My wife just got the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. She is a family-practice physician and part of the first wave of recipients in the U.S. Leading up to her appointment, we read stories about the vaccine and its development. And as we did, we felt an intense emotional response we did not expect. What was going on inside of us?
It reminded us of our time on the mission field, where there was so much cross-cultural stress underlying daily life that we were often unaware of the emotional and physical toll it was taking on us. The first few years of missionary service are some of the most difficult years a person can experience.
In fact, there have been studies measuring stress levels of first-year missionaries. The Holmes-Rahe scale measures stress and stress-related health outcomes. Those who score 200 or more points will likely have serious long-term health problems within two years. On a modified Holmes-Rahe scale, first-year missionaries are known to peak at 900 points. Even after being on the field for several years, missionaries level off at about 600 points.
What we have all been experiencing these past 10 months is very similar to the stress that first-year missionaries experience. Once COVID-19 spread and governments responded, all the rules changed. We were forced to live in a new reality, a new culture. Shopping is different than it was before. Social interactions are different than they were before. Work, church, and life are not the same. So what did we do? We adapted, we changed, we endured. And we often pushed down all the emotions, grief, and loss because life must go on.
What we have all been experiencing these past ten months is very similar to the stress that first-year missionaries experience.
But every once in a while, we are reminded of how things used to be, and all the emotions come pouring out. Usually for missionaries, the trigger is worshiping in our mother tongue or a visit from old church friends or family. For us during this COVID-19 pandemic, news of the vaccine turned on the faucet. Why? Because it represented a path back to normality, back to pre-pandemic life.
Not the Same
My guess, however, is that even when the virus is no longer the threat it is today, things will not be the same as before. Why? Because we have changed.
Our family is now back in the U.S., but for us, our home culture isn’t the same as it was before. Our experiences on the mission field have permanently altered who we are. I believe the pandemic will have the same effect. We will be stronger. We will be better able to adapt, change, and endure in ways we formerly were not. To me, this presents a great opportunity.
Having experienced the stress of radical cultural and societal change during this pandemic, can you imagine why anyone would voluntarily put themselves in a situation where their Holmes-Rahe stress levels are over 900? Why would anyone knowingly put their personal health and safety on the line for others?
Jesus did it. We celebrate the fact that the Son of God was born of a woman and entered a new culture, a broken world, where all the rules were different. He endured the stress, humiliation, and curse of the fall. Why? For us. Because of his love for us. He did it to make us a people fit for his kingdom. And it is his Spirit in us that empowers us not only to become children of God, but to endure much difficulty for the sake of his name.
His Spirit empowers us not only to become children of God, but to endure much difficulty for the sake of his name.
Why do you think God has allowed this pandemic to affect our world? What are his purposes for believers who have experienced the stress of life under COVID-19? Could it be to prepare us for his service? Could it be to train us for his global mission––to be more adept at change, patience, and graciousness in the midst of stress and opposition?
Wouldn’t it be like God to use a pandemic to bring about a revival and resurgence of missions? We have good news, and it is not of vaccines to protect us from COVID-19. We have something better––the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Normalcy Our Hearts Long For
There is a deeper truth that lies behind our emotional response to the vaccine. It does not simply represent a path back to normality or to pre-COVID-19 life, but a path to what our hearts ultimately long for––a kingdom where there is no disease, no sickness, no fears, no worries, no sin, and no death. COVID-19 reminds us that this kingdom has not yet come in power and glory. But it will.
Until that day, let’s join Jesus in his mission of making disciples among the nations, bringing the good news of the kingdom to people and places that have no access.