From 2010 to 2016, our family of six lived as full time missionaries in a boat-in community on the West Coast of Canada. A few weeks ago, after the universities shut their doors and our oldest daughter returned home, I asked her how she was coping. She shrugged nonchalantly and said “it feels just like it did growing up.” I’ve mentioned this to a number of my colleagues in the CRCNA and realize there may be something to be gleaned and shared from our experience of living in an isolated and remote community. I pray this finds some resonance in your situation.
"plant gardens… seek the peace and prosperity of the city… because as it prospers so will you” Jeremiah 29:5-7
Food: When we first moved remotely, we did not realize the value of fresh produce and how much we would miss it when it wasn’t readily available. Sharing food sources and relying on neighbours to share became a way of being that allowed us to carry through meagre times between our six-week grocery run that took 8+ hours. Buying from local producers built relationships that continued to give beyond what we could imagine. We learned to be generous with what we had as you never know what your neighbor may have run out of. Being a gracious receiver and generous giver are biblical principles that build local community and sustainability.
Clothing: When living in isolation, there is seldom an occasion to dress in anything other than the most casual of comfort clothes, so we learned to dress according to how you’d like to feel. It’s amazing how clothing can set a mood to get things done. We learned to assign “uniforms” to different tasks or make up special occasions so we’d have an excuse to wear something other than our civvies. I find myself much more productive in “work clothes” and my girls still say that tea and cake taste much better in fancy dresses.
Shelter: Set up the house in stations. Declare “public” places for working and gathering spaces and dedicate private spaces to find down-time and quiet space to meditate, pray and reflect. Also, plan transition times when moving from one mind-set to another. Take a moment between Zoom calls—like a quick walk around the block/house or a 5 minute break to be able to let one idea go in order to transition from one mind-set to another. When a more significant transition was needed, I might signify the transition by taking a shower!
Experimentation in Socialization
“…not giving up meeting together…” Hebrews 10:25
When we were missionaries, we were a remote community ministering to other remote communities. At that time, a limited version of Facebook was our primary mode of communication as phone lines and WiFi were unreliable. We were always looking at ways to connect with people who felt isolated and cut off from the church body. Naturally, we had regular community gatherings, but it was the in-between times that posed a challenge, especially for those who struggled with mental health or had tendencies to find solace in addictive behaviours.
How might we meet them and help them meet their triggers head-on and not be overwhelmed? We tried many ways of reaching out with varying degrees of “success” (how does one define that?). We sent out little goofy videos of ourselves, scripture verses that were meaningful, favourite and meaningful songs of encouragement, and public offers to send in prayer requests. We led with what was speaking to our own hearts with an invitation to respond.
“…as you love yourself” Mark 12:31
It is easy to overlook spiritual needs when there is not the opportunity for corporate gathering and ability to lean into a pastor’s regular guidance, yet in isolation, more than ever, it’s on you to make sure you get what you need to stay on track. I have a quote from Desert Father Solomon beside my desk reminding me that “the undisciplined life is no life at all. It will collapse under its own weight, for it is like a body without bones.”
I keep this fairly simple. I set aside the first part of my day (in bed, sometimes before I open my eyes) to pray and dedicate the day to God’s leading. Throughout my day I include an unceasing dialogue of prayer lifting my family and friends and anyone or anything else that comes to mind into the hands of the Father, naturally peppered with ongoing and continual asking of wisdom, guidance, and eyes and ears to hear the Spirit’s leading in work and family rearing.
When I can, which is not nearly as often as I’d like, I sit down with a journal and record the words I hear from the Father to my heart. Naturally, we have family practices of praying before meals and also attempt to find times for regular scripture reading, while meditation and music continue to play significant roles in the day which helps anchor us through uncertain times.
“…in the way that is appropriate for them…” Proverbs 22:6
Without a classroom full of 20 to 30 children and significant distraction, I found that my children were able to get through their daily lessons within a 2 to 3 hour window. Some days even less than that.
In times like this Covid-19 uncertainty, it’s important to note even minimal progress as progress and realize that preservation of relationship is more important than crushing our children’s souls through expectations. We handled this by discussing how choices made now result in consequences later, for example, another missed math lesson would result in having to make it up later in one way or another. 10 years later, my toughest math-kid is choosing a math-less career with which she is perfectly at peace. She tells me if she changes her mind, she will take a math course in college.
Each child has a different educational battle to face and our role as parents is to help them navigate that as best as we are able.
“Seek the kingdom above all else and live righteously, and he will give you all you need” Matt. 6:33
Living as a missionary is to rely on the church for the provision of basic needs. The equation for this was simple: if funds did not come in from generous givers, we were not able to feed ourselves. It is a vulnerable place to live from, but again and again our gracious God came through and showed us that His loving provision was more than enough to sustain us through difficult times.
The regularity of God’s overt generosity and timing became rather comical: when things would get extra lean, we would wonder aloud how God might come through for us this time. On many occasions we would laugh as we were provided with salmon and prawns from passing fishing vessels when we thought we’d be eating peanut butter toast for dinner.
One memorable occasion of God’s provision was my disappointing realization that I’d have to give up drinking coffee because of budgetary restrictions. I sadly savoured my last cup of coffee and anticipated days of withdrawal headaches. I had even resolved that once I got through those headaches, I might as well let the joyful ritual go in sacrifice to the Lord and His work. I probably even whined a little in my prayers that day that this might impede on my ongoing prayer life, as so much of it involved prayer with coffee-in-hand. (It’s a good thing the Lord and I are on good terms!)
The following day, a neighbor showed up with an unexpected package that had come in the mail. In it were three things: cold vitamins, an electric fly swatter, and a pound of gourmet high-end coffee beans. I was completely floored and immediately contacted the person who sent it. They told me they had felt compelled to go to the store and buy those things. I had mentioned in a passing conversation that I had an oncoming cold and that we were dealing with black flies biting the kids near their eyes, but why the coffee, I wondered? “Oh” they said, “Jesus told me to buy that for you, so I threw it in.”
I know my Resonate colleagues have many more tips on how missionary living has prepared them for isolated living. I hope they will share some of those in the comments below, but if not, please reach out and ask them. You will find them to be a rich resource.