by Arlin L. Scharfenberg
In the September 2020 issue of The Messenger, Dr. Layton Friesen describes disruptions that COVID-19 has had on our traditions, especially in our churches. Many of the events that we as believers enjoyed in our places of worship have ceased or dramatically changed.
Disruptions of our regular daily routines are inconvenient and often uncomfortable. After 20 years of teaching in the same high school classroom, delivering many of the same courses for over a decade, I was comfortable with my craft. I had mastered many teaching techniques that fit well with my personality and philosophy of education. For those strategies or academic concepts which needed attention, I participated in professional development and learning communities. This resulted in minor and incremental adjustments to my skills and knowledge.
And then came March 13, 2020. Everything changed when the Education Minister announced that school would be suspended indefinitely. I converted my classroom into a video recording studio, and went from teaching face-to-face to recording lesson content, video-editing programs, and hosting Google Meet sessions. Students were as confused with the technology as they were with the sudden disruption to their education. There was little semblance to the last decade of educational experience.
One of my business professors began every class with the question, “what did you do differently today?” I became rather irritated with this constant push to try new things so I could earn my participation marks. However, as the reality of this radically different education model took effect, I asked myself through prayer, “what can I do differently today that will make a difference?”
Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (NLT). And “the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:26–28 NLT).
I began using my conversations with students to ask deeper questions. They easily described how the restrictions were affecting them, expressing their desire to learn in the company of their friends. As experts tried to shift our terminology from “social distancing” to “physical distancing,” the problem was that physical distancing meant social distancing for the students, a real hindrance to their relationships. This is a matter for continued prayer!
Having begun our new school year, I wondered how students would respond to the new rules regarding distancing, masks, online and face-to-face classes, and cancellation of extra-curricular programs. I suspected our youth would react with skepticism, as they do to many other school policies. To my surprise, the desire to be with their classmates was so strong that they willingly made the necessary adjustments with minimal complaining; relationships are worth the discomforts of regulations.
In Numbers 13 and 14 we read the account of Moses sending out twelve spies into Canaan. Upon return, ten of the spies are apprehensive to the point of resistance. Anxiety and fear gripped the spies, and they longed to be back in Egypt. In contrast, Caleb and Joshua recognize the risks but state unequivocally, “the Lord is with us.”
Are we letting the disruptions of the coronavirus paralyze us with fear? Do we, like the ten spies, wish we were back in the days before COVID-19? Have the traditions and customs of our lives become our idols, blinding us from seeing the opportunities and blessings that the Lord has for us in this time?
A non-church going friend and colleague suffered a cardiac arrest last January and was revived by paramedics. For over a month, he could not speak or walk due to the time his brain was without oxygen. On one of my visits, with great effort and time, he described to me his encounter with God as he lay on the floor. When COVID made it impossible for me to visit him, the Lord nudged me to send him the links to our church services, a COVID adaptation. To my surprise, he would call on Sunday evenings and we would discuss the message and how it related to his new faith.
This generation of youth desire relationship; this is thrilling. Churches are finding innovative ways of delivering a message of hope. I wonder, what is Jesus desiring of us during this time? May the Holy Spirit open our eyes and hearts in each of our areas of ministry!
Arlin Scharfenberg (MBA, PBDE, BEd, University of Manitoba; BRS, Steinbach Bible College) is a high school teacher at Rosenort School (Man.) and attends Rosenort EMC.