Our family moved to London a little over three months ago. It was in the middle of winter. It was dark and cold, but that didn’t bother us. We wandered the crowded streets and enjoyed every bit of what this grand old city had to offer. It was before the world knew about COVID19.
A few months later, my son came home from school early. He had a note. They were closing the school for a week because they suspected two students had contracted the coronavirus. The school was to be cleaned and disinfected during that time. It ended up being a false alarm and normal schooling resumed. Now it seems, from this week, all schools across Britain are to close indefinitely.
Back home in Australia, it seems mass hysteria has hit with people stockpiling things like toilet paper and flour. Images of empty supermarket shelves are regularly coming up on my social media feeds. Some who were out for their weekly groceries have been astounded at the sheer number of people jostling each other in these supermarkets to get their goods.
In London, I heard about an incident on the tube from a friend. A person coughed, only to have a stranger completely lose their minds and shout at them for being on public transport. The cougher could have just had a scratchy throat or been getting over a common cold. But fear is now starting to take hold and for some, it is hard to stay rational.
As I hear of knives being drawn as people scramble over toilet paper back home, I can’t help feeling unsettled. Not of contracting some virus, or running out of essential items, but by the power of fear. How it can so easily reduce us all, should we let it.
Many Christian leaders have called for an outpouring of love to counter that fear. In his latest blog post, Akos Balogh reminded us Christians that this is our time. It is our time to cast off fear and trust in Jesus “who conquered sickness: who touched the lepers and healed them with a word.” It is our time to love our neighbours as best we can.
It is an age old message that saw many Christians risk their lives in the third century as the plague ravaged the Roman Empire. As others fled, it was the Christians who stayed and tended the sick. They prayed for the dying and buried the dead.
In the 1840s, as a deadly cholera outbreak swept through London, it was the city’s Christians who deliberately went into the slums to sit with the dying and pray with their families.
The world has seen deadly epidemics before. The world has also seen instances of courage and care in the face of such crises before.
Perhaps it’s now time we all got a little braver.
We may not all be crazy brave like the Christian evangelists in the heart of Wuhan, risking their health to walk the streets every day to give out masks and tell people about Jesus. But surely we can all be just brave enough to think of others, to break down barriers and leave room open in our hearts for compassion.
Kindness costs. Compassion for others at a time where our own welfare is at stake takes courage. But it has been done before. The God we Christians serve and vowed to follow sweated blood as He prepared to head to the cross for our sake. Surely we can spare that last cake of soap at the supermarket for others. Surely we can give someone who is self-isolating a call to check if they are ok.
In times like this, I find myself looking for the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living and taking courage from it when times are uncertain.
A few weeks ago I saw a different story come up on my social media feed. Australians were quietly buying groceries for others who had isolated themselves and leaving the shopping at their door.
Small instances of care are also being seen elsewhere around the world.
In the UK, Becky Wass, an associate lecturer in creative advertising from Cornwall, felt so helpless after watching coverage of the crisis, she did something about it. She designed the following image to be printed into postcards and distributed to her neighbourhood.
“Coronavirus is scary,” she posted on Facebook. “Let’s make kindness go viral.”
In Hubei province, according to the Chinese online media outlet, Sixth Tone:
Thousands of volunteers … have mobilised to provide local hospitals and residents with much-needed supplies.
Grassroots groups have been particularly important in the province’s smaller cities, which have weaker health systems and have received less aid than Wuhan.
75 kilometres from Wuhan, Huanggang city is under lockdown. Vloggers have documented friends and volunteers driving in to buy supplies for villagers living in more remote areas.
“The work of purchasing and distribution is tiring, especially when the demand is high,” says one volunteer.
“We used to do purchasing runs once a week. Now we do it three times a week.”
I’m sure there are risks every time these volunteers leave their homes, but they do it anyway for the sake of others.
We may not be asked to risk our own health, but perhaps we can all be brave enough to act with compassion in our own way. Enough to be more thoughtful of each other as we ride this out together.