bold faith / COVID-19 / Featured / Field Personnel

CBF field personnel in Malaysia offer witness of resilience in face of COVID-19

By Melody Harrell

We were supposed to be talking about COVID-19 and were already thick in the weeds of overwhelm, like every conversation about this global pandemic goes. But after a few minutes of processing out loud, our conversation turned to something else. A potential encounter in this unmatched shared experience—resilience. What is it? Who has it? Can you create more? How do you build it in yourself? In your children? In society?

Life is hard. It always has been. But COVID-19 is redefining hard. When you hear words like “unprecedented” and “this will not be short term,” the knot in your stomach tightens and you wonder, “Do I have what it takes?”

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel Cindy and Eddy Ruble have been responding to large-scale disasters for a very long time. The Asian Tsunami of 2004 in which 230,000 people died gave Eddy experience he has continued to use and build upon as CBF’s International Disaster Response Coordinator, even as earthquakes in Southeast Asia and Japan have occurred. Cindy’s work as an advocate for women and children has put her on the front lines of human trafficking, engaging with victims of sexual assault and trauma, motivated by a deep conviction the world can be a more hopeful place for everyone. As CBF field personnel in Indonesia for nine years and then in Penang, Malaysia, for 13, they have been well-placed to engage both local ministries as well as regional concerns.

The Rubles first heard about COVID-19 in January when someone mentioned it during a Zoom meeting as a newsworthy occurrence that was happening in Wuhan, China. Little did they know that in a matter of weeks it would develop into a global pandemic with extremely serious implications for health worldwide.

“I have growing fear for its repercussions here and in the developing world,” Eddy said. “The poor and most vulnerable populations will be most affected: refugees, migrants, urban poor, squatters and shanty-towns. There will be a double impact—first the health situation, and second, perhaps even larger, the economic impact.”

As area coordinators for CBF field teams in Asia, the Rubles have done all they can to stay abreast of current information on the virus in the various countries where their field personnel live and minister. In their roles as area coordinators, the Rubles offer oversight and support to field personnel throughout Asia. Because of COVID-19, some field personnel have had to leave their job assignments and homes and relocate to other countries for an indefinite period of time. Others are having to navigate rules and regulations in their countries of service for visas that expire in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Traveling during the crisis for visa renewal is stressful for our field personnel as it means increased exposure to the virus and, for some, increased exposure with their small children in tow,” Cindy said. “In every single case, our field personnel wanted to remain in their places of service. Those that had to change locations temporarily did so with a great deal of heartache and grief as they are committed to the people they serve and the countries they call home.

“But they are resilient. I first started thinking about this quality of resilience while helping survivors of human trafficking. I wondered what is it that allows some people to come through traumatic life events while others crumble. I am convinced it is resilience and I see that quality in our field personnel in Asia and throughout the world. Though it will be tough, they will get through this. With the help of our CBF family, we will all get through this.”

In this crisis, the Rubles have been practicing social distancing in Penang, and taking care of their personal needs for prayer, exercise, good sleep and contact with those they love via technology. They are now under a Movement Control Order, allowed to leave home only for essential needs such as food and medicines. They and some of their field personnel are separated from college-age children who are now facing their own uncertainties of graduations that have been cancelled, jobs that are on hold, shutting down income, and having to find places to live off of college campuses to wait out the weeks while doing classes online. “You can imagine how hard it is to support one another when you are oceans apart,” Cindy said.”

COVID-19 spans the globe connecting us all in heart-breaking ways; and yet, people are stepping up the world over. Our witness of resilience is being written by our own hands. In the abundance and blessing of life, there is also great suffering. And it is our resilience in these ups and downs of life that make us who we are and ultimately becomes the strength from which we draw for living. In CBF life stateside and abroad, people are reaching out to show the love of Christ, standing steady, and becoming better people of courage and kindness through whatever means are available to them.

Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa is quoted as saying, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” In these days of feeling like the lines couldn’t be more crooked, where each morning brings more bad news, where the numbers of the ill and the dying grow exponentially, and where we are reminded of our vulnerability and of all that we cannot control, may the invitation of a larger story take hold.  That despite living for so long as though it is otherwise, may we recognize we are ultimately dependent on God for our very being and that our inter-connectedness is perhaps where our deepest resilience lies.

Melody Harrell is a Spiritual Director in Hillsborough, NC. 

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has created a resource hub for the benefit of individuals and congregations in these uncertain times. Bold Faith Resources features original and curated resources for children, youth, adults, worship, missions, prayer, spiritual care, Spanish speakers and digital ministry resources for churches. This hub also includes all COVID-19-related news and updates for the Fellowship. Learn more at www.cbf.net/boldfaith

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