When the Hits Keep Coming: Psalm 77 and Covid-19

(from Alexis)

It is difficult to have to write another sombre blog post after only a short while has passed since the post about the robbery, but the whole world is experiencing a difficult and sombre time and Kibuye has not been spared that. Like the rest of the world, the repercussions and precautions due to the Covid-19 pandemic have been affecting Kibuye. Fortunately (or unfortunately as it may be), there are as of yet no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Burundi, however, the concern is that Burundi has not yet confirmed any cases because it has been difficult to get testing set up anywhere in the country (Though we are told testing has officially started).

As such, the team has been bracing for the arrival of the virus by developing and putting into place some new precautionary measures. For example, hand-washing stations have been set up at the gates, only essential personnel are now permitted to go up to the hospital, and Stephanie is heading up an initiative to sew 80+ reusable masks for medical personnel. However, one of the biggest challenges is the same as that which many of you who are reading this post right now are also in the midst of: quarantine, self-isolation, and social distancing measures. Due to potential (but unconfirmed) exposure, several of us have been in quarantine since last Tuesday, required to stay at 6ft away from others at all times and mainly remain in our homes. Even those not specifically quarantined are practicing social distancing measures, staying a fair distance from one another as much as possible. Work has continued for the doctors, but school has been on pause, with a plan to resume next Monday with new social distancing measures in place, but even this feel precarious. These measures, though recommended, have been very hard on everyone, especially in a place like Kibuye where being in community is how we survive.

One of the Gitenge masks that Steph is making

I don't know about you all, but for myself, and as many others on the team have expressed, our lives and communities right now feel as though they are taking hit after hit and there is an expectation surfacing that we are nowhere near the end of this tumultuous season. Before this pandemic took hold, it already felt as though the "ordinary" life of the team had been shattered due to the toll that the robbery took on all of us, but especially for those team members who were directly affected. Now the upheaval from this pandemic has again put "normal" far out of everyone's reach.

For myself, this upheaval has gone even further. As international borders close and airports shut down, short-term team members were encouraged to consider whether it would be better for them to return to their home countries while still possible, or whether to stay and wait out what could end up being a much longer term than they had anticipated. Considering that my internship term at Kibuye was scheduled to end in May, and because no one can predict if flights to Burundi will be available at that time, I chose, with a very heavy heart, to return early to Canada. I made that decision less than 48 hours ago and after a flurry of frenzied activity, caught one of the last flights out of the country along with the John family who are returning to the US for home assignment and for Eunice to deliver her new baby. Some members of the team such as Alyssa, the Wendlers, and the CK Faders who were all hoping to return to Kibuye in the next couple months, now have the opposite problem, where they are stuck in the US.

The team making a "tunnel of love" for the van as the Johns and I headed out

As I sit here in the Dubai International Airport awaiting my connecting flight to Toronto, I have been continuing to read through Eric's book Promises in the Dark. I feel there has rarely before in my life been a time when a topic like this one has been as relevant. In his book, Eric explores chapter by chapter the tension between how God's promises are something that we can experience now, but also not yet. He talks about what it looks like to cling to those promises when we can't see the evidence that they are holding true.

Camping out in the Dubai airport for my 17 hour layover, reading Promises in the Dark

A week ago Saturday, Eric spoke at family worship on Psalm 77.  In this psalm, the psalmist earnestly questions the promises of God. This psalm begins as a lament, crying out to God. The psalmist appears to have been taking "hit after hit" in his life (as the team and many of us as individuals have been recently) and he is bringing his sorrow and questions before God, truly asking whether God's steadfast love still remains when he can see no immediate evidence of it. He cries out, and the interesting thing is that, unlike in many other psalms, he is not comforted. He writes, "When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints". I appreciate this psalmist's perspective because the truth is that sometimes we call out to God and we do not feel immediately comforted. Yet, then in the second half of the psalm, he reminds himself of the deeds of the Lord. He remembers the time that God led his people through the waters of the Red Sea. He remembers that God is massive, beyond our understanding, and that sometimes he leads us through difficult things, not around them, not avoiding them, but heading into them and coming out the other side.

Kayla and I listened to a Tim Keller sermon recently titled "A Prayer of Rest", based on a biblical understanding of Psalm 91, a psalm seemingly about God's promises of peace and security, that helped me to understand this concept. In this message, Keller talked about how Psalm 91 is actually about how God is with us in trouble, not that he keeps us from all trouble, at least not all physical trouble - he does keep us from the everlasting "trouble" and harm of being consumed by our own sins. I would highly recommend giving this message a listen, especially if you are finding yourself with more time at home as many of us are or will be.

This past month, I have been reading through the book of Revelation and just finished the day before I left. I do not claim to understand even a tenth of what is going on in that book though I find it fascinating, but it struck me this time when reading it, that a main theme of the book can more or less be summed up in one half-verse,

"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
- John 16:33(b)

Reading Revelation reminded me again that, as Christians, our hope is not ultimately in this world. The world as we know it is going to pass away. The promises that Eric describes in his book, and the promises like those described in Psalm 91, are both being fulfilled now, but also not yet.

One of my favourite C.S. Lewis quotes, that I have frequently been reminded of lately, comes from a letter that Lewis wrote to an American woman who was sick in hospital and who thought that she may be dying. Lewis wrote,

"Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any that we leave behind."

Ironically, this woman pulled through her illness and it was Lewis instead who died three months later. I like this quote because it reminds me that when we experience hardship in this life, we shouldn't be surprised, in fact it should be expected that the world is not "kind" to us...though we live here for now and are called to be present here, our ultimate hope is not in this life, and if some things are not going well for us, that is actually how Jesus said it would be...for now. It reminds us that the ultimate fulfillment of every promise in its truest form will only arrive when the perishable is made imperishable, when heaven and earth are made new. I actually find that a hopeful thought, because it means that I don't need to keep trying to reconcile all of the painful and difficult things that I experience in this life to what I know that God promises. Yet, I also think that we can and do see, in part, ways that God is fulfilling those promises even now, and when we see the goodness of God, we need to keep showing it to one another, reminding one another, and spurring one another on in faith and hope.

Please pray for this community as they brace for the impact that Covid will have in Burundi - in a highly malnourished and immunocompromised population, no one is quite sure what will happen when it comes. Pray for the team for encouragement, grace for one another, wisdom for team and hospital leadership, and capability and resources to face what comes. Pray for them to grow with one another in spiritual maturity, perseverance, and hope. Those are some of the things that I am going to be continuing to pray for them even as I leave. They need your support and prayer as they take up places on the frontlines of where, ultimately, this virus may end up hitting hardest.

(A bit of lovely Alexis artwork her teammates added to this post after she finished it)

1 comment:

Karen A. said...

We are praying for God's mercy to be evident in these hard times. Praying for his wisdom and power and love to flow through each of you as you serve Him. Love, Karen Lau