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Voices From the Pandemic: Watching from Afar, Holding on to Hope

Maria Ghannam is a member of the Youth of Jesus Homeland group, a Christian youth ministry in Palestine.

I live in a small town in Palestine, where roads and fields are a natural park. The school playground is the only place where kids can play football and other fun games. We have no mall, no beach; there are two gyms for adults, and a swimming pool for the hot summer days. It’s a simple life. However, after COVID-19 — and especially after the announcement of some cases in Palestine — a huge lockdown was imposed without any previous warning. We never thought such a thing could happen that fast. Our simple village suddenly lost its spirit.

Now, everything is closed and shutdown; you can’t go outside your house, except to get food and medicine. We felt like prisoners at home — no walks, no games outside, not even visiting each other. Believe it or not, people started to deal with others as aliens and strangers.  Some people lost their jobs, some do not have enough money to buy food and others spent from their life savings.

Usually, some men go to work in other cities and come back every week or two weeks. Now, every time they go outside the door, it feels like it might be the last time to see them safe. However, they have to work and leave their families for weeks to keep them safe and earn some money. Even though the government is trying to help as much as possible, it’s still not enough for many families. All of these obstacles cannot stop us from living. As long as we are alive, we need to find solutions. So, we started using our technology to complete our studies, work, etc. Some people have problems because they are not expert in using technology. Others use their mobile phones only for the various applications such as Facebook, YouTube, or Google.

Nowadays, we do understand the idea of thinking “outside the box,” since we have to be more creative in living through our technologies. Therefore, we have our online meetings through Zoom or other applications.

Prior to COVID-19 pandemic, we used to go to Jerusalem to take part in the Palm Sunday procession — to walk in the footsteps of Jesus while carrying palm fronds and singing “Hosanna.” Yet, this year was more painful; we had to celebrate Easter through our mobile phones and television. We had that walk in our houses, waving and singing “Hosanna” from our balconies. On Easter, many of us also joined Pope Francis in his prayer, united in our hearts and minds. Even though it was through television, it felt like we were in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. We lighted candles and got rid of all the distractions around us. It felt like a huge wave of the Holy Spirit flew over our hearts. We felt very happy.

“With this pandemic, we look a lot like the Apostles when they gathered and prayed for the descent of the Holy Spirit. We pray today to ask God to help and protect us from diseases and strengthen us to grow in faith.”

Maria Ghannam

Despite these conditions, we didn’t lose hope. We remembered what Jesus said: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). So, every house was able to build its own small church, lighted by the warm hearts, no makeup or special dress, no selfie, but just people together as a family. It was just like each time Jesus prayed with his Apostles in a very simple way. Each time we prayed, we remembered him saying: “Pray always without becoming weary” (Luke 18:1). Many of us forget to pray in our daily routine until we go to church or face a problem. We prayed from our hearts not only because it’s a duty, but because we are praising our Savior. We felt like the sick people in the Bible who were waiting for Jesus to ease their pain and forgive their sins.

We currently realize the importance of Jesus in our life more than ever, and how much we miss him. Many of us only thought of making money, doing our jobs perfectly, and having fun. We lost the meaning of being real Christians. With this pandemic, we look a lot like the Apostles when they gathered and prayed for the descent of the Holy Spirit. We pray today to ask God to help and protect us from diseases and strengthen us to grow in faith.

Nevertheless, thanks to the Lord we are now in a better condition than before. Our town is still safe; we have had no cases of COVID so far. We go out for a short walk but with caution. There is no contact with others, no handshake, and no contact with people coming from the nearby towns.

Even if we go back to normal life, I think it won’t be easy to feel safe again until everyone receives immunization. Eventually, it’s difficult to know what will happen after the crisis of COVID-19. This reminds us that we are weak human beings and must depend on God all the time and in all our circumstances.

Whatever happens, we will not lose our hope. God promised that he will be with us until the end of the age, and by his strength miracles can happen. We trust him and rely on him, remembering these words from scripture: “You shall know that I am the LORD, none who hope in me shall be ashamed” (Isaiah 49:23).

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