There is no modern playbook for a global pandemic. Current headlines will tell you that the spectrum is broad when it comes to opinions on whether we’ve handled this rightly or wrongly. Only time will tell and even then we probably won’t all agree!
Within our NGO world, we saw the full gamut of responses (though some are best called reactions). Thankfully, our organization left the decision making with us. Stay or go was our call to make. With friends and colleagues literally around the globe, we started discussing what would be best for them and best for us. Our part of the conversation was always short. Our youngest was born in Thailand. She had no citizenship. No passport. No visa. We weren’t going anywhere. Decision made.
In many ways it felt like cheating as we watched others toil over their choices.
- If I stay, what happens if we get sick? Our host country has limited medical options? Will health insurance cover us?
- If I go, what will my supporters think of me? Will this cost me my support in the long run? I am fearful of being judged but no one else is here on the ground to see my reality.
- If I stay, who will take care of my aging parents in Canada?
- My org said I can decide, but the Prime Minister said it’s time to return to Canada.
- If I go, what will my friends and colleagues in my host country think of me? Will this burn all the bridges I’ve made?
- If I stay and the world stays shut down for a long time, when will I see my family in Canada again?
- If I go, can I even get back into my host country?
- If I stay, how can I be helpful to anyone while stuck at home?
The back-and-forthing of it all could be endless. The information was changing rapidly. Rules were being made, and then modified, in record time. Facts and opinions were blurring and fear mongers were mongering. Numbers were climbing and people were dying. Sentiments varied depending on location. Those of us in Asia were already living modified lifestyles while North America was untouched. By the time people were dying by the thousands in Europe, Africa seemed safe. It was irrational to think anyone could make a perfect decision in the up-and-downness of this global pandemic.
We stayed. We’re adapting. And we’re trying to be a support however we can. And for this we are applauded. We appreciate it. More than that, we need the reminders that we’re not alone in this. We have not once felt abandoned in this season.
Uncelebrated in all of this are the ones who returned home. Some were already in Canada on routine business and then got stuck there. As far as we can tell, global workers in Canada just might have it harder than we do.
We’re home with our beds and full command of our wardrobes (though in all honesty the same pairs of shorts are getting a lot of wear these days). We are not sharing space with others. We are not imposing on anyone. Our arrival did not require anyone to 14 Day Quarantine. Returning home is not a vacation. It’s fun, but it is not easy.
Being in Canada can often be challenging as part of your world, and heart, is in your host country. Whether people chose to return or got stuck in Canada, the reality is that their heart is now in two places and a split heart is rarely an easy thing to live with.
Some people who returned to Canada did so for medical reasons – their own or others in their family. We salute you. Some returned to Canada to support family who would otherwise be alone. We honour you. Some returned because they knew their presence put their host community at risk. We respect your dedication. Some had no choice as foreign nationals were forced out. We grieve with you.
In the midst of chaos, some made a choice to return while others made a choice to stay. Maybe more of us should have returned. Maybe more of us should have stayed. Maybe each person’s situation (health, finances, national laws, family matters, local infrastructure, children, schooling, available medical services) is so unique that even attempting to contrive blanket “should have” statements is a horrible waste of emotional energy.
Let’s all just grieve together. People have died. Life milestones have been postponed or cancelled. Families have been separated or kept apart. Normal is gone. No one is making promises. We don’t know when the skies will open and we’ll be able to travel and see family again – so we can grieve the open-ended unknown of it all. It’s hard to dream when you cannot imagine what comes next and so it’s okay to grieve in a season of tough dreaming.
To our fellow global workers – whether you are reading this in Canada or somewhere around the world – we all are where we are right now. God is not shocked. We can’t tell you if you made the right or wrong decision (or if there even is such a thing as a right or wrong decision here). We can tell you that you are loved, you are surrounded by opportunity, and our God is a God of purpose. Wherever you may be, be about His purpose.