By Alayna Wort
“As much as I hate to say this, I think we need to be on a plane, heading home Thursday.”
The breath we had all held from the moment we were told we had until 5pm Eastern Standard Time to decide whether or not we wanted to return to the states, was let loose. I was squished between two incredibly disappointed and heartbroken teammates, listening to the sighs of the in-country host leader, Tara, and Tyler Grant (Director of the Global Engagement office at Bethel), as we revealed our decision.
Tyler’s voice breached the silence. “Well, alright. I will talk to the travel agent today then.”
I didn’t know how or what to feel. For, even as we sat here discussing logistics for the following day with Tara, I found myself wondering what the morning would bring. Already, the number of cases both globally and in the states, was rising. Friends and family back home had already told me, some with laughter at the mass panic and others with deep worry, about the empty shelves of hand sanitizer and toilet paper, about the school closings and mass amounts of canceled events. What the hell was I flying home too?
A friend recently remarked on how incredible it is that the world can, seemingly overnight, shut down almost completely. As I sit here, gearing up to squeeze as many activities as possible into our last few days in South Africa, I find that surprise and confusion are the only emotions I can clearly name. I don’t know if I will experience a quarantine upon return. I don’t know if good can come out of this mess. I don’t know if this disease will count a close family member or friend of mine among its kills, when it’s all over.
I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I always knew I did not actually know as much as I would like to believe. I wish I could say that I have some semblance of an idea about what the next few months will look like, but I don’t. In the midst of an uncertain reality, I found myself writing this in my journal:
“We leave the country in a couple days; I just listened to a podcast about prayer and holiness; I am struggling to know what to think and how to feel. But, may the peace of morning, the sweat of a workout, the joy of unexpected discoveries in a time of chaos, lead and guide me into practices of prayer and holiness. Perhaps, in this season, I, we, us, are being asked to give up/surrender busyness and take up whatever cross there is, in order to help those in our communities who desperately need it. I do not fully know what that will look like, but I hope for light and life in the midst of an ever-darkening and death-ridden world.”
Maybe that cross is busyness, or maybe the cross for you and your community, is something else. I think it will depend on the country, on the community, on the family, on the individual. Regardless, I think this is a time for prayer, whatever that looks like for the community in which you find yourself. Perhaps that means giving what you have to those who have nothing or very little. It might mean taking one bottle of hand sanitizer instead of two; it might mean mourning the loss of a loved one; it might mean slowing down instead of speeding up. I don’t know.
But, since the decision was made to return home, I have been asked by many people, both here in South Africa and various friends and family at home:
“How do you feel about leaving?”
I continue to give the same answer:
“I am a bag of mixed emotions. On the one hand, I have been craving various aspects of home since I left the country, but this week, before everything escalated, I finally began to feel comfortable here. Now, I have to leave this week and I don’t know what to think or feel about anything.”
As I mentioned earlier, though, perhaps prayer is something we all could use a little of right now. Prayer, in all its various forms. Prayer for light and life; prayer for guided hands in hospitals; prayer for the anxious and prayer for the dying and prayer for the loved ones of the dying. Prayer for the quarantined; prayer for every infected and not yet infected country. Prayer for world leaders and for community leaders; prayer for those looking for a cure and prayer for those trying to get home and prayer for those trapped in countries not their own during this pandemic.
Whatever happens in the coming days, even as I struggle to figure out how to pray and what to pray, I hope for peace and I hope for clarity and I hope for wisdom. May those who find prayer easy, be willing to pray for those things. May those who find prayer difficult, be willing to hope for those things.