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Coming to the Mission Field During COVID-19

My husband and I had a long season of prayer and preparation before being sent out from our church. We would be the first sent ones from Old Capitol UMC in Corydon, Indiana, and we wanted to soak in as much information as possible about ministry and life on the field. We attended trainings and conferences, and we diligently prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide us to the field he was preparing for us.

The Lord confirmed our call to Catania, Sicily, in the spring of 2018. Although sad to see us leave, our church family came alongside us in prayer, encouragement, and financial partnership. After more training and commissioning by our sending organization, One Mission Society (OMS), we landed on the field in December, 2019.

The Original Plan

The hands-down, number-one question asked by experienced field workers we met at OMS headquarters was, “What are your plans for language acquisition?” We were determined to do this well, so we took to heart the advice of others and enrolled in six months of full-time language school with the optional home-stay. In mid-January, we left our teammates in Catania and moved an hour away to the host home of a wonderful Sicilian lady.

In theory, we knew this, but full immersion is HARD. Like midday-naps-required hard or forgetting the English words for things because the mind is dancing between languages. Formal classes ended at 1:00 pm, and then each evening dinner was an additional lesson in listening and comprehension. We were continually lifted up and sustained by our church family checking in on us via messages and phone calls.

“We were continually lifted up and sustained by our church family checking in on us via messages and phone calls.”

The first four weeks were difficult, but by mid-February we began to settle into a daily routine: Italian breakfast, class, study time, free time for a hike or walk down to the park (or a nap), and Italian dinner at 8:00 pm with conversation with our host until bedtime. At this point, our free time was the one thing left still under our control. Our dinner conversations, albeit heavily one-sided, were usually prompted by articles our host had read that day on the internet, but as February drew to a close they began centering on news of a city in China under quarantine for a viral outbreak.

Plans Interrupted

Over the coming days, Italy began reporting cases in the north, and we watched in horror as Milan and Venice were hammered with the disease now named COVID-19. Within days, those cities were placed in quarantine, and students at our school began scrambling for flights home. Our host, however, was pleased that we weren’t fleeing for the States as we reassured her that Sicily was our home now too. Language classes were smaller at this point, but that allowed us to distance ourselves as we continued to meet on campus for a few more days.

Midway through the morning session on March 9th, our classroom door opened and a police officer peered inside. We watched quietly as each room was inspected, and then we were told to gather in the conference room at the break. The school was being closed for an undefined period of time. We went home to our host, and she shared our shock as the lock-down initiated in the Lombardy region was extended nationwide, closing shops, restaurants, and the vast majority of businesses across Italy. The decree continued to tighten, becoming so strict that we could be fined three thousand euros for being outdoors without an approved reason, such as going to pick up food or medicine.

We had seven weeks of language school under our belt when the doors closed. We had nowhere else to go because we planned to be there six months, so we stayed with our host in hopes of riding out the closures and restarting classes. We began our time of quarantine in someone else’s home, in full immersion, and in a foreign country. We were in a one-room apartment with four walls, a bathroom, a small desk, and a bed. However, at first it wasn’t bad – we had lots of time to rest and to chat with friends and family.

The first few weeks were sunny, and while we could see the beautiful blue ocean in the distance, we couldn’t leave the house. Those four walls began to crowd in on us soon enough. Bradley needs movement and time outdoors to recharge. He sneaked out one morning to simply walk the stairs up to our apartment, and an elderly neighbor promptly hollered, “GO HOME –C’è un virus!” (there is a virus!). Then our weather turned rainy and cold, and I quite nearly lost my mind.

Sustaining Grace

I would like to say I used our time in quarantine productively, but that would be a lie. Except for some language learning by reading Pinocchio with our host, I did not accomplish much. Staying in someone else’s home is one thing, but being quarantined there is quite another beast. I told my husband that the situation felt similar to vacationing with good friends or family – no matter how much you like them, by the end of your time together, you crave your own space!

“I thought I had already given up much in coming to the field, but the Lord showed me that I had more to turn over to him.”

I also wish I could say I had great one-on-one time with the Lord, but that would also be a lie. While I had every intent to stay in the Word daily, I failed. There were many days I couldn’t form a coherent prayer. But the Holy Spirit heard my silent cries and interceded, bringing peace and grace during my weakness. I thought I had already given up much in coming to the field – my family and friends, my RN career and the comforts it afforded, Mexican food, etc. But the Lord showed me that I had more to turn over to him.

By taking away even more basic comforts such as my ability to move about freely, when and what I ate, and even the temperature of our room, he taught me that he is all I need. He knows me, he loves me, and he will always carry me when the path gets rocky. The Lord provided encouragement through many messages and video chats with our home church and family which helped us make it through fifty-five days of strict lock-down—fifty-five days that I did not set foot outside the home of our host.

We said good-bye to our host and moved back to Catania on May 5th, one day after Italy entered “phase two,” returning with our measly seven weeks of language school completed. As we reenter society, the effects of COVID-19 are felt everywhere. Masks are required everywhere, and our Italian comprehension drops significantly when it’s mumbled behind a mask. This culturally warm population is living in fear of the sickness, and I can’t help but wonder what the lasting implications will be to their culture.

A good friend with loads of field experience told us that on the mission field, “you have to be fluid, because flexible is too rigid.” We were prepared for challenges like culture shock, homesickness, language, and food differences. We were not prepared for a pandemic to shake the foundations of our host country and the whole world. God knew, though, and he knew what we needed and precisely when we needed it. He used it to grow us. When we were stripped of all control over our circumstances, he said, “I’ve got this,” and cloaked us in his perfect peace. What a mighty and wondrous Father we have. To God be all glory and praise.


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