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Aug26WedJuliane Martin uses COVID-19's lens to see her faith with fresh eyes. August 26, 2020 by Juliane Martin
The reality of COVID-19 hit me on March 13 at 9:30 p.m. Armed with my coffee, I pulled into Walmart and rolled my eyes at the full parking lot. Great! I thought, a peaceful Friday-night shopping trip ruined. But when I saw the empty shelves, I stopped in my tracks. It was at that moment I realized things were serious.
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Thankfully, the food shortage was short-lived, but the changes in my routine are something I continue to wrestle with.
Sense of Peace I am a chaplain with The Salvation Army at Bunton Lodge/WP Archibald Centre in Toronto, a halfway facility for ex-offenders. My job has been deemed an essential service, so work has continued on without the boredom many of my friends are lamenting. Nevertheless, we are constantly adjusting to new protocols and diligently striving to keep our residents and staff safe.
I have been incredibly fortunate to have a flexible schedule that has allowed me to balance my family obligations while still ministering to the men who reside at our facilities. Weekly Zoom meetings, program planning and letter writing to inmates can be done from home, but the moments that I have felt most useful have been on-site, providing a ministry of presence.
During these past weeks, I have been blessed with deep conversations with a number of residents and staff that I had not previously ventured into the spiritual realm with. If one good thing has come out of the chaos of this pandemic, it has been the softening of hearts and opening of eyes to the things that actually matter. People seem to have a new-found willingness to discuss things and, more than ever, I have been questioned about the sense of peace I seem to have as a Christian.
One conversation occurred with a co-worker about the restrictions on group gatherings. Eventually, the discussion came to churches closing their doors on Sundays. My colleague shared that he had stopped going to church years ago. He wanted to return but didn’t know where to go or what to do.
I shared that I have been “church hopping” via livestream and was enjoying the ability to check out a variety of churches around the world that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise. As a result of our discussion, I sent him some links to local Salvation Army churches and was delighted to hear that he had decided to “attend” church again!
While I am certain many people are viewing sermons from their living rooms who would not be attending brick-and-mortar services, it was a reminder to me that church is not just a place we go to. It’s really about the people who make up the church, and the relationships we have with one another and with God.
Answer to Prayer
I remember in the early days of the pandemic feeling frustrated that I had to cancel some of the events I had planned for the days ahead. But I am thankful for the creativity God has gifted me with.
When doing things as they have always been done is no longer an option, each day is an opportunity to live out Isaiah 43:19: “I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?” (New Living Translation). Now is the time to reach out in ways I had not considered before.
I work with a network that provides safe and welcoming places where ex-offenders and friends can experience Christian community, and members of our halfway house attend. Like many organizations, they have switched over to virtual meetings in response to COVID-19.
Video-conferencing can bring people together without cumbersome travel logistics. People who normally cannot attend events are able to “Zoom in” and feel connected to the other participants in ways that surpass a phone call.
I was blessed to witness a Zoom meeting where a brother and sister were able to see each other for the first time in almost three years! All the way from Newfoundland and Labrador, a sister was finally able to see the people her brother had been talking about for years. This was an innovative answer to prayer.
Tired Feet, Worn Ears, Full Heart
The way God has enabled me to share His love for people has had a profound impact on my own understanding of who He is. I’ve sent more than 100 letters with puzzles, trivia sheets and colouring pages to inmates and I am pleased to know they are bringing hope behind prison walls.
It is not lost on me that people are feeling stressed and struggling to get through the days, but there are also tremendous acts of kindness happening.
Picking up the phone, dropping off groceries, mailing a card, cooking a meal—these are just a few examples of things we can do to show our neighbours we care. My four children have been painting rocks with messages of hope to be scattered around the neighbourhood and they love looking for ones that other people have placed along the sidewalks.
Although it may be true that every family is experiencing this pandemic in unique ways, there is a common thread that binds us all: we are suddenly aware that how we treat each other matters.
I recently spoke to a dear friend of mine, a retired Salvation Army prison chaplain, about the hope we have that things will not go back to normal. If we fall back into our old way of doing things, we will have missed a monumental opportunity to grow closer to God.
It is said that to be a chaplain is to have tired feet and worn ears. This is certainly true, but I’d add that having a full heart makes it all worth it.