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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

Talking to TCKs about Covid-19

Earlier this month Gabriele Hölzle of OM People Care (who was due to be one of the speakers at EMCC 2020) wrote an article for her team about how she had listened to TCKs about their experience of Covid-19).  We thought you’d like to read it (shared with permission).  Just click here.

“So, after all that, peace was only this!”

This disillusioned quote is from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). He was a French Jesuit priest, researcher, palaeontologist, theologian and philosopher.

When the lockdown in France was announced on March 16th, the French president declared we were at war, a difficult war against a brutal virus. Soon will come, for many of us here in Europe, the day after. What new opportunities for change will it bring? How will we manage them?

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s Covid was the First World War, during which he was confined for five years to the boredom and brutality of the trenches, working as a stretcher-bearer carrying injured soldiers from the battlefield.

When peace returned, he was horribly disappointed to find a world that had not changed. Then he realized that he had glimpsed, while confined in the trenches, the better world that he dreamed of, and that this fleeting vision was enough to mobilize his personal commitment and show him his way in this world.

Here is the full quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, written in 1919 just after the end of the war:

So, after all that, peace was only this! The peace which, during these long years of suffering, shone incessantly ahead of us, like a mirage… The peace that gave us the courage to hold on and resist because we thought we were fighting for a better world… But what this peace had in store for us was only this!

The war stripped away our surface banalities and conventions, opening a window onto deeper human needs and functioning. But now that peace has returned, so has all the old pettiness and monotony of our pre-war existence. Although moved, elevated and united for a time in our common posture of defence, people returned to their self-centred obsessions and preoccupations as soon as the grip of danger was gone.

Surrounded by the banalities of existence that have regained their dullness, with the contradictions of a society that has returned to its moral poverty and scattered individualism, I will patiently resume my usual occupations, illuminated by what I saw during those brief moments in the trenches when, for a great cause, millions of us were united together in the fight for the preservation of life.

But life is still beautiful! For I have glimpsed, from the top of the mountain, the Promised Land!”

If this global crisis can serve as a wake-up call to many things, including the profound changes that our societies must implement in their models of economic development and the way we must go about our daily lives on this fragile planet, it is important that our collective responsibility not detract from our personal need for change. In the aftermath of this crisis, it would be sad if our “self-centred obsessions and preoccupations” resumed as before.

Once we have been released from our present confinement, how will things be different in our spiritual, emotional and relational life? In the management of our work/rest rhythms? In how we consume, travel, slow down, study, help and think?

And how will things be different for those of us in Member Care?

For many of us during this time, the words of Psalm 46:10-11 have taken on special significance:

Be still, and know that I am God!

I will be honoured by every nation.

I will be honoured throughout the world.

The Lord of Heaven’s armies is here among us;

The God of Israel is our fortress.

Before we rush headlong into our new-found freedom, let’s keep sight of what this psalm invites us to do:

to be still, enough to pause and reflect;

to know, through all the turbulence, that He is God and worthy to be honoured;

to remember: He is here and He is present;

to rest assured: He is our fortress, and we are therefore secure.

 

The following questions may help us as we reflect:

  • What have I discovered about myself in this time of confinement?
  • What have I discovered about God?
  • What strategies have I acquired? What new strengths have I gained?
  • What limitations have I learned to manage?
  • What discoveries might I share with others?

Lord Jesus, we have not only “glimpsed, from the top of the mountain, the Promised Land”; you are our Promised Land. We know you and you know us. You are the way toward our dreams and desires for growth and change. May the communion of love that you invite us to enjoy with you allow your will to have full access to all areas of our lives. And may our lives, by your grace and your strength working in us, reflect more than ever your beauty, your consistency, your simplicity, your generosity and your joy. Amen.

 

[This month’s post is by Jonathan Ward of Pierres Vivantes, our board member representing France and other Francophone regions in Europe.]

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