Life in the age of COVID-19 has quickly thrust all of us into uncharted territory. Having to do work, school and even church from home has changed the way we all understand community and its value in our lives. Those in the work of ministry need to be particularly creative and diligent in navigating all the restrictions and precautions necessary to keep our communities safe while still being the hands and feet of Christ wherever possible.
Perhaps what is most unique about life and ministry in the age of COVID-19 is its global scope, giving communities and people in almost every corner of our world a shared experience like never before. Beeson alumni are serving all over the globe, navigating similar challenges related to COVID-19. Though the cultures, locations, languages and ministry settings are different, our Beeson extended family is working to serve others well, meet the needs of their communities as best they can and continue in the labor of gospel ministry as they face unforeseen and unprecedented circumstances.
May these stories of just a few of our alumni overseas serve as inspiration and encouragement to us as we remember that we are not alone in the struggles we now face and as we continue to labor together (in spirit, if not in body) in the work of ministry.
Canada: The Turlac Family
Oleg (M.Div. ’99) and Natasha Turlac are based in Canada but have ministry partners around the world in places like Moldova, Czech Republic and various countries in central Asia. Like most of us around the world right now, the Turlacs have been confined to home as much as possible lately but have been using the time for family fellowship and worship––reading Scripture, praying and singing hymns together.
Though they have had to put their spring ministry trips on hold, they have been able to use technology to stay in touch with the various ministry partners they train and mentor all over the world, helping their partners navigate COVID-19 challenges in their own locations.
The Turlacs are also offering Christian material online in Russian to offer spiritual nourishment to believers in Russian-speaking lands. Oleg and Natasha have taken comfort in the Lord as they remember all the other life- and world-changing events they have lived through (including Chernobyl, the fall of the USSR, military conflict in Moldova, etc.) and how God has been faithful through them all.
“The scare of COVID-19 may soon be over, or who knows how long these trying times may last?” Oleg said. “Regardless, may the Lord be our hope and comfort. He is the Good Shepherd who will never leave us alone, not for a minute.”
Slovakia: The Parks Family
Like in the U.S., all schools in Slovakia are closed for the foreseeable future. All stores except groceries and pharmacies are closed. All public events have been canceled, and all church meetings are forbidden. International travel is mostly banned. Jon (M.Div. ’04) and Tanya Parks are not totally prevented from leaving their home, but the government is encouraging people to stay home as much as possible. This means nearly all their regular ministry work is impossible right now.
For the safety of those in their community, Jon, Tanya and their ministry partners have voluntarily canceled all their gatherings and ministry activities. Instead, they are checking in on friends and local ministry contacts via technology and are doing their best to help these partners stay connected and minister as well as they are able. They have also been gathering virtually with their church community group.
In an effort to meet practical needs in their community, Tanya has been sewing face masks that she gives away to others and is hoping to take a number of these into the more vulnerable Roma communities, as this people group has a higher rate of poverty and a particularly difficult time accessing the supplies they need. They are also hoping to equip others to make these masks soon so that this ministry can multiply.
“Two weeks ago, most people here thought COVID-19 was just an overblown social media phenomenon,” Jon and Tanya said. “Now our country is shut down, and we wish we'd acted sooner. Please start now. Please remember to love graciously and give generously—things that are always necessary, especially in times of anxiety and uncertainty.”
Cyprus: The Sanavi Family
Alumnus Mohammad Sanavi (M.Div. ’04) and his wife Alicia recently relocated to Cyprus. After the move, they had hoped to continue traveling back and forth to their training center in Turkey but have not been able to do so since the outbreak.
However, the family is safe in the midst of lockdown, and they have been able to do work and school from home. Though their meetings and trainings are all canceled through April, and perhaps beyond, Alicia and Mohammad have been doing as much as they can to help their partners online.
The Sanavi’s friends in Turkey and Mohammad’s home country (secure location) are desperate for accurate information about the virus and what they should do to stay safe. Many are refugees who cannot work and have limited access to health care. Alicia and Mohammad have found one of the ways they are best able to serve these people is by providing them with accurate information about how to take preventative measures to stay from the virus and where they can go for medical treatment.
They have also been able to continue their worship and teaching ministries online. The past two Sundays, Mohammad has provided live teaching online to people in three to four different countries, and he is hoping to expand that group each week.
“We are thankful that just a couple of weeks prior to being in lockdown mode, the internet was connected in our new home, making all of this possible,” Alicia said. “His timing is perfect.”
Singapore: The Wiggins Family
For several weeks, things in Singapore were running relatively well in spite of the virus. Alumnus Ryan Wiggins (M.Div. ’99) and his wife Julie were able to leave the home, and their kids were still going to school, though their temperatures were taken every time they entered a building. Even with these relatively loose restrictions, though, all large gatherings were prohibited. After their first and only YoungLife gathering of the semester, the Wigginses and their team had to cancel all their large group meetings for the rest semester, as well as their annual fundraising banquet.
As a result, the only direct ministry they have been able to do has been one-on-one and in small groups. However, their team has found these efforts very effective, and they have seen many relationships with students and other leaders in the community deepening as a result. For fundraising, their team has been recording videos and hosting small fundraising dinners in lieu of their usual banquet, and by God’s grace these have also been very successful.
“It has been amazing to see how the Lord is using this major crisis to help us strengthen ministry here for the long term,” Ryan said.
Ryan and Julie have also been heading up a COVID-19 taskforce for YoungLife leadership in Asia and all over the world to help their ministry partners work together and minister well in the face of the virus. However, Singapore recently enacted strict travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders for most of the country. These restrictions went into effect while the Wigginses were abroad on a spring break trip in Australia. As a result, they were unable to return to Singapore and had to make a spur of the moment trip back to the U.S. By God’s provision they made it home in the midst of all the chaos and canceled flights and are now doing as much work as possible from their home in the U.S. until they can return. Their children have also been able to continue school online.
“Our family will come out of self-isolation the week of Easter, and we are thankful for the powerful reminders that Easter brings,” Julie said. “Christ overcame death for us—we do not need to fear death or illness. Our role is to have compassion on the hurting. Love God; love people. While so much has changed, that has not and will not.”
Even alumni living and working in more tense locations are dealing with the effects of COVID-19, in addition to the usual struggles of ministry in these areas. Like us, Joseph* (M.Div. ’96) and Britney* are in lockdown, only able to leave the house for grocery store runs. In spite of this restriction, the couple has remained busy working on a feeding project to serve those in greatest need around them.
They are working with a local pastor to provide basic necessities for a small, nearby community that has suffered especially from the economic turmoil of the virus. Many in this community are now unemployed as a result and have no way to put food on the table or procure basic necessities for their families. Joseph, Britney and their partners are hoping to deliver food through the help of other local believers and pray this will also be an opportunity to share the hope of the gospel with those in need.
As these encouraging alumni put it, “God is not on lockdown.”
*Names changed to protect the identity of these alums serving in a secure area.