Pastor Wayne Kwok
English Ministry Pastor (VCCSTMTC)
Having a kindergartener and a preschooler at home, as parents, one of the most often asked questions in our house for this past year has got to be: “Did you wash your hands?” Coming home after school, “did you wash your hands?” Knowing they just come out from the washroom after using the facilities, “did you wash your hands?” “It’s dinner time… did you wash your hands?” Hand washing is one of the many things we have paid a lot more attention to this year in 2020. It has become part of the new normal that we are all still growing accustomed to day by day, along with wearing masks, air hugs, WFH (work from home) and Zoom meetings. As we gaze back on the year that passed, there were many significant headliners aside from the Coronavirus. Although the wonderful news that dolphins returning to the Venice canal was a hoax, nor did any elephants got drunk on corn wine and crashed a tea garden, the economic slowdown brought about by the pandemic did reduced pollution worldwide that the Punjabis could see the Himalaya, and Hongkongers can see from Central across the Victoria Harbour to Avenue of Stars against a clear blue sky.
Nevertheless, 2020 was a year of loss. With a death toll of 1.57 million people worldwide at the time of writing this article, we all know someone who died too soon because of the Coronavirus. I, too, lost a close family member in Toronto from this virus. 2020 was a year overshadowed by loss, disorientation, and chaos. We lost many heroes: Chadwick Boseman, Kobe Bryant, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Edwin Hui, Irrfan Khan, John Lewis, J.I. Packer. We learned to comprehend insecurity, frustration, loneliness, despair. We continue to fight for ideologies including democracy, equality, dignity. We seem to have succumbed to injustice, systemic racism, social distancing. Above all, we look eagerly towards the things that give us hope: iPhone 12, CERB, and toilet paper. Undeniably, the year 2020 has turned normality upside-down. We have learned to bake sourdough bread, and to cut our own hair. We discovered the flexibility of working from home and the convenience of Doordash. We mastered the scholar’s mate after watching Beth Harmon plays. We respond to the uncertainties of everyday life with: “This is the way.” Life in the midst of a pandemic challenges us to the core of our existence. We ask the hardest question of all: What does it mean to be human? What makes us human? What is the one trait that differentiates us from animals? Is it as in the Genesis account God breathed into Adam the breath of life that ultimately makes us human?
As the recently resurfaced quotation from anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “…in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts.”
Contrary to our belief in natural selection and the mechanics in “survival of the fittest”, the very fabric that differentiates us from animals is our capacity to give, to share, to be selfless. Only when we reflect the nature of our creator in our outpouring of selves to others, that we are most human. Henri Nouwen echoes this when he said, “What makes us human is not our mind but our heart, not our ability to think but our ability to love.” Instinctively we know this! We salute the everyday heroes in each of our communities. We honour the front-line workers who selflessly put their own lives at risk in helping others. They are the ones who exemplify our humanness in these critically dangerous times.
We, as Christian, are the salt and light of the world (Matt 5:13). We are to amplify life when all things seem futile; we are to give hope when the rest of the world only sees darkness. When social distancing and self-quarantine reshaped the normality of our society, we have to redefine our understanding of community to continue to shine light in the darkness. We ought to rethink our approach to ministry to continue to demonstrate love and care towards those in need. We must relearn our basic connections as human beings to embody the Gospel in our own lives.
In the wise words of Eugene Peterson, “Love cannot exist in isolation: away from others, love bloats into pride. Grace cannot be received privately: cut off from others it is perverted into greed. Hope cannot develop in solitude: separated from the community, it goes to seed in the form of fantasies.” (Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder, p.43)
None of us imagined we all needed to relearn “how to properly wash our hands”, but the year 2020 has proved to us otherwise. None of us imagined all that is needed to bring the worldwide economy to a halt is something invisible to the naked eye, but this virus has proved to us otherwise. If there is any take away from 2020 as this year nears its losing, I believe it is a loud reminder that we are but mere fragile humans. For a lot of us, the arrival of the vaccine seems to be the light at the end of this dark tunnel, especially when Canada has secured 76 million doses of vaccine from Pfizer, and Dr. Bonnie Henry hinted at a more sociable summer. If so we the vaccine is the true deus ex machina and should be named “Obi-wan” as that seems to be our last hope. Moreover, if we believe returning to normalcy means operating as we were in the pre-COVID era, then we have not learned anything and 2020 was a waste. God has already pressed the pause button in our busy lives. If we do not take the opportunity to rethink, relearn, and reimagine from our old ways of living, the next time God intervenes so heavily might not be as pleasant as 2020.
As such, I am convinced it is divine planning that VCCSTM launches our English ministry, Engage Beyond, in 2020–a year when we rethink, relearn, and reimagine missions. I am excited with anticipation to witness what God has planned, to participate and journey with our Lord in these unsettling but grace-abound time.