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Useful tools for listening

Recently on social media, one of my friends wrote, “when it comes time to set the clocks back one hour for daylight savings time, we should all refuse. No one needs one more hour of 2020.”  As I chuckled, I was reminded of the countless people I have debriefed over the last several months who have all said, “I just want this year to be over!”

My wife and I live in Genova, Italy, and have watched our country be overwhelmed by the Corona Virus pandemic. Then came one of the strictest lockdowns in the world that lasted nearly three months. One of the images that many of us in Italy will never forget was watching the convoy of military vehicles in cities like Milano and Roma escort hundreds of caskets of Corona victims to various cathedrals because there was no more room in hospitals.

During those difficult days, my role as a Member Care provider (in quarantine) was to listen and comfort my friends and ministry partners, many of them on the frontlines of the pandemic. One of my friends, a nurse, works in the leading hospital of our region caring for Covid19 patients. He told me repeatedly, “I felt like I had to play God, literally deciding who will and will not receive treatment.” Others had not been home for over two months, even though the hospital is five minutes from their home, out of fear of exposing their families to the virus. All of my friends had at least two things in common: they were exhausted and longing to share their stories.

One of the blessings to come out of this global pandemic for Italians has been the emphasis the government and medical officials have placed on mental health. Rather than seeing debriefing or counseling as something shameful or a sign that something is “wrong,” Italian officials have actively promoted and highlighted the need for people to talk with others about their experiences under Covid-19 and the effects of the virus and lockdown on their mental health. As a result, the Italian government will now pay for mental health sessions, like counseling. And trust me, Italians have been taking advantage and are longing to tell their stories.

In July, I restarted devoting at least one weekend a month to traveling to the central train station of Milano to conduct debriefs with Italian Christians who arrive from all over Italy because they need to share their stories.

My role has been to listen. So often we forget that one of the most important aspects of good Member Care is just being present and allowing those we care for a chance to talk and be heard!

During these times of listening, I have discovered several useful tools:

Prayers of Lament: people are experiencing various forms of loss and grief during these times. Perhaps we have often seen lamenting as being somewhat “overdramatic,” but there is certainly a Biblical premise for crying out to the Lord in the midst of our struggles with raw emotion. While sitting in a prayer meeting with intercultural-workers from around the world, a couple from Canada said how they just loved being in quarantine and how ministry is going great because of the potential to reach more people through online services. This led other missionaries to cry out, “I’m tired of trying to put on a fake smile and pretend that everything is great! Why can’t we just be honest! Nobody likes this! It’s not fun and it’s not all roses!” Again, true, raw emotion!

A local pastor in our now online church service shared these words from Psalm 44:

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love.

What powerful and timely words for the current world situation! It is important as Member Care providers that we allow people a chance to cry out, lament, and acknowledge their grief and name their losses.  Prayers of lament in a time of suffering can be an act of worship.

Prayers of Intercession: as Christians we often say things like “I will pray for you” and then simply forget. As I have cared for friends, I spend time in prayer with them specifically asking God to bless them, meet needs, or simply minister in unique ways to each one of them, according to God’s will.

Like many of you, I have at times felt inadequate or even hopeless, confined to my home in quarantine. Yet, I have been reminded that most of the Apostle Paul’s ministry was conducted from the confines of a jail cell. What was arguably the essence of Paul’s ministry? Intercessory prayer for the early Church and the Apostles.

Let’s not forget the power of prayer during this time. Here in Italy we have seen pastors coming together online to pray for our nation and world. Moreover, hundreds of European youth from all over the continent have met online each month in intercessory prayer during this pandemic. God is working!

Sound of Silence: sometimes words fail us, as has been the case in many of my interactions recently while caring for friends. The seconds turn into minutes with no one saying a word, but there is power in remaining silent, taking deep breathes and allowing God to search the heart. Perhaps these difficult times are reminding us to stop and to wait upon the Lord.

The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8 that we often do not know what to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans! Even just sitting and listening to nature during these times can minister to someone really struggling. Let’s not rush to fill the space with words, advice, or other things, but allow silence to speak.

Much of the world continues to suffer not only physically, but especially mentally and financially. As we continue to hold our breathe and hope that 2021 will bring brighter days and an end to the pandemic, may the words of Psalm 126:5 be ever true in this time of waiting: “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.”

 

Mihai at Milan central station

Mihai Lundell

One Challenge International

Member Care Europe

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