I turned 40 last week.
Many people commented that it was such an unusual time to have a birthday because of all the quarantine/safer-at-home/self-isolation/social distancing measures that are in place.
But this actually wasn’t my first milestone birthday spent with curfews and movement restrictions.
10 years ago, as I was turning 30, the city in which we were living (Jos, Nigeria) had a curfew in place (I think it was 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.) and movement restrictions.
Our five years in Nigeria were a special time in our lives, and the challenges we faced there gave us a different perspective on hardships and suffering. In fact, some elements of life there uniquely prepared us for some of the things we are encountering in this current era of health concerns and stay-at-home orders. Here are a few:
- Movement restrictions. I can’t remember how severe the curfew and movement restrictions were at the time of my 30th birthday. I do know that in the days leading up to my birthday, I had several meetings related to whatever the crisis was at the time. Because of the restrictions, Christie’s plans for a surprise birthday party for me turned into a slumber party so that we could stay up late playing games with good friends. Movement restrictions were actually a normal part of our life in Nigeria. Elections, holidays, violence, visits by government officials, and any number of other things often forced us into our homes for a period of time (sometimes hours, sometimes days). Today, we’re grateful to be able to go out for exercise and visit the grocery store, something that wasn’t always permitted in Jos.
- Unpredictability. Life was wildly unpredictable in Nigeria. The security situation could change at a moment’s notice. We always had a “go” bag packed with essential items that we needed in case we would need to jump in a car and either drive to the airport or across the border. Over the last few weeks, the situation around COVID-19 has been changing rapidly, and uncertainty lies ahead. As in Nigeria, we are comforted by the fact that no matter how many changes we might experience, we can rely on our God whom we know holds the future.
- Core support network. When life was particularly challenging in Nigeria, we found it helpful to have a few friends or family members that we could turn to. Some from our immediate community in Jos gave us hope and flashed light into our world when things were particularly dim. Others that we could text with encouraged us and gave us perspective. Today in the U.S., we have a myriad of tools (and incredibly fast internet) that allow us to connect with our core support network. We hope that in the midst of what feels like a dark and uncertain time to many, we can be life-giving to others around us, even as we try to surround ourselves (virtually) with life-givers.
- Health concerns. When we tell people about our experiences in Nigeria, many assume that the terrorism was the scariest part of living there. To be honest, it wasn’t. For me, it was malaria. Every mosquito, every puddle of standing water, every quick walk outside, every hotel bed that wasn’t covered in a net–each caused a bit of fear over the threat of malaria. Many of our friends have lost friends or family members to this dreaded disease–no one disbelieved that it existed nor doubted its potency. We did our best to protect ourselves but we always knew that there was an invisible enemy out there residing in a barely visible mosquito.
- Washing hands. Malaria wasn’t the only health concern. Because of typhoid, cholera, dysentery, etc., washing our hands frequently and carrying around hand sanitizer everywhere (brought from the U.S.) is nothing new to us.
- Theology of suffering. Everyone suffers. Life has challenges in the U.S. and Nigeria (and China and Peru and Australia…). These challenges are much more profound in some places, but everyone suffers in some way. I am especially grateful that God has used my experiences in Nigeria to develop in me a Bible-centered theology of suffering. This has helped me to maintain perspective, continue trusting in God and be a source of hope (usually) for our children despite the dangers and challenges in the world. We grieve and we mourn, all the while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ.
In what ways do you think God has prepared you for the current situation? How is He changing and growing you now, even in the midst of the uncertainty?
Note: I am not trying to compare our current situation in the U.S. to the situation in Nigeria now or even years ago, only to share how some of the lessons we learned in Nigeria helped strengthen us for elements of today’s environment. Please continue to pray for Nigeria and other countries that are struggling and will struggle to cope with COVID-19 realities! Often these are places where health care, sanitation issues and many other factors could make the number of cases and deaths truly horrifying.