|COVID testing site for persons experiencing homelessness|
On the day I was scheduled to fly back to Burundi after home assignment in the US (March 26), I wrote the blog post here about culture and coronavirus. Six weeks later I'm still here and there is still no word on when the Burundi airport might open up again. There have been ups and downs in the past six weeks, but mostly I have been thankful for God's provision. Several of us recently did a distance women's retreat for missionaries and the theme was from Habakkuk 3: Yet I will celebrate. Even though I'm not where I thought I would be at this time, even though the world has been turned upside down, even though I can't even spend extra time with family and friends while I wait due to social distancing, even though the pediatrics team in Burundi is significantly short-staffed..."yet I will celebrate in the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of our salvation. The Lord my Lord is my strength. He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights." (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
One thing I have been celebrating is how God raises people up around the globe to advocate for those in need (which is all of us at times!) As I looked for ways to help with the COVID efforts as a physician, friends advocated for a position for me in the fray even though I have been out of US medicine for years. And ultimately God provided an ideal part time temporary position for me at the local health department working with vulnerable populations. After 10+ years in under-resourced places in Africa, I now have the opportunity to learn from advocates for the disadvantaged in my passport country. As I've spent many hours in (mostly virtual) meetings, I've been amazed by the enthusiasm and passion of these advocates as they seek to make a difference in their community. We've talked about how to make messages about COVID more accessible to people with hearing impairment and to non-English speakers. We've heard from pastors of congregations at significant risk due to systemic inequality, racism, and chronic health conditions. We've talked about how to test folks who don't have access to transportation and how to protect those in homeless shelters. We've discussed how to ensure access to care for people with mental health needs and disabilities. We've looked at how to address people experiencing new homelessness when the usual resources are unavailable due to shelter-in-place orders. During each discussion, there are people on the call who intimately understands the needs of the at-risk population - people willing to go out to the "highways and byways"and talk to the vulnerable about their needs, to distribute masks, to provide food, to staff crisis hotlines, to work tirelessly writing protocols and educational materials, and to speak up for those at risk of being marginalized and forgotten.
I have learned much from these advocates on how to persevere in both caring for people where they are and also appealing to authorities for change - even if things don't change immediately. The other day I wondered sadly, "What about those around the world who don't have an advocate - who live their lives unseen and who have significant need that no one is addressing?" I think of some of the Burundian mamas in our feeding program who Susan (an amazing advocate!) has discovered have no place to live and no way to earn income to feed or clothe their families. I think of orphans and widows and those with disabilities who don't live in countries with established advocacy organizations. I think of folks in every corner of the globe who have experienced serious trauma or adverse childhood experiences but do not have access to trauma counseling or other resources to help them begin to heal and learn to trust.
Thankfully, we do actually all have an advocate! "If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." (1 John 2:1b) Jesus Himself is our advocate - for all eternity! And we identify with Him as we advocate for others, too - even when it's hard and there is no visible fruit. We await the ultimate new heavens and new earth with the redemption of all things, but in the meantime we see glimpses of new creation even in the unique passions God gives us for certain people who need advocates around us.