"Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." James 4:8
In the next few blog posts, we will hear from some members of our church family. Enjoy a brief background and details about each person, along with hearing how the four week imposed lockdown due to COVID-19 has affected them personally. Our hope is to draw encouragement and strength from each other as we point towards Jesus.
"For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. So encourage each other and build each other up, just as your are already doing." -1 Thessalonians 5:9-11
Hello, my name is Judith Stewart, wife, mother of three, and Grandma to twelve!
On leaving school I trained and worked as a Legal Secretary. Six years later, in preparation for living and working overseas with my husband and family, I became a Registered Maternity Nurse.
My association with this church goes back 60 years when I first came as a young adult visiting David’s family who were founding members of the Taupo Gospel Chapel. On our return from overseas we attended for two years from 1987 to 1989, and more recently, have attended the rebranded Church@109 from December 2015 until now.
COVID-19 is a strange phenomenon that has affected us deeply. It creates the necessity for isolation and separation, distance from familiar places and processes, and disconnection from those we know and love.
For me, however, it is creating a unique closeness. I have hung out more than usual with my family who are spread far and wide, from throughout NZ, to Chile, to Australia. We have stayed in touch with the use of the wonderful online facilities we have available in 2020. I have had opportunities to see their faces and join in the many and varied things they are doing in lockdown. I have also attended church with them and have had the joy of seeing grandchildren online, hearing them singing and playing in the worship segments.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not in any way minimise the devastating effects of this worldwide pandemic on society as a whole, and my heart goes out to every person, family, those in business, the list doesn’t end, where loss and suffering is resulting in physical, mental and financial hardship. But God IS the creator and sustainer of the universe. The words of a familiar song remind us...” He’s got the whole world in His hands”. He really, truly does!
Isolation and resulting hardship is not a new concept for me. Most of my formative years were spent on a farm at the foot of the Kaimais, just outside Matamata, and with siblings much older and younger than me. Spending time by myself and playing alone, was normal. There was a polio epidemic when I was 6 years old, with schools closed from November to Easter. The hardship of the Depression in the mid 1940s after World War II is still etched in my memory – the scarcity we experienced made tangible by the food rationing tickets in the little blue tin high up on the mantelpiece above the coal range.
This was good preparation for occasions later in my adult life when called to live in some of the most remote, primitive and isolated places in the world. There was no contact with the outside world, at times for up to 12 months or more. Shopping was once a year, if at all, and sometimes it was subsistence living with just what could be found locally: there were no shops or roads, medical facilities or hospitals, technology wasn’t a thing, and the snail mail was a long time coming, sometimes months, sometimes opened along the way, sometimes not received at all.
How did I cope? Where do you turn, when all the props are gone, when all the familiar and normal things are taken away? For me it was by learning to look to the one and only constant that I knew and had committed my life to... and that was God.
Clinging to promise after promise that He would watch over, protect and sustain me, no matter what my circumstances or situation, as difficulty after difficulty unfolded..... aloneness, foreign languages, sickness, fears for safety, where the next meal would come from, distancing from our children, too many goodbyes, and much more. As it all flooded over me, He showed me, day by day, year upon year, that He is faithful, trustworthy and has promised to be alongside me when everything else is stripped away. Slowly I understood more about trusting God in everything, and realised that the things that I considered important and necessary for survival, weren’t really that important. Finding strength in the simple things, the things that stay the same... the surety of the sunrise we read about in Lamentations 3:22-23. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is His faithfulness”; the wonder of a sunset; a rainbow; the majesty of the mountains; and lately, the exquisite flowers blooming in the garden outside my window; the trees changing colour and losing their leaves because it is autumn; the birds enjoying the unusual quiet of our street; the thrill of the ‘ding’ on my phone telling me a son, a daughter, a friend is thinking of me; the delight of an acquaintance becoming a friend as they send a message of hope and love.
These things that stay the same and the blessings God gives us reflect His character and show Him to be good and faithful, a kind God who keeps His promises. This means that even when things go bad and I fear isolation, financial hardship and even death, I can trust that God will keep His promises and the biggest promise to me is that because of Jesus He is with me, even in death.
COVID-19 in 2020 brings different challenges for different people. There are many things to help us face these challenges - the numerous facets of technology with improved communication, online shopping, the blessing of the love of family and special friends, but most important of all, the opportunity to be drawn closer to the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13.8).
I trust you too can find comfort and strength in this same God.