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The pandemic’s terrible, terrible blessing: a longing for Christ’s triumphant return

Remember when the world was ending back in 2005?  

Yeah, me neither. 

But evidently it was a thing. I wrote about it. 

Trash and debris line the streets in downtown Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, following the massive Tsunami that struck the area on December 26, 2004.

Trash and debris line the streets in downtown Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, following the massive Tsunami that struck the area on December 26, 2004.

The day after Christmas 2004 a magnitude 9.1 earthquake in the Indian Ocean set off a tsunami that killed nearly 230,000 people across Southeast Asia. Then there was another massive quake in Pakistan, then famine in Africa, flooding in India and a plague of rats in Nicaragua. 

And there was the threat of a global pandemic from avian flu.

Seems almost quaint now, doesn’t it?

I was covering international news at the time, and I interviewed missionaries in developing nations. Were the believers they baptized and served concerned that these disasters were signs of the end times? Because most of these folks, living in simple circumstances, didn’t have the education or rational scientific minds we have here in the U.S. 

I wish 2020 me could go back in time and smack 2005 me. My whole premise was bathed in First World exceptionalism. 

I only remember the piece at all because of a boy named Moses. He was one of the kids in Nairobi, Kenya, served by a ministry called MADE IN THE STREETS, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

I had asked the ministry’s founder, Charles Coulston, if Kenyan Christians were concerned about the end times. I guess I expected him to say something like, “Yes, they’ve seen news of the disasters, and they think the end is nigh. We try to comfort them with the gospel of Christ.”

Charles & Darlene Coulston

Charles and Darlene Coulston

Instead, he said that maybe the world is ending.

Fingers crossed.

You see, the kids this ministry serves live hard lives. Abuse. Drugs. Homelessness. It’s a vicious cycle.

“Our kids are used to pain and loss,” Coulston told me. “They look forward to the end of the world, which will be a new beginning for us all.”

Young Moses, in fact, had recently told him that, if the Lord returned, the first thing he would do was “run and hug Jesus.”

Over the years, those words have stayed with me. As I’ve interviewed more and more African believers, I’ve grown in my own faith and my sense of awe in theirs. They truly know what it means to trust God, not to worry about tomorrow, to long for an eternal home.

I struggle to share that belief. Even though I sing “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through,” I’m not quite ready to leave. There are so many places left to see. 

And I like it here. I’m comfortable.

Or I was. Then came COVID-19. Now I’m grounded, restless. 

Some concerns are trivial. My beloved college football season is in jeopardy. Others seem severe. I worry about my two girls going back to school. Even as I write this, one of my colleagues says she has a slight cough. I’m beset by fear. 

The terrible, terrible gift of this pandemic is that it has erased my comfort.

The terrible, terrible gift of this pandemic is that it has erased my comfort. It has shown me the futility of plans. I’ve stopped saying, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city,” (James 4:13). I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. As the virus spikes, so does the urgency to spread the gospel.“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (verse 14).

Young Moses is a man now. I asked Coulston about him recently. Like many of the street kids, he’s struggled. He’s been on and off drugs and in and out of hospitals. He’s doing better now. 

On the streets of Nairobi, Kenya.

It’s tough in Kenya right now. Brad Voss, the executive director of MADE IN THE STREETS, told me that the ministry was feeding about 60 street kids every day before the pandemic.

“The pandemic and the restrictions that came along with it have been especially difficult on the street kids in Nairobi,” Voss said. “With shops, restaurants and even produce stalls closed, there has been nowhere for the street kids to find food to eat. … We had many of the children tell us that they were just as scared of dying of starvation as they were of the virus. Food scarcity continues to be a major factor as the pandemic drags on.”

MADE IN THE STREETS has helped their graduates set up businesses like house-to-house salons and chapati cooking and sales, Coulston added. But the pandemic has shut down many of these start-ups.

People are out of work and hungry. They’re longing for home.

Come quickly, Lord. I want to see your face. I want to run and hug you. 

I hope Moses still does, too.

Fingers crossed.

ERIK TRYGGESTAD is president and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. Contact [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @eriktryggestad.

Filed under: avian flu end of the world Indian Ocean Insight Nacaragua Opinion plague of rats tsunami

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