Bishop Eduard Khegay
Eurasia Episcopal Area
April 20, 2020
Isolation and loneliness then and now
It was August of 1996 when I collected all my belongings into two suitcases and got on the overnight train from Moscow to St.Petersburg with one way ticket. It was a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, I was excited to receive my first appointment from the bishop to serve as a local pastor in the most beautiful city of Russia. On the other hand, I had to say goodbye to all my friends in our Moscow church, Seminary, and Conference office.
Being a single man and renting a small studio-like apartment, which was not very fit for the cold winter ahead, and not having friends in the new city, felt lonely sometimes. Isolation was part of reality on everyday basis. Smartphones, computers and Internet access was not part of our life yet. And even though many great museums, books and sites inspired me very much, not having friends close by was difficult. I would write letters to my friends in Moscow, seal them in the envelope and take them to the post office. This was the way we kept our friendship and communication.
Then I remembered good advice from experienced friend, who encouraged me to make new friends in the new place. I intentionally began to seek opportunities to meet new people. Many of them were from my new church. They would invite me to their homes for great meals and tell me their stories. It was first time in my life that I pastored many people who were almost three times older than me. Some of them lived through Leningrad’s blockade of the WWII. I have learned a lot from them and am very grateful for their perseverance and strong spirit. Then I would meet new friends at interdenominational meetings, Christian conferences and seminars. All that helped me to make new friends, overcome isolation and loneliness. And I knew that there were many young pastors like me who felt the same, often not having a fellow Methodist pastor within a thousand kilometers radius. Making new friends among church members and other Christians proved to be a great blessing for me. It eliminated isolation and loneliness, and helped me to survive.
How do you cope with isolation and loneliness today? How is it with your soul as you see the reality of coronavirus spread around the world? Do you have friends who support you and whom you can support?
People of faith
The Bible tells many stories about people of faith. Facing crisis, uncertainty of the future, lack of food, temptation of idolatry and fighting against enemies were all familiar to people of Israel who crossed the Red Sea, collected manna and witnessed Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead. What would be our story as people of faith when we will sit down with our children and grandchildren at Easter service in 2030 or 2040?
I am amazed and very grateful to the people called Methodists in Eurasia. In this time of self isolation, we have proven to be people of faith, not people of the buildings. Even though we cannot meet at our church buildings, we are able to use technology and Internet, phone calls and text messages in order to overcome isolation and loneliness with faith. I thank God when I receive news from our district superintendents and pastors about small groups activities on Zoom and Skype. Some pastors got busier than they were before! Praise God for the new opportunity!
Many experts predict psychological problems when we stay at isolation for too long. News from China already say that the rate of divorce gone high and people have many conflicts when they are limited with 40 square meters of their apartment. This reminds us that we are sinful creatures and we need to help each other look up to God and be a good support for one another. And that is what church does very well for centuries! Do not be shy to call your friend or colleague to share your burdens and anxieties. Don’t hesitate to call someone just to ask how are they doing and pray for them. Be part of the small group online where you can encourage one another in faith. Today in 2020 God gives us many opportunities and tools to be the church, which we did not have in 1996. We must use them well so that we can continue to grow as people of faith and encourage others to follow Jesus Christ.
I am very grateful that our district superintendents and many sisters and brothers united together for our Eurasia Area Easter worship online on April 19, 2020. This was unique moment in our history when we participated together as a connectional church from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad, from Bishkek to St.Peterburg, from Satka to Kiev, from Uzhgorod to Almaty and many other places in Eurasia. Even in isolation we can feel united and connected. And it was especially encouraging to have our sisters and brothers from across the world join us in this worship experience. I thank God for the people of faith who continue to worship God and encourage one another in this challenging time!
Another opportunity in this time of crisis is to have virtual travel and visit many churches for worship, Bible study, prayer, fellowship and preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. Many pastors can be invited to preach online in the church in another city or country. I can visit many churches online in my area and experience connectional aspect of our church. And even though online presence cannot replace physical presence, it is a wonderful opportunity that we as people of faith can use in such a time like this.
I thank God for people of faith, called Methodists, in Eurasia for strong spirit, creativity and increased energy as we continue to fulfill our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ online for the transformation of the world.
People of hope
When I shared my video message with Methodists in Eurasia on March 27, 2020 there were over half a million people infected and over 23,000 people died worldwide. Today, on April 20, 2020, there are already over 2,4 million people infected and over 165,000 people died worldwide. These news are overwhelming and shocking. More and more people are affected by the tragedy of death and sickness. How do we find hope in the midst of this crisis?
Another dimension of this crisis is economy. When the wife or husband of a pastor in Eurasia loses her or his job, the family income decreases dramatically. How is the family supposed to feed their children? When many of our pastors are bi-vocational and suddenly lose their part-time job, how the church can afford to support the pastor? And when the church has the building which is used by several Protestant congregations who contribute to its maintenance, how would the church sustain the building when these congregations stop gathering and move to online format? We are not living in G7 countries and are not part of the EU, therefore many of us do not have hope in our government’s support.
We are raised on Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s books like The Gulag Archipelago. He writes how Christians in the Soviet concentration camps were different from others. They were people of hope and Christian character. They suffered, persevered and stayed true to their Christian ideals. There were something that set them apart from everyone else. They found their hope in Jesus Christ. That is what Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome:
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5 NIV)
I am grateful to the people called Methodists in Eurasia who find hope in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
People of love
When our government decided to announce self-isolation I was very touched by our pastors’ concern for the homeless and poor: “How are they going to be fed if they cannot come to our church for meals?” Some members feared that the ministry with the poor will stop.
It was great to see our churches adopt and determined to continue to help the poor. John Wesley made it his weekly practice to visit the poor and minister to them. Methodists around the world know that if we do not visit the poor, we may be in danger to forget about their daily struggles. Many churches continue to feed the poor and homeless people by distributing lunch bags to them. Some do it at the church door with keeping the distance and following quarantine safety rules, others drive around the city and bring lunch bags to where the homeless people are. This is love in action and I am grateful to God for our people who overcome fear and are filled with the power of love. “For God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7 WEB). Let us be filled with the Holy Spirit, God’s victorious power, unconditional love and self-control.
It is interesting that these things are listed together. What is obvious to me in this time of self-isolation is that self-control is extremely important. Those who practice self-discipline, use their time wisely, set and achieve goals, and manage their family life to live in grace, purpose and fun, will be greatly rewarded at the end of this crisis. John Wesley’s followers should do well to organize their lives following the self-discipline of Methodism’s founder.
Most of us asking the same question these days: when life is going to be normal again? I want to know the answer. But I realize that coronavirus is hard to control and peoples’ behavior is even harder to control. This crisis can be with us longer than we wish to. So, I find that more important question for us Methodists is how do we share the love of Jesus Christ in this time of crisis? And that brings me to the people of love, Christians, the Church. Our role becomes extremely important in this season. We have the worldwide network, we have theology and tradition, we have millions of disciples who love God and want to transform the world, we have innovations and adaptability in mission work for two thousand years. The world is looking for us right now. Let us be brave and humble as we enter into the world of technology with the love of Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”(John 3:16 NIV).
In 1996 we wrote letters with pen and paper in order to encourage one another in faith and stay connected. Letters from my sisters and brothers increased my faith, hope and love. God has been very close to me then and He is close to me now. Today we have many more tools and opportunities to increase faith, hope and love in this world. And I am certain that people called Methodists will do that well. I thank God for you, sisters and brothers! The grace of Lord Jesus Christ, love of God and communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all! Amen.