February 2020. Our business was going well; 80 per cent better than the same time last year. We had just picked up our new bathroom-equipped touring coach, and the new signwriting on it looked fantastic. This is our seventh year operating our Brisbane-based bus charter company, BarnaBus – and it was going to be our biggest.
With school having just kicked off, we were gearing up for a huge 2020. The team was looking forward to working productively to make up for the quiet period over the Christmas break.
Did I do something wrong to deserve this? Where is God?
We had heard about the coronavirus, and that parts of Asia were now closing their borders.
We may have lost two incoming groups but we were not too concerned.
By the beginning of March, however things looked very different.
I remember feeling angry, frustrated, out of control, as well as a general sense of failure as I received the 25th booking cancellation in one week.
Many questions popped up: how am I going to support my family and staff? Did I do something wrong to deserve this? Is my business going to survive? What is God teaching me?
Where is God?
Very soon we had lost all our forward bookings. After moping around for a whole night (by this stage, insomnia had become the new norm), I realised I was never in control; I was merely one of God’s stewards. I could continue to be depressed and downcast, but there is an unnatural but consistent approach taken by people in the Bible.
For example, turn to James 1:2-3 – “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
God has always wanted us to serve him with all of our heart, including with all of our joy. Nehemiah writes “the joy of the Lord is our strength”. Paul in Philippians 4 wrote about rejoicing, with such strong emphasis that he commands: “I will say it again, rejoice”. This seems to have been the foundation of his ministry life.
I have been realising during this COVID-19 pandemic that, when faced with any situation, ultimately it is my choice to sulk, feel victimised, unfairly treated or give up. But there are so many examples in the Bible of people who often faced their problems head-on, with determination and full of joy.
We began tackling our challenges with a new battle plan of ‘Operation Joy.’
Taking such a different approach to how I was feeling would not only produce different results, but an entirely different journey and experience.
During the days that followed my bus business being ground to a halt, we began tackling our challenges with a new battle plan of ‘Operation Joy.’ Our staff were encouraged and assisted to find casual work elsewhere, including paying for their licenses to upgrade to drive B-double trucks.
When informed there was nothing left at BarnaBus, the team was not only understanding, but very supportive of myself as their employer. They reassured me that they loved working at BarnaBus, understood Covid-19 was not my fault, and would be back as soon as I called them.
Our marketing department switched to a higher gear and was pumping out content and online advertisements when all of our competitors were turning off their campaigns. The team even produced a video to encourage our industry drivers and operators to look for the silver lining. It has had an online reach we had never seen before.
When there is joy in your heart, you start seeing the world differently.
As the vehicles are parked up and employees moved on, my role quickly changed from a 60-70 hour working week as a company director … to a full-time dad.
My sons are aged four and almost two, and we realised this was a great time to build memories.
With my wife still at work and picking up more hours, this was a golden opportunity to teach them a few bike stunts, play outside, to sit at the local train station and watch the coal freight trains roll by (until social distancing rules took that from us). I even tried my hand at cooking.
The past few weeks at home have not been easy, but it has been truly memorable. My boys now cling to my side and every day at home is filled with fun and laughter. Even at age four, my eldest, Jeremy seems to understand this situation is temporary, and that what matter is that we have each other.
Also, my staff and I are closer than ever before – even though we are no longer in the same workplace.
When there is joy in your heart, you start seeing the world differently. Problems become opportunities.
We may be running out of cash, but the business will be rebuilt. We will top up the bank account when that happens.
Many of you would know from experience that kids only grow up so fast, so I feel priveleged to have had the chance to have spent a big part of 2020 with them – at home – with “having fun” as my job description. The pizza tonight could’ve been improved, though.
I realise that my problems may be very small compared with yours, but can I remind you that God is infinitely big. It will not be long until we reflect on the other side of this season and see how God pulled us through.
Until then, I pray that your families will stay safe and may you be blessed, be rested and discover something new about God.
Alex Lam is general manager at BarnaBus coach and charter company in Brisbane.