Christian ministry and Long Covid (III): “My faith has been tested”

For those serving in Christian ministry, Long Covid has not only paused their work. The uncertainty and exhaustion has also raised questions about their personal faith.

Jonatán Soriano

22 AUGUST 2022 · 15:00 CET

Young people meet outdoors in times of the coronavirus pandemic. / Photo: <a target="_blank" href="">Gabriella Clare M.</a>,
Young people meet outdoors in times of the coronavirus pandemic. / Photo: Gabriella Clare M.

The three interviewees presented in the first and second part of this article bring a little-known perspective on life with Long Covid: combining Covid-19 with the purpose and calling of Christian ministry.

“I have had to make some adjustments and limit myself, but I have been able to continue my ministry as a teacher of biblical counselling, mainly through online classes, and lately also with face-to-face classes”, explains Sigrid Py, who has served as a missionary in Spain since 1992 and teaches at the International Faculty of Theology IBSTE, near Barcelona. She has co-founded Consejeros Cristianos Bernabé (Christian Counsellors Bernabé).

"Not much is known about Long Covid. Physically you may look great, but inside you feel terrible"

“The health limitation has led me to spend even more time praying and seeking God, to depend totally on Him and to focus on what He showed me I could and should do. It is surprising, but these two years have been a developmental time for my ministry”, reflects Sigrid. “I have been able to do a detailed revision of my three subjects, I have had more students than ever in my private online courses and I have prepared a new training course, albeit a year later than planned. I have also been able to collaborate in several new projects of our counsellors' association”, she says.

For her son Tim, Long Covid has meant more drastic changes in his ministry. “I had to put aside all projects that required intellectual effort: reading theology, teaching and preaching. I also had to pause a collaboration on a course at the theological seminar. That was very frustrating, as I had just finished my master's studies in the United States and was returning to Spain with the idea of serving, in part, in teaching”, Tim says.

However, other ministry opportunities materialised, such as taking on leadership at Christian Surfers in Spain. “I was able to invest more in relationships with team members, personal follow-up with members and community times within this group. It seems that when I was working with people, leaning on them and being honest with my limited abilities during that time, the work was easier to continue. What I found most difficult were tasks that had to do with planning, or that required a high level of stress”, he remarks.

In the case of Carla and her husband Chris, the impact of the disease has been much more severe. “All the ideas and ministerial plans I had before I got Covid-19 are now unfeasible because of my health”, Carla says. “But it's ironic because you realise that even if you can’t work or be useful to society, everyone is welcome in God’s kingdom. No matter how little you have to offer, or how little energy you have, God always uses it for good in ways you can’t even imagine. When I saw that my illness was going to last, I thought, ‘How can I evangelise if I can’t leave my house? But God quickly made me think of all the sick people like me that I saw every day in rehab, and the medical research groups. I saw that this was my opportunity, something I could never have imagined. My ministry was these people, and since then I have been able to get to know in a very deep way people who have nothing to do with me, except for the fact that we share the bond of having Long Covid. They share their situation with trust and vulnerability and I can pray, share, give my support and friendship, talk to them about the gospel or give them a Bible”, Martinez says.


A test to faith

Beyond ministerial practice, Long Covid has also proved to be a significant experience for the personal faith story of each of them.

Tim says: “My faith has been tested during these two years like never before [...] I know the taste of not understanding when everything seems to go wrong, even after you have surrendered your whole life to God. For me, persistent covid has been such a test, on an exponential level. For some reason, during that process I did not give up my faith. I broke down emotionally several times, disconsolate after months of fatigue and weakness. I barely endured the weight of each day, amidst feelings of failure and helplessness and physical discomfort. On several occasions I wished that the suffering of that life would just end. But something sustained me, and I am convinced it was the Spirit of God. He sustained me through the trial”, Tim says. He also highlights the role of the ministerial community and the church he is part of, which has been a great help, he says. But he also regrets having encountered “some 'friends of Job’ who questioned our symptoms and speculated about how we could be cured”.

"Not understanding when everything seems to go wrong, even after you have surrendered your whole life to God"

For Sigrid, the struggle Long Covid has been “the most difficult and, at the same time, the most transformative experience” of her life. “It has deeply shaken me in my relationship with God, in my outlook on life and my attitude towards it. It has led me to a very personal wrestling with God, and a search for authentic faith and trust in Christ, despite the absence of perspective concerning essential things in my life, such as my ministry”, she says.

One of the things that stands out is the “assumption that ultimately we are not in control of anything, we have no right to anything, no guarantee of anything that makes up our life. Everything is pure grace”. She wanted to share with the readers of this report a poem she wrote to express “the darkest moments of this experience” (in Spanish).

Carla explains that “this disease has brought much uncertainty” to her life. “I don’t know what the prognosis of my illness is, how it will affect me 10 years from now. It is difficult to organise myself when I never know how I will be. I don’t know when I will be able to go back to work, I don’t know many things about my today or my tomorrow, but at the same time it has reaffirmed and highlighted what I do know: God is a good father, we can trust in Him despite our circumstances”, she says.

"Our days on earth are limited, I have a unique opportunity to declare that God is good"

“The reality is that even if you are in perfect health, we have more in common than meets the eye. None of us know what will happen tomorrow. Our days on earth are limited, and I have a unique opportunity to declare that God is good, to acknowledge who He is, to praise Him in the midst of this circumstance [...] It’s really discouraging to be down so many days, and sometimes I get frustrated with this situation. But in those moments I get even closer to God and feel His presence, joy, peace and strength there, which has made me realise His great sufficiency over my physical weaknesses”, she adds.

While Carla is grateful for and acknowledges the help and support she has received from the church and other believers, she also takes the opportunity to reflect on his situation. “I think that, in general, inside and outside the church, not much is known about Long Covid. In addition, this type of illness sometimes has the added bonus that physically you may look great, but inside you feel terrible. Sometimes I’ve put on my make-up and dressed up with all my effort and I’ve met people who have said to me: ‘You look great. You must be recovered by now’. This kind of situation has made me reflect a lot on the fact that maybe a lot of people I know who physically look fine are actually struggling with chronic illnesses. Sometimes it is easy to stop praying when a person’s appearance is not broken. I have come to realise that understanding this kind of illness, compassion and accompaniment are crucial”, she says.

Carla adds: “This situation has also taught me to be even more grateful for things I took for granted, like walking, being able to breathe, being able to read, being able to have the energy to take a walk, having the energy to be able to shower by myself, to be able to see my family members, to be able to sleep a whole night without pain. These are things I took for granted and now I see more than ever that every little thing my body is able to do is a gift from God, and I appreciate it all the more”.

"The most loving thing we can do as Christians is to accompany others in their suffering, sit patiently beside them"

The vision that her husband, Chris, has developed throughout this process is most fitting.

“We actively seek solutions and do all we can to live healthy lives through our diet, our rest, our exercise, our relationships and our entertainment. And yet, often the most loving thing we can do as Christians is to accompany others in their suffering, to sit patiently beside them and listen to them, pray for them, relate to their pain and mourn their loss, without offering a lot of advice and solutions, but simply saying that we are sorry for what they are going through”, he concludes.

Read the first and second part of this article on the effects of Long Covid.

Published in: Evangelical Focus - life & tech - Christian ministry and Long Covid (III): “My faith has been tested”

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