We are One in the Spirit
Sean Amato serves with the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS), Egypt.
Greetings from my mission placement…which, in my case, means an office above my bedroom.
On the evening of June 30th, 2020, I packed my belongings and traveled to Cairo International Airport with Peter, my long-suffering and ingenious Egyptian counterpart. Due to difficulties presented by COVID-19, I would be returning to the United States; when a time came that it was safe to travel back to Egypt, I planned to do so. Twenty-three hours, three transfer flights, and one very long audio-book later, I found myself landing at T.F. Green Airport in Rhode Island. I was met by my sister and her fiancée, who issued me a disposable full-body coverall and face shield. My shoes and other clothes were deposited in trash bags and tightly bound. For the next two weeks, I quarantined myself one room away from my at-risk parents and my very confused cat. I had truly entered “the bubble”.
Since then, my life has become one of abnormal repetition. I work from home, occasionally bundling up and venturing out to stock up on essentials. I entertain my cat, listen to music, engage in ministry through my home church, read thick books, and watch the world turn outside my window. Dependent upon which crisis looms highest that day, I write my local and governmental representatives in pursuit of action or participate in online “get-out-the-vote” efforts. Perhaps I’ll find out another family member has been diagnosed with COVID-19, or that yet someone else has been in the hospital for a week already. Peaceful protests and violent insurrections, quiet mercy and staggering dishonesty, crowd-funded surgeries and consolidated wealth, raised fists and open palms – all of this is visible from my fishbowl. Does it look like this to you, too?
Within this certainly-not-normal “normal”, we have all had to find new ways of engaging with a world that is just out of reach. Mission is no exception. I continue to happily work with our Egyptian partners at the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS), editing and proofing documents related to peace initiatives and indigenous Christian theology. I speak with my peers there regularly, discussing media and current events; several times, in fact, partners have reached out to ensure that my family was safe after the events of January 6th. A number of CEOSS’s projects have been put on hold due to the wide-spanning effects of COVID-19, including dialogue-based initiatives – central to the agency’s mission. Those with the ability to work at the office do so, while others continue to work from home if they are able.
While still in Egypt, my partners and I discussed the difficulties of social distancing and “the bubble”. Many members of the Egyptian public – including children and the elderly – have no choice but to work despite the raging pandemic. Government lock-downs, I was told, meant little in the face of utility bills, medical costs at private facilities, and requests for rent. My office-mate worried that, for many of their fellow citizens, those Egyptian pounds spent on disposable masks and gloves meant less food on the table at the end of the night. Still another coworker spoke of the pandemic as a social wedge, driving those of different class and means further apart: those without would gradually have less, while those living in bubbles would become disaffected to the state of their fellow Egyptians. As an American, I can’t help but be consumed by this same worry.
Since returning, I have engaged with a number of congregations and small groups about my mission experiences. During this new age of virtual itineration, reaching out to our church family has become simple. Instead of traveling the wide country, one can hop on a Zoom meeting and have a friendly meeting with people hundreds of miles away. Thus, discussing modern mission is much more accessible – as long as one has a stable internet connection, the requisite technology, and a quiet place in one’s home from which to work. With these and other tools, the bubble becomes comfortable – perhaps, too comfortable.
My stable circumstances – and my “bubble” – are the perks of privilege. What about those members of our human family without a chain of support, or a rope – without a thread, those of forlorn hope? Our cousins, our siblings, and our parents struggle on the front line, Family and friends are rendered unemployed in our economic downturn. Our neighbors are no longer able to make ends meet, finding themselves evicted from their homes in the midst of our multiple crises. To the privileged, the outside world may sometimes look like an absurd fiction; to those without the nominal protection of a bubble, life may just be absurd. Indeed, bubbles may keep us safe from COVID-19 – but will we of privilege keep living in them after the pandemic has faded?
We are all well aware that these are unprecedented times. As I write this, almost 500,000 Americans are confirmed to have lost their lives as a result of COVID-19 – and yet we have had no time to mourn, or even recognize the immensity of our losses. Just a few weeks ago, America itself shuddered – the peaceful transfer of governmental power violently disrupted for the first time in our history, the haphazard state of our nation laid bare. Despite an attempted coup and hundreds of thousands dead, we are forced to rumble forward and tamp down our collective trauma. We have had no time to engage in soul-searching, no time to beat our chests and weep for who and what we have lost – or, perhaps, what we never had in the first place. To survive in this “new normal”, it seems as if we must be numb to it. How do you feel?
In the face of catastrophe, do you treat yourself with love? Amidst hardship, I have found that my own commitment to important Christian values has been tested, scuffed, and – in some cases – put off to the side. Self-care, a practice advocated for throughout the Old and New Testaments, is thrown to the wayside so that we may make an attempt at “normalcy”. As we numb to the world, we harden our hearts – not just to external threats, no, but also toward ourselves. We may begin to peel away from our best supports, even virtually, and ignore the darkening score set by our bodies and minds. Are you caring for yourself as God begs you to do? Take a moment, and check in with yourself. Have you been treating yourself as Christ would treat you?
Moses struggled to keep up with the pace of life; honored Mary was pushed to her limits, and even Jesus wept. Do you weep, too? If you are in distress, please engage in the Christian tradition of asking for help. God is patient, and God is kind; God loves you and cares you, no matter how detached or numb you might feel. We are bound by our circumstances, yes – but we are also bound to one another. Throughout scripture, the Lord begs us to take care of not just our neighbor, but ourselves. I might need your help along this path, and you might need mine too. Though we’re isolated, and though we may have no choice but to watch the trembling world pass by, we are pledged in support of one another. When we can do so safely, let’s walk together again.
“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord;
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord;
And we pray that all unity will one day be restored.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand;
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand;
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land.
We Will work with each other, we will work side by side;
We will work with each other, we will work side by side;
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride.
All praise to the Father, from whom all things come;
And all praise to Christ Jesus, His only Son.
And all praise to the Spirit who makes us one.”
Sean Amato serves with the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS), Egypt. His appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.