FIVE TIPS FOR SURVIVING IN THE WRONG COUNTRY DURING A PANDEMIC
When we boarded the plane from Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia to Atlanta on February 8, 2020, we thought we were leaving for three weeks. Mongolia had declared a nationwide shutdown for five weeks while they waited for the coronavirus threat in neighboring China to blow over.
We didn’t think much of it because the year before there had been a three-week shutdown due to annual flu and pneumonia threats. So, we gave our friend the key to our apartment. We boarded our flight — proud of how lightly we’d packed and excited to see family in the warm, pollution-free state of Georgia.
Those three weeks have stretched into one incredibly frustrating year as our return flights were cancelled and Mongolia closed their borders.
We had entered 2020 recognizing that we needed to develop skills to deal with the unstable and unexpected nature of life in Mongolia. Week-long trainings would get moved ahead with only a weekend to adjust, about half of the meetings we were a part of never materialized, and those that did rarely started on time. Mongolians hold plans loosely; it is a strength of theirs that has served them well in this season. . . . It was not a strength of ours.
This pandemic has helped us develop those skills in the same way throwing a kid into water teaches them how to swim — not always well and with a lot of stress. Still, we have learned some things along the way that we believe are worth sharing.
1. Name the loss.
We have come to accept that, even though there are silver linings in every season, it is dangerous to rush past the losses to find them. So, when we feel sad because of something we’ve lost, we name the loss. We say it out loud (or journal it), share how it makes us feel, and allow ourselves to feel the feelings until we’re ready to move on. It might be something small (like missing my cute reindeer boots) or something bigger (like missing our friends or our cat), but it’s worth taking time to pause and name the loss rather than putting on a fake smile and barreling forward.
2. Celebrate when you see God move.
We watched the generosity of Christians from all over the world contribute to the Global Partners Covid-19 relief fund. Then we got to watch as our pastors and leaders in Mongolia distributed desperately needed food to hundreds of Mongolian households. We celebrated that.
We watched how God provided for Pastor Naraa, the national church leader, who was stranded in South Korea. She got connected to a Christian university, was invited to live in their dorm, and lead Alpha Bible studies for unbelievers and young Christians. We celebrated that.
We saw the Mongolian church double down in prayer when they weren’t able to meet together. We saw them learn how to use technology and connect with each other virtually. We saw them visiting elderly and single people in their homes, finding creative ways to be the hands of Jesus during the pandemic. We celebrated that.
3. Let people help you.
For the first few months as we tried to adapt to our new reality in the wrong country, we wouldn’t have been able to keep our heads above the water without the kindness God delivered through the hands of his people.
A church loaned us a house for the duration; a friend loaned us a car. A few friends brought us meals the first week while we stocked our pantry and made a plan. In each new season, people have helped us find things — bikes during the summer, snow pants in the winter. When people asked, “What do you need?” We told them. It was humbling, and it is what kept us afloat.
4. Look around you.
Now that our feet are more firmly planted, we’ve been looking around for ways to bless others. We don’t always have a lot to give other than our presence and Jesus, but it seems like that’s what most people need right now. We’re walking into the relationships the Holy Spirit leads us to, just like we’d do in Mongolia.
There is an elderly lady who lives across the street from the playground we frequent. I think we’re the only people she interacts with outside of her son who visits periodically. We’ve been invited into her home, and she has loaned us some books. Over the months, we’ve become socially distanced friends. She’s not a believer, but we pray for her and talk with her often. We believe God is at work in that friendship.
5. Remember the goal; adjust the methods.
Our goals have not changed. We still want to learn Mongolian so we can effectively train and mentor Mongolian church leaders. But the methods have changed dramatically. We no longer walk to language school every day, but we can hop online and chat with our instructor (who is stranded in Vietnam like we’re stranded in the United States). We can’t go to the church to pray with the pastor, but we can meet over Zoom to encourage and pray for one another. We can’t gather for quarterly Bible school, but we can enlist a team of teachers to record short videos that leaders can access from anywhere.
I long for the day when we can, again, set foot on Mongolian soil, hug the people we miss so much, and rest in our own home. Until then, we will work to be faithful to God’s call on our lives with the resources we’ve been given in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.