Shadrach Nyeko, BJU Grad
What do you do when you find yourself in a situation that feels completely out of hand? I am writing this article from a country in Africa that has already been under coronavirus lockdown for more than eighty days. Travel regulations and curfews are now normal things around here. But before all this became normal, I had the opportunity to personally experience and observe how others reacted to the new situation as it developed.
I left the States on March 19th, a week after BJU announced that all classes would continue online. At that time, the global panic was just beginning to set in. When I arrived at the airport here at home, I was welcomed by a team of Ministry of Health (MOH) officials who guided me to walk through two temperature guns, pre-set to monitor those arriving. Following that initial screening, my passport was confiscated, and my temperature was taken again using a hand-held device. When they saw that I was arriving from USA which was considered (at the time) a category one country, along with China, S. Korea, and others, I was ushered into a waiting area. All this happened in the space of about thirty minutes. As I sat there waiting, it started to dawn on me that this might not be a very pleasant reentry. With my passport gone, I could already feel that the reins were out of my hands.
About forty-five minutes later, two men came back with our passports and started reading off names, one by one. I was given my passport and led into the immigration line. But, when I handed in my passport to the immigration official to be stamped, it was impounded for the second time – this time never to be returned. No one else was allowed to keep their passports beyond there. At this point, the normal airport exits had been sealed off. I was permitted to collect my baggage then told to sit and wait, again. I could feel the anxiety beginning to build up within the crowd of arrivals. At this time, a list of pre-selected isolation sites began being passed around with the idea that each person should select where to be taken. I felt a little better, but that feeling did not last. After waiting for almost two hours with no information whatsoever, the anxiety in the crowd quickly turned into vigorous agitation. A few people started to question the MOH officials and guards who had also been passively standing there. The buses which I imagined should take us to the various quarantine places were also parked in plain sight the entire time, so nobody understood why there was a delay.
When all these questions were met with no clear answers, the rowdiness of the crowd started to rise. Some people started threatening to forcefully walk out. There was a wide range of emotions there, from those who sat in silence to those yelling at guards. Some calls were made, and eventually, we were allowed to start boarding the mini-buses. It was 2 a.m. when I boarded. The intensity of the scene further escalated when three army men armed with AK-47s joined us on the trip to the quarantine zone. At this point, many were cursing and saying all sorts of things. To make matters worse, the place was covered in millions of lake flies as the rain poured in the typical tropical fashion. As for me, I was more concerned about the costs of quarantine for the fourteen days. So, I chose a place on the cheaper end of the spectrum from the available options. As it turns out, that may have been a bad choice. Along with me were a missionary lady from Oregon, a teacher from the Netherlands, and Somali businessmen traveling from Amsterdam. This place was so remote that even the driver couldn’t locate it. After several attempts to find it, someone came to lead us there. The road was a very narrow dirt path with a cliff-like drop on one side, eroded away by running water.
When we arrived in the walled, quarantine compound, it was pitch black, and the ground was flooded to ankle level. I made my way to the reception room with a small flashlight, ferrying luggage with me. Names were written in a big book, and we were asked to pay the entire fee upfront. Since some of us could not do so, the boss gave us a grace period following some discussion. I was then ushered to my room for the night by candlelight. It was already 5 a.m. when I set foot in that room. That was the first day, and all of it was only an indicator of what was to come. Over the next two weeks, we would be heavily guarded by police and army men and checked every day. After the 14-day period, no information was given as to when we would be let out. We had been tested, but no results were ever given. From day 14 to day 25 when I finally got out, it was one minute after the other of helpless waiting and wondering what would happen next.
In addition to multiple messages and prayers from friends, church, and family, the words that kept me comforted during this period were from my pastor’s preaching in Daniel 1. He said, “No matter where we go, no matter where we are, our sovereign God is there, even in enemy territory, faithfully guiding our faithful steps, preserving us and accomplishing his purposes.” When confronted with a seemingly out of hand situation, the first step is to recognize that nothing is ever truly out of hand. If it is not in my hands, it was never there to begin with. If God is truly sovereign, which He is, then nothing can ever get out of His hands.
The MOH officials at my quarantine site were always trying to assert their authority in whatever way possible. The two men from Amsterdam comforted themselves with beer on a daily basis. The American lady did everything right for the 14-day period, but after her discipline did not pay off, she started to boil up, eventually bursting out into full aggression, yelling, and spewing out all sorts of unsanitary words. When a situation gets out of my hands, my flesh tempts me to react in a way that makes me feel heard. But what if in such situations, we made sure that it was God’s voice being heard? In the midst of my own troubled heart, God gave me the opportunity to share the gospel with two policemen, one army doctor, four occupants, and especially with a security guard named Joseph. Joseph professed to be a Christian but had ceased praying and attending church after his wife left him. Following our interactions for a few days, he suddenly asked for my Bible and begun to read it. He told me he was learning about forgiveness. From our conversations, I could tell that he was experiencing some change. The anger he had held for so long was beginning to wear off. Through Joseph, God changed my outlook on the whole isolation experience. What is it in your life that feels out of hand today? Remember, it is still in God’s hands.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.