As of this writing, I am in my third week of shelter in place in Spain, one of the deadliest of the epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic. Life and circumstances change by the hour nowadays. Such a paradox, to be sitting still and locked in our homes, yet circumstances outside are changing so rapidly. By the time this goes to print, I have no idea how things will have evolved and what life will look like. The only certainty is that it will have changed.
There are so many questions on the minds of those who have moved overseas to be cross-cultural witnesses. Never did I consider a pandemic when we were answering the call to go and serve and love our neighbors in another land. What does Love your Neighbor look like when you are forced inside? What effect does lockdown and social isolation have on sharing the gospel? What effects will the traumas of forced isolation, illness, and death have in the long term in our communities?
For us in southern Spain, the government decreed state of alarm has been a harsh blow to life as we know it. We cannot leave our homes, not even to go for a walk. Most homes have no yard or garden. The only way to leave home is to go to buy food, and you must go alone. Police and military are on the streets enforcing the lockdown. In a culture that prides itself on close-knit extended families, social connection, community bonds, and a pedestrian lifestyle, this has been almost unbearable. The impact and loss that is being felt by all is possibly as devastating emotionally as the physical devastation of the virus itself. We are, after all, created to be in relationship. We are created for connection. The grief of forced disconnection has been brutal.
Neighbors gather at their windows and on their balconies each evening to applaud those who continue to be on the front lines of this battle every day, and to encourage each other as we wait out our confinement and fight our own struggles of isolation and the inevitable fears that creep in.
Neighbors who were casual nod-and-wave folks are now jumping up and down when we see each other and waving wildly from our living room windows. Neighbors who casually chit chat as we stand in line at the bakery are now singing and dancing on their balconies and cheering each other on as we rejoice in another day of health. We worry about the neighbor on the corner who hasn’t opened their blinds for two days. We call out to the neighbor who has an 85-year-old mother and check to see that Miss Ana, the matriarch of the neighborhood, is well. Even “the cranky neighbors” have changed their tune and have been showing up each night on their balcony to clap and wave and ask how we are doing.
When this is all over, we’re going to have one heck of a neighborhood cookout! In fact, we’re going to have one every month. We’re going to find excuses to gather often and love each other well. Because this is a new beginning. This is a new start for “love your neighbor” in Spain!
Doors are being opened to spiritual conversations. Now, during times of forced isolation when we are only connected to our friends and neighbors via text messages and social media groups, more and more spiritual comments and ideas are popping up in the conversations and we are able to join together in those and connect in ways that show our commonalities and diminish our differences. We are able to enter in to spiritual conversations that have been quite taboo in a country that has been steadily distancing itself from anything having to do with religion.
It has been eye-opening for some, the realization that we are more alike than different, the idea that we all have something deep within us that asks spiritual questions and seeks answers. If this is a product of this pandemic, it would be a huge step forward and a step toward reconciliation and peace among people seeking God in Europe.”
Laurie Drum serves as the director of training and formation for TMS Global. She and her family served in Peru before moving to Spain, where they help refugees and immigrant populations to navigate their new reality in Europe.