Living in the Shadow of the Coronavirus
This post was written by an anonymous guest author who is currently involved with ministry in China.
It’s day twenty-six of our quarantine in our apartment in China. I woke up this morning to another quiet, eerie day. Looking out my eleventh-floor apartment, our city looks like a ghost-town. Some days it seems like there is no end in sight to our being house bound. Today I’ll go out to shop for essentials for my family. I can go out only once every other day per local government ordinance. Outside I encounter a Chinese society whose habits are changing quickly before my eyes due to the presence of the coronavirus.
For over ten years our family has been adjusting to a culture that has no “personal space.” In America we grew up with our “eighteen-inch” personal space that no one dare enter unless invited. In China no invitation is necessary; people just enter at will. They press against you like peas in a pod when riding a bus or navigating a crowd entering a restaurant. But today there are no pressing crowds. Now when I go to the market to purchase fruit and vegetables, no one comes closer than three or four feet. Personal space has universally expanded, and an invisible sign hangs over every person, screaming, “Do not come near!”
It feels so very strange. By law everyone must also wear a mask, which makes the times in public feel like you’re visiting an operating room in a hospital. When you need an elevator to your apartment and the door slides open with someone else already inside, you just wait, hoping it will return unoccupied. Registrations with fever checks are at all apartment entries and exits. Security measures have increased dramatically. The government’s explanation is simple: “This is for your safety and security.” That it may be, but only time will tell whether or not these measures are temporary.
Many foreigners in our area who stayed, hoping to wait it out, are now in full-out panic mode. The idea of being trapped indoors for such a long period with no definite end has cast a shadow over their lives. The extended isolation can be more fearful than the virus itself. The majority of the foreigners around us are without Christ and without hope in the midst of this dark time.
A Deadly and Unpredictable Threat
The reflections above were written by a missionary serving in China through a ministry that I help to direct. The new coronavirus (COVID-19) that is spreading rapidly throughout that country has prompted global alarm. Many neighboring countries have closed their borders, international airlines have suspended flights, and governments around the world are forbidding entry to those who have recently been in China.
Today there are over sixty million Chinese citizens, along with many foreigners, on a mandatory quarantine in the Hubei province where the virus began. There are also approximately 800 million people throughout the country who have been under some form of restrictive quarantine, some as long as four weeks and counting. As of February 19, the reported number of people infected tops 75,000 in mainland China—and those who have died exceed 2,000 souls.
All over the world people wonder: Just how dangerous is this virus, and how worried should we be? At this point it seems that the risk to those outside of China remains quite low. But ultimately no one knows. There is just not enough information available.
Caught behind Enemy Lines or Placed There by Appointment?
My family and I have been ministering in China since 2004. In August of 2019, my wife and I returned to the States to facilitate the ministry in China from this side of the world. Our ministry team is made up of several other missionary families living and ministering within China. They are currently on the kind of quarantine described above, with only one person in the family going out out every other day for essential supplies of food and water. Although these supplies seem abundant at present, it is a challenge and a major undertaking to get them. Every time you leave your apartment you must register with officials, tell them where you are going, and report back with them when you return. While you are out you must be careful to avoid situations where you might be infected by the virus.
My wife and I find ourselves praying fervently from afar for these families who are dealing with restrictions unlike anything we saw over the last sixteen years in China. People often ask us questions. Are your families stuck in China? Can you get them out? Have they chosen to stay? Is it wise for them to stay? Etc.
We have wrestled with whether our missionaries are trapped in China by the virus or are positioned there on purpose. For these and similar questions we can only turn to Scripture for answers. The Apostle Paul reminds us that his life as a follower of the Lord Jesus was always one of a servant following his master’s lead. No matter the circumstances around him, Paul knew he was exactly where he was supposed to be simply because he belonged to Christ.
To the believers in Philippi Paul writes, “I want you to know brothers, that what has happened to me [arrest and imprisonment] has really served to advance the gospel” (Phil 1:12). Paul viewed his imprisonment as one over which the Lord Jesus was in complete control and which he would use to advance the most precious message the world has ever heard—the gospel. This mindset when confronted by troubling circumstances is not expected only of apostles but of everyone who claims to be a servant of Jesus. Christ is building his church. As the Sovereign Lord he is unaffected in his work by earthly circumstances. Rather, he is able to use all things for the good of those who love him and to the praise of his glory.
We have come to believe that the families on our team who are in China at this time are there by divine appointment. They are ministering the gospel to lost and fearful foreigners. They are also a great encouragement to Chinese pastors and other Christians who know they are there because they are called of God to be there.
There are still times of fear for each of our families, however. Some days are harder than others. But without fear there is no need for faith. Their faith is strengthened as the love of Christ who dwells within them rises against the fear to conquer it.
Resting under the Shadow of His Wings
“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me” (Psalm 57:1–2).
No one deserves to be free from the destruction and devastation of sin’s curse. But God, by his mercy, has delivered us. He has poured out his Spirit upon us richly through his Son. He has given us an eternal hope. So we love him because he first loved us. We are careful to devote ourselves to his service, sharing the truth of the gospel with those fearing death and ministering as best we can to those in urgent need. Only then will we be fruitful in eternal things and find his purposes fulfilled in us.
Our missionary families rest in God’s shadow, knowing his deep love for them in Christ. The one who created heaven and earth is able to do exceedingly above and beyond anything we could ask or think in his care for his own.
Truth For all of God’s People
Most, if not all, who read this article are in a situation different from the coronavirus pandemic. Each of you, however, faces decisions that will affect the course of your life. These decisions must be made in spite of the fact that you don’t know and can’t know the future. In that respect, we are all in the same boat. None of us—not those living in the shadow of the coronavirus in China, nor those in any other part of the world facing any other difficulty—has insight into how such things might end. All of us undergo circumstances that don’t make sense to us and that don’t seem to serve any good purpose. We can never find peace and rest in trying to understand the situation at hand. We are simply called to put our trust in the one who has all the details of our lives figured out for our good and his glory.
“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. . . . Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us” (Ps 62:5, 8). I wish I knew what the future holds for our families and friends in China. But I don’t know, and I can’t. The Lord Jesus Christ knows. He knows all that lies ahead. We must trust him and obediently follow him as he brings the light of the gospel into every dark place.
Photo credit: Macau Photo Agency, unsplash.com