I’m ashamed to say that the COVID-19 lock-down came as rather a blessing. While acknowledging the trauma of this time for many, it felt strange to be breathing a sigh of relief to be able to take a break.
Serving students as a mission worker here in Slovenia has been an uphill struggle. I arrived from the UK, where the student Christian Unions movement (UCCF) was thriving, to a country which has never had a stable student group. I arrived unaware of the past conflicts that Zveš (Slovene Christian Union Movement) had encountered, nor the conflicts that I would bring with all my expectations and insecurities. It has been – and still is – slow going, as many warned me, but I have slowly learned and adapted. Through many trials and errors, the movement has started to grow. Finally, after eight years here, I feel as if I am doing something slightly similar to what I thought I’d be doing.
The personal cost of growth
It has been hard work getting groups of students to start meeting regularly in three university cities but, prior to lockdown, we had more students attending than ever before. Zveš was more known and accepted by churches. Students were beginning to reach out more, and for me, the cherry on top was that a student was planning a mission week, the first of its kind in Slovenia. But God was about to show us that this was not our work, but His, and true growth is often not outwardly visible.
Whilst all these developments are encouraging, they took their toll on our small team. So when lockdown was announced, I was sad to postpone the mission week, but glad to be able to take time for regular walks and runs for exercise. Having our meetings online meant I had time to compose music and be creative again, all things that I had been ‘too busy’ to do, often putting aside these life-giving activities for work.
‘Come, let us return to the Lord’
One of the realisations that came to me during lockdown is that I should treat myself the way God would treat me. I often believed that God was either a hard task master who demands that I work until I drop, or that he doesn’t care how I treat myself and my body, but is only interested in my spirituality. But those are lies; he is the best boss we could have: gentle, understanding, and he cares deeply about our welfare.
“I should treat myself the way God would treat me”
During lockdown, mentoring and counselling students (the part of my work that I most enjoy) was severely restricted. But God showed me that he has been at work more than ever, doing work that no human could ever do, deep in the heart of the students and me. He has been testing us, stretching us, renewing and refreshing us, showing up our idols and human limitations; all the while revealing himself to be the one in control, ruling in chaos yet close to us and intensely personal. During lockdown I’ve experienced the truth of Hosea 6: 1, “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.”