In April 2020, like many other people, our lives began to look very different from how we had ever imagined them looking.
We had left our country of service two months earlier on emergency compassionate leave to be with my husband’s father, who was gravely ill. In God’s kindness, we were able to spend precious time with him in his last weeks.
But then the unexpected crossed our path. Not only were our flights back to our country of service cancelled, but visas weren’t being issued to go back. The visa office was closed indefinitely. It felt like suddenly our world had been turned upside down and we weren’t sure how long we would be hanging on the ceiling!
It wasn’t just us; life had changed for everyone. Before long we were hearing on social media and in the world press that things were changing in our host country too. We feared for our friends as we heard of food shortages and lockdown. How would those who lived hand-to-mouth survive?
During lockdown, while we were getting to know neighbours in our home country better, we groaned with our friends far away too. Month after month, we heard from them on WhatsApp that their schools were still closed and their young kids struggled with online learning. One friend was upset about her children fighting, as they tried to juggle their four kids learning on two phones.
They were going through so much. We were all going through so much. It felt like God was shaking us out of our normal routines and ways of thinking. The week my husband’s dad died, we received more than thirty condolence messages from our host country, and we felt blessed by our new friends reaching out to us across the miles.
The most intense experience we had was from our host neighbourhood, where most people belong to the majority religion. One day our friend Mama Ira’s husband contacted us to let us know that she was very sick with a fever. The next day we found out she had been delirious for three days and that they were afraid she had a spirit.
I explained to her husband that Jesus is able to cast out evil spirits. Would the family let one of our friends come and pray for Mama in his name? The husband agreed. We asked Artha, an elder from a local church, whether he could visit and pray for her. We were so grateful when he could.
The next morning, we heard from Mama Ira’s husband and daughter that she had come out of her delirium in response to prayer and she was able to eat again. We rejoiced with them in God’s goodness and power! And Artha returned several more times to help the family access nursing and hospital care.
Sadly though, Mama Ira passed away soon afterwards. We felt immensely sad. Her friendliness had been a huge part of helping us settle into our host country, and we never expected to have to say goodbye to her so soon.
When we were finally able to return six months later, our neighbours wanted to talk to us about Mama Ira. Over and over again, people stopped us in the street to talk over her last days and how we were involved in caring for her from a far.
We never would have expected to grow closer to the whole neighbourhood after what turned out to be two years away—but that’s what had happened. And we have many warm friendships that only began at that time. Only God can do that! So we thank him for his answers to prayer, however unexpected they may be.
Natalie and Shaun are serving long-term in South East Asia with their family.
All names have been changed.