On March 9, I was issued a home quarantine order from the Ministry of Health here in Singapore. This means I essentially can’t leave my bedroom for the next eight days.
I was on a flight from Istanbul to Singapore on March 3. Apparently, a fellow traveler sitting within two rows of me developed COVID-19 (coronavirus) symptoms on the flight. A couple days after the flight, he was confirmed to have COVID-19. Then the government began contact tracing to identify those who had close contact with the passenger and issuing quarantine orders. They tracked me down on March 9.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that my plans have been unceremoniously altered by the Novel coronavirus. Our Global Partners Asia-Pacific team spent the last 18 months planning for a major event bringing together Wesleyan leaders from over 24 fields for intentional collaboration. We set the date for February 27-29. We poured our hearts into this event, and we had high hopes for how it could move the mission forward in our area. We sensed that God was leading us and giving us great momentum.
Then as reports that the coronavirus was spreading outside of China filled media outlets in January, the possibility that we needed to postpone the conference became more and more likely. By the beginning of February, the only responsible option was to postpone. So, we postponed until February 2021. But the decision was costly and very hard to make. It meant eating the cost of non-refundable flight tickets. Even harder to swallow was the sense of lost momentum.
I look at our fields here in Asia-Pacific — three teams had to evacuate partially or fully. And these were great teams too. They were following amazing strategic plans and had high momentum.
Beyond the inconvenience the coronavirus has created for me, it is also causing me to rethink what effective Christian leadership looks like.
I used to think an effective leader set a plan and then implemented that plan no matter what circumstances arose. Thinking through scenarios that could derail the plan and creating contingencies were essential leadership practices. If unforeseen events occurred and derailed the plan — well then, the leader must not have planned well enough.
But no one saw the coronavirus coming. My best-laid plans were shipwrecked against the rocks of a global health crisis.
So what am I learning from the coronavirus?
- I am human and not God. I cannot set a direction and follow it no matter what external factors arise.
- Planning is harder in the majority world than in the developed world. My Christian sisters and brothers in developing contexts have many more variables to consider that can derail their plans. I have enjoyed more stability than the majority of the world’s inhabitants. I repent of my arrogance, for thinking my hyper-planned-out approach to life is superior. I have more grace for my colleagues who keep loving, learning and leading in contexts marked by uncertainty and instability.
- Make plans but hold them loosely. James 4:13-16 is helping me to loosen my death grip on my plans: “Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog — it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil.” What humbling thoughts!
- When our plans get thwarted, we keep going by keeping our eyes on the one who is invisible. Chronicling heroes of the faith, Hebrews 11 describes how Moses responded to adverse circumstances: “He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible” (v. 27). This verse is dripping with paradox. How in the world do we look at that which can’t be seen? But Moses understood a truth that we desperately need to grasp: When God cannot be seen with the eye, he can be trusted with the heart. When hope seems absent, God is present — right here in these circumstances, here in this room.
What is one thing God is doing around you that may seem invisible to onlookers? The thwarting of strategy is an invitation for God to do a deeper work of character. May our hearts be full of faith as we surrender once again to the Invisible One.
Read how Global Partners has already been impacted by the coronavirus.
Rev. Ben Ward is Asia-Pacific Area director and director of Development and Communication for Global Partners.