Julie Field and her husband Martin are missionaries with Church Missionary Society (CMS). Together with their four children, they have been serving university students in Argentina since 2007.
May 23, 2021: Today started with a run of frantic text messages between the women of my ladies Bible study group. Johana asks us to pray for her friend Andres, who contracted coronavirus and is now struggling to breathe in a nearby casualty unit. Then Debora, a hospital administrator, chimes in with a firm reminder to stay safe and not take any risks.
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There are no hospital beds anywhere in Córdoba, an Argentinian city of 1.5 million people – Covid or otherwise. It is no time to need emergency medical care.
Covid has vastly changed our lives and our ministry. To me, it seems like a before and after scenario. Before this craziness began, we worked with students in the university city of Córdoba. That meant we filled our weeks with discipleship of student leaders and leading small group Bible studies on campus, along with hosting large training events in our home. There was always a buzz of activity as we shared our family life with students.
Over the past 13 years our four children have been raised in this beautiful sociable culture, where the signs of friendship are warm embraces and sharing ‘mate’, a herbal tea enjoyed with a communal straw.
So where does that leave us this side of the Covid drama? What impact has this virus had on life and ministry in Córdoba?
Young people were struggling with being shut in for months on end.
From one day to the next, our ministry opportunities changed dramatically. The young adults camp scheduled for the end of March, 2020, went online. Church services and Bible study groups all went online. The wedding we were officiating in March 2020 also went online. In fact, everything went online, as we entered a never-ending cycle of on-again-off-again lockdown.
We kissed goodbye to the precious face-to-face interactions with students. But this was particularly difficult to deal with, as the pastoral needs grew exponentially. Young people were struggling with being shut in for months on end. Their study routines were being affected. Their day-to-day relationships were under great strain. Many students abandoned tertiary study. Anxiety and depression knocked at the door. Economic hardship reared its head as job opportunities dried up. We have found ourselves busier than ever, though in very different ways.
It has been a difficult period of adaptation. The Córdoba universities remain closed and resemble ghost towns. Their main purpose is to house the Covid vaccination programs. So we have looked for other ways to reach young people with the hope of the gospel of Jesus. Moving everything online has not been completely negative … doors have opened to support others who live in other parts of Argentina. I have been reading the Bible weekly with friends from other provinces, whom ordinarily I would only chat with once or twice a year at the national student conferences.
One ministry opportunity that has grown significantly during the Covid pandemic is the teaching of MOCLAM theological courses.
MOCLAM is a Christ-centred theological program for Spanish speakers that has its foundation in the Preliminary Theological Certificate (PTC) from Moore College, Sydney. Martin and I have been teaching these ten-week courses via Zoom, and have found the online format to work very well with students from various parts of Argentina. Currently, I am teaching the book of Mark to a dozen young adults on Monday nights, and an older group, including pastors, on Fridays. The level of study is challenging and finishes with an exam, all of which is now possible online. The pandemic has pushed ministries like these to adapt to the new times we now live in.
Caring for others during the pandemic has been exhausting. Sometimes it seems like every text message or phone call just brings more bad news. I have felt overwhelmed by my inability to “just get out there and help others”. Half of my ladies’ Bible study group was sick with Covid at one time or another.
All of us grieved for those close and dear, who lost the battle with this terrible virus. My friend Johana also became very sick with Covid, and there was so little I could “do” to help her without putting our own family at risk. Buy some medication and leave it at her door. Chat to her at the local hospital from a safe five-metre distance. Check in on her regularly with text messages. I just feel so useless, and unable to give a comforting hug or share a ‘mate’ as we grieve. But the Lord has been teaching me a valuable lesson: trust it all to him. We have been reminded by the Lord to give our concerns to his care, to trust that he is in control and that he remains sovereign, even over this world pandemic.
As the Psalmist says, “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.” (Psalm 119:50)
Even though the need for comfort amidst suffering is real, I have become acutely aware that we have the promise of eternal life. Our non-believing friends and neighbours do not. Praise God that despite the hardship, we have this good news to hold out to others.
The hunger to make sense of this pandemic has certainly been drawing people to himself, as we have witnessed at our local church, and even in my ladies’ Bible study group, which has doubled in size since the pandemic began.
Lord, give us the courage to keep holding out this good news to others, that they too might live.