This is not the 2020 we anticipated when we last wrote you in early February: we thought that surviving 2019 was going to have been the biggest challenge of the decade and we had turned the corner into a year with new team, hopeful finances, purpose, dreams, meaningful work. The community had responded to our landslide assistance and ongoing presence with a surge of confidence; we were actually over-capacity with our CSB enrolment after years of dwindling. We were finally getting the teachers we needed; we had a solid nutrition program running, visitors coming, a music workshop and translation work and medical education. We had been following the new respiratory virus in China since January and briefly engaged with Serge about insurance in case we had to cancel our quadrennial all-company conference planned for late May . . . but generally were moving full steam ahead.
Then came March, for you, for us, for the world. Every day seemed to throw a new wobble into our life. We canceled our conference, then our visitors, then our internships. Uganda, Kenya, and the DRC began closing schools, closing churches, closing borders, closing airports, shutting down all exit options, while Burundi pursued partial closures. We sent all our CSB students home. In a place with no on-line options, our teachers worked to prepare homework packets to distribute to students which we were then forbidden to do. We spent every day anticipating new regulations, reacting, to new realities, preparing for the worst. With our team we worked to procure protective equipment, sanitisers, oxygen, knowing that our fragile health system could not do much for the severely ill. We prepared medical education and met with our local government. At the same time we were on daily zooms, texts, phone calls, emails around our Area, counseling, advising, making decisions. asking questions, setting policies, changing them. And at the same time we were worried about our families in places with more cases, the UK (Jack) and USA (everyone else). We asked our 84 and 87 year old moms to fully self isolate, and soon almost everyone was living in the new social distance mode.
Somehow in those weeks of hourly changes, sitting down to compose a letter was beyond us, so we just kept
throwing thoughts out on the blog hoping to reach most of you. We apologise for that. There are 13 posts since the beginning of March; please go back and read through some if you want a more detailed view of what it’s been like. The most recent one is here; this one seemed the most popular… . and many have photos to draw you into the day to day.
To say in a letter what we can’t on the public blog: the last month has been draining in a thousand ways, and yet we only have 48 cases in Uganda and none in Bundibugyo, so the real battle is still ahead. We only personally know four people who have told us of their own positive COVID-19 tests and illness around the world; all are in our daily prayers, all are improving, so we have barely entered the grief that might be coming. Every day we are holding onto tension between disparate truths. As leaders, we worked over the last few weeks to get our only two over-65 couples off the continent so that if they were ill they would at least have in ICU option, and to get our pregnant women into areas with potential safe delivery options as borders closed (3 on-continent and 1 back to USA). But for the rest of the people we supervise, it is true that the risk of any one of them having a severe illness as healthy 20, 30, or a few 40-somethings, is very low. The benefit of solidarity, of standing with our communities in the hour of need, of speaking hope, of medical care and financial boosts, of leadership and calm, remains high. A low-risk virus that enters a non-immune population still wreaks havoc, because 1% of millions of people is still a heavy toll of death. As we weigh all of this, we are taking, and allowing, risks. We are in a rare point in our lives where we have no sure escape, where the mercy of God is our only hope. This is always true but rarely felt. This is not easy. We are no longer allowed to move except to the market on foot, or to the hospital in the car. Everyone is on edge. Meanwhile babies still need to be born, malaria still needs to be treated, children still need to be fed.
pray for our teams to sense God’s presence, to commit themselves daily to God’s care? Would you
pray for our communities to be spared the worst of this disease, knowing that the USA’s worst-case scenario of inadequate and overwhelmed health system responses would still be 100 or 1000 times more than our best-case capacity? Would you
pray for our families, particularly our mothers Judy and Ruth, to be well? Would you
pray for us to maintain empathy and wisdom, to grow deeply in grace as our lives constrict to limited distances and options? And would you
allow us to pray for you in the high-risk zones of the world, where the wave of illness is already breaking hard?
There will be more to do and learn in 2020 than we could have imagined, and we are glad to be walking this journey with you. Thanks for reading this long letter, and please keep checking the blog as we go forward. Wash your hands, stay home unless your job is essential, don’t touch other people, don’t touch your face, absolutely isolate yourself if you’re sick, pray for the world, and wash your hands again. Jesus conquered death and COVID-19. All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, just on God’s mysterious timeline not ours.
Jennifer and Scott Mhyre, Serge in Uganda