to cancel our flight together.
Returning to Thailand During the Coronavirus
We rescheduled for the next week and left LAX on the day that America experienced its highest incident of COVID-19: 121,000 new cases and a total of 230,000 deaths.
Thailand with a population of 70 million had only 3,830 cases and 59 deaths since March. After 24 hours in transit in sparsely occupied planes, I found myself in an eerily quiet Suvarnabhumi Airport. This main Bangkok airport usually processes 200,000 passengers/day, but only 500 would join me for COVID processing.
On top of these requirements, I was directed by Thai officials to connect with a COVID-19 barcode tracking system. It can monitor my location as I enter various locations around Thailand. China has proposed a similar system that can track not only a person’s location but a person’s health status as well.
What Quarantine is Like in Thailand
As I exited the airport to take a van to my quarantine hotel, I noticed a line of buses waiting by the curb. The buses were for Thai nationals who would be under quarantine as well, but with all of their expenses paid by the government. After being processed by the hotel medical team, I was ushered to my room and told to not even go into the hall for the first five days.
The rules and regulations governing my stay were in a three-page handbook, which indicated no “sharp objects” were to be used. Any food delivered from the outside would be examined first by nurses. On a desk were 24 liters of bottled water with instructions that if I drank all 24 liters during the next two weeks, they would start charging me. I don’t drink coffee, so after a few days of water and hot tea, I began to crave any type of flavored drink.
Three times a day I would hear a rap at my door, a signal that a plastic container of food had been placed on a small table outside my door (This was repeated 42 times during my stay!). A nurse called me on the phone twice a day to “check my temperature,” but was likely taking roll to make sure I was indeed “sheltering in place.”
I felt sorry for anyone without a balcony because that would mean no exposure to fresh air for the full two weeks. There were three English channels on the TV and Thai programming was mainly educational channels which grew old after a few days. The hotel did provide two sets of Thai style pajamas (a bit small for a 6 foot American) which I lived in 24/7.
After a second negative COVID test, I was released with full documentation for my trip to Chiang Mai, North Thailand. This city, like the rest of Thailand, had been through months of closed shops and restaurants with strictly enforced curfews.
The Ongoing Impact
While admiring the Thais’ success in stemming the tide of COVID-19, the economic impact has been quite severe. The tourism sector which makes up a portion of their GDP has been hardest hit with a near cessation of international travel since March. Please be in prayer for the Thai who are facing financial, psychological and emotional pressures.
There are a number of OMF workers in the US who wish to return to countries in East Asia but may end up delayed well into 2021. These include singles, married couples with young children and others who are wanting to move ahead but finding themselves thrown backward. Each of us is reflecting on the gnawing question about how God is working out His plan in the midst of such chaos.
These workers find themselves in a quandary, not knowing whether to settle down, wait it out or reluctantly move on to another ministry or job.
Missionary life will never be challenge-free, yet let us pray that unnecessary challenges will be removed by our prayers and that God’s purposes for the expansion of His kingdom can take place both at home and abroad.
Dr. Larry and Paula Dinkins served 22 years in Thailand with OMF in church planting and theological education. Later they served 9 years as mobilizers in Pasadena California at the US Center for World Missions. Paula was called home to glory in March of 2011 and Larry returned to Chiang Mai Thailand for full-time ministry in 2012. Larry rejoined the staff of the Chiang Mai Theological Seminary and acted as Director in 2019. Larry teaches seminars on Walk Thru the Bible, Perspectives, prayer counseling and oral Bible story telling. He has four children and eight grandchildren. Presently, Larry is Missionary in Residence at Dallas Theological Seminary.
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