Mission of Healing 2021: So What's the Plan?
A few disappointing realities
of a global pandemic for our little coordination team of companion church ministries:
- Traveling internationally is complicated.
- Delegations cannot safely travel together in vehicles.
- Eating together in a group is unthinkable.
- A team of 60 volunteers and 500 participants cannot possibly gather safely together for a big event at a school or community site, even if outdoors.
When we packed up after last year's Mission of Healing in El Salvador, the novel Corona Virus was just beginning its journey around the planet. We could not have imagined then that the virus now known as COVID-19 would wreak such havoc. We could not have imagined that quarantines, lock-downs, masks, sanitizing, home-schooling, working from home or not being able to work, and not hugging one another would be our way of life for a year, or maybe longer.
|Volunteer team members gather for opening prayer at one|
of the Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fairs in February 2020
A few weeks after the Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fair 2020, we realized that 2021 might need to be different. In March, before El Salvador entered into a complete lockdown, I met with Salvadoran Lutheran Church leaders to discuss realities and possibilities. It was sad for everyone to acknowledge that a 21 year old tradition of sharing baptisms, prayers, miracles, teaching, learning, and Valentine surprises could not take place as usual. That said, we were not completely deterred. Throughout 2020, we chose our words intentionally: The Mission of Healing is not cancelled; the Mission of Healing is being re-imagined.
|Children in the kids' learning area tasting peanut butter and jelly|
for the first time. Mission of Healing 2000.
From June through October, we traded a few emails and calls to put together a tentative plan and to identify heath education topics that are of particular importance for families living with pandemic restrictions and protocols. By the end of 2020 we had developed a solid plan for The Mission of Healing 2021: a year-long, remote program of holistic health education designed to be delivered directly to families in whatever ways the local pastors find work in their communities. As we discussed how this kind of remote learning could work, we took into account some successful initiatives we had observed during 2020:
- Prayer chains - throughout the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, pastors and leaders educated themselves about technology and created prayer chains and youth chat groups using WhatsApp and Messenger. Social media and meeting apps allowed members to worship together remotely and hold meetings. Many of these groups include sister church members from the US and Europe
- Remote learning - Schools sent lectures and lessons out via WhatsApp and did hard-copy drops of course materials in communities (in some communities at the bus stops). While this was a little rocky at the start, the government gradually helped rural areas to upgrade their signal capacity so most kids have access to remote learning via cell phone.
- Outdoor meetings - Most of the Lutheran churches have returned to meeting in person with small groups gathering for worship and youth group. With open doors and open windows and social distancing, small groups can gather to watch a video and have discussions.
So, what's the plan?
We worked with the Salvadoran Lutheran Church Health Ministries coordinator and consulted with a few doctors from local clinics in the area where we usually have the health fairs to develop a list of monthly themes which include: personal hygiene, community hygiene, nutrition, domestic violence, bullying, fitness, respiratory illness (virus vs bacteria), stress and sleep, yoga and reflexology, and sex eduction. Each month, the leadership team will produce videos (some topics feature separate videos for children), study guides, activity pages and suggestions for things to do in the home or in small, distanced groups.
We decided that January would be "Introduction Month" to help everyone figure out how best to implement the plan in their local setting. The January video, 2021 Misión de Sanación Introducción, was created in the United States by a few team members who have participated in previous years. Whether pastors choose to push it out to families via their WhatsApp groups or show it to a small group in the church, the idea is to encourage families to enjoy and use the resources they will receive throughout the year. Each month, a packet of handouts will be available for families to pick up at their churches and will feature a prayer card, coloring and activity pages, ideas for outdoor activities or things to do in the home, a video discussion guide and information related to the topic of the month.
|Prayer card for January 2021|
During January, we will be using our hands to pray. Another resource for January is an activity book about COVID-19 which we found in both English and Spanish on a web site created by St. Jude Hospital. January also features a brochure which provides information for the year-long program.
Although the plan for our team is specific for the Misión de Sanación Norte - the ministry we do with congregations in the northern micro-region of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, the program can be adapted and shared throughout all the churches and communities that might like to use it.
I should mention that in the midst of our conversations, we were asked to consider purchasing vitamins and minerals (currently included in the Salvadoran Ministry of Health protocols for treating COVID-19) as well as ibuprofen. After consulting with doctors in El Salvador, our US team pharmacist and reviewing our financial resources, we decided not to purchase medications. For 21 years, we have been working closely with local clinics in our region. For the last several years, our focus has been on wellness and preventive care, and we refer any participants with concerns to local clinics for ongoing care. Luckily for Salvadorans, a little sunshine packs a good dose of Vitamin D, and beans, seeds and nuts provide a good source for zinc, so people tend not to be low on these nutrients. Families in our region continue to tell us that the COVID-19 system put in place by the government is working. People who think they might have COVID-19 call 123 and speak with a caregiver. If it is a suspected case, the health department delivers the home-care kit to the patient. The patient is called daily to give advice on how to best manage the virus and to make sure more care is not needed. Encouragement for mask-wearing out in the small communities and social distancing continues to be important as the number of COVID cases is increasing again and people are getting tired of this pandemic!
So, welcome to the Remote Mission of Healing 2021 - let's all learn a little something together! And remember to wear your mask, keep your distance, stay home as much as you can, and encourage one another.