‘Just as the Lord was with the exiles in Babylon, He is with us also’
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/04/just-as-the-lord-was-with-the-exiles-in-babylon-he-is-with-us-also/
By Rev. Jessica Hughes
Jeremiah 29:7: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
While I am neither an Israelite nor am I in exile, Jeremiah’s exhortation to pray for the place where you live is sound counsel that I think still applies today. As a missionary who has worked at Uganda Christian University (UCU) for almost eight years, I have long prayed for the peace and prosperity of Kampala and Mukono.
And then COVID-19 happened, and the US State Department issued a Global Level 4 Advisory – Do Not Travel (and come home if you are abroad unless you are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period). This immediately raises one challenge for any missionary or expatriate: Do you stay where you are, or do you go home?
I quickly decided that it was much easier for me to stay here, especially since I had no idea when I would be able to re-enter Uganda when the crisis had passed (without the mandatory 14-day quarantine expanded later to another three weeks). I have friends who have stayed, and I have friends who have returned home. Regardless of their choice, I am grateful that they were able to reach wherever they wanted to be safely.
One of the things for which I am grateful is that Uganda is a model for how to handle epidemics. The government reacted quickly, even though many of these decisions have caused a bit of havoc.
On March 18, Uganda announced that schools and churches would close on March 20 for 32 days. This meant that the students had to hurry and get home, and we had to hurry and try to finish the semester. I am so proud of my students; they finished their assignments as quickly as they could while packing and leaving early.
The airport and other borders were closed on March 22 for a minimum of 32 days to people, but cargo still transits, thankfully. Pharmacies, banks and all stores except for those that sell food were closed. All public transportation was shut down, and initially, private vehicles could carry three people, but then all driving was banned except for health transportation. People in Kampala were jogging in hordes on major roads, so then exercising outdoors in public was banned, though exercise in one’s yard is allowed. There is a curfew from 7 p.m.-6:30 a.m., and you will be arrested if you are caught even walking home from work.
In the midst of all this, I am grateful for so much:
- The Ministry of Health. They are handling the pandemic as well as can be expected. Uganda has long been a standard for how to manage epidemics, and COVID-19 is no exception. They have worked well with various communication outlets to be sure that the message of staying home and preventing the spread of the virus is prominent; one cannot make a phone call without a few seconds of a message being played before the call is actually placed. There are many challenges, of course, but I am grateful for how they have taken the lead.
- Uganda Christian University’s leadership. I often note that I live in an idyllic bubble on campus, with Internet, water, and security, and that is true. But I am most grateful that the University was very quick to make plans to allow lecturers to end the semester online and for exams to be converted to take-home exams. Though the latter was ultimately halted by the government, I am grateful that the University has been making use of online tools for education, was prepared to shift to take-home exams that would be submitted online (with allowances being made for students without easy internet access), but also that the students were so invested in their education that the overwhelming majority of them were very disappointed in the government’s decision disallowing take-home exams.
- The church’s response. Much like in the US and the rest of the world, churches immediately went online. The Archbishop of the Province of the Church of Uganda has been publishing daily devotions, as well as leading two services on Sundays from home. The UCU Chaplaincy also immediately went online, as did many of my Theology students, so much so that scrolling through Facebook on a Sunday was very likely to cause the web page to hang with all the Facebook Lives that were playing.
- For my mission society’s leadership. They have been proactive in checking on us, seeing what we need and where we need to be, and ensuring that we are well.
Most of all, I am grateful that my people, on both my continents, are safe. I’ve been able to talk with a number of my students, as well as friends and family, and all are well.
Yes, this pandemic is trying, difficult, and challenging. But just as the Lord was with the exiles in Babylon, He is with us also.
Rev. Jessica Hughes is a lecturer in the UCU Bishop Tucker School of Theology and Divinity. She hails from the state of Virginia.
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