Beyond ourselves 

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April 8, 2020 | Editorial | Volume 24 Issue 8
Virginia A. Hostetler | Executive Editor
'You and I can expand our circle of attention...' (Image by Arek Socha/Pixabay)

As I write, my household is entering into our fourth week of physical distancing. Facing the fast-spreading and potentially deadly coronavirus, my spouse and I sit in a comfortable house, with a dependable supply of food and are thankful for good sanitation. We have books, music and movies. We’re still employed, and we’re connecting digitally with a network of family and friends. Still healthy, thanks be to God.

We have access to reliable information: local, national and international news. There are safe sidewalks and a public garden nearby where we go to see the crocuses emerging. We wave to the neighbours, from a distance. If we should need medical help, we can go to one of three local hospitals. We have our church family and our faith in an ever-loving God.

Living in gratitude, you and I can expand our circle of attention. So we listen to the agencies telling of people in our own communities who don’t have the privilege of being safely housed and cared for, those with no steady income for buying food for their families. They tell of prisoners who cannot practise physical distance and thus are more vulnerable to the contagious virus. Organizations working elsewhere report about families living in crowded spaces with no water with which to wash their hands. They tell of farmers who are not able to produce enough food and of medical facilities that do not have enough equipment or supplies. 

The current situation makes it more challenging for North Americans to support ministries among marginalized people. For example, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) reports that its thrift shops are temporarily shuttered, along with the cancellation and postponing of relief sales in both Canada and the United States. Last year, these two sources brought in millions of dollars for MCC’s programs around the world. Sitting in relative safety, we need to find other ways of sharing beyond ourselves.

As the global church faces COVID-19, Mennonite World Conference (MWC) is helping members of the larger Anabaptist family tell their stories, and is encouraging us to pray for each other. In a series of YouTube videos, leaders from over a dozen countries tell about the challenges their communities are facing. You can view their videos at youtube.com/user/mwccmm/videos.

These leaders also share Bible verses that are meaningful for them right now. Speaking from Spain, Antonio Gonzalez highlights Psalm 91 and the assurance of God’s presence in a time of pestilence. Samuel Martinez of El Salvador mentions Jesus’ promise in John 16:33: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Drawing from Isaiah 66, Alexander Neufeld of Germany grasps the words of God as a loving parent: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” 

You and I can hold on to the faith exemplified by Anabaptist siblings in other places. We join in the benediction offered by Nelson Kraybill, MWC’s president, as he echoes the words of Zechariah in Luke 1:28-29: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Stories and laughter

One way to sustain our spirits in difficult times is to share stories and laughter. I’ve been watching for those moments of lightheartedness in grim times. Have you seen photos of a cake made in the shape of toilet paper? Videos of families dancing and singing to COVID-19-themed music? There’s the rendition of da Vinci’s “Last Supper” painting as experienced in a Zoom video call. People wash their hands to the tune of ‘Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.” A woman in a purple dress shows off her extremely wide skirt, suitable for physical distancing.

Also uplifting are the stories of generosity and service: people bringing supplies to neighbours in isolation, citywide efforts to make masks and gowns for those who need them, efforts to thank community members who provide essential services, people reaching out in creative ways to care for friends experiencing loneliness and anxiety.

Here’s an invitation for you to share your stories of laughter and kindness in these times of separation. You can send submissions to submit@canadianmennonite.org with the subject line: COVID Kindness, or mail them to 490 Dutton Drive, Waterloo ON N2L 6H7.

Related stories:
In uncharted waters
The public good in a time of pandemic
Pastor calls for governmental change amid COVID-19
Saskatchewan health-care professionals reflect on COVID-19
Love in the time of COVID-19

Read more editorials: 
The church has left the building
Chequebook and calendar
Structure and identity
Church stories
Limits and surprises

'You and I can expand our circle of attention...' (Image by Arek Socha/Pixabay)

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