Joanna McCree, Short term coordinator for Britain and IrelandIt's been an eventful year, to say the least, for Joanna McCree, Latin Link's Short Term Coordinator in Reading. But amid the many changed plans and disappointments, she has seen hopeful story. 

A few weeks ago on a particularly wet and muddy walk, I started thinking about the previous year (does anyone else find walking makes you think the most profound thoughts, only to instantly forget them the moment you step back inside?).

It’s been an incredibly challenging year for the Programmes team, dealing with delays, border closures, constantly changing travel restrictions, early returns, postponed placements, and of course many cancellations. I’ve given myself the nickname “The Dream Crusher” for all the Step and Stride placements I have had to cancel or postpone!

There were days where it just felt bleak and I feared for the future of Step and Stride (I do have a tendency to be a bit overdramatic sometimes…).

But, back to my walk - and a story of hope, I promise! There I was, knee-deep in mud, when I began to ponder some of the highlights of the year – and there were a surprising number. It seemed that mixed in with all the chaos, confusion, sadness and let-downs, there was hope buried in the most amazing examples of God at work. I’ve watched God answer prayers in completely unexpected ways and heard how people have learnt to rely on God, seen his provision, experienced his joy, and heard his voice in the uncertainty.

Striders have adapted what they’re doing to meet the needs of those around them. Food parcels, online prayer sessions, door-to-door prayer, online English lessons, virtual church… and it works! I don’t know why I am surprised – as if Covid could stop God’s plans – but it’s just amazing to see and hear stories of God breaking through and reaching people, in spite of the masks, the curfews, the lockdowns…

Josh is a great example of this. Peru went into lockdown just a few weeks after he arrived for his Stride placement, meaning that he had to carry out one of his two projects entirely online – and he did not disappoint! By launching himself into it, learning new skills, being creative and prepared to look a bit silly at times, he was able to immerse himself in the project and encourage and bless those he was working with.


A SHARED EXPERIENCE

There have been new and unexpected friendships – our flight agency staff now recognise my voice and the first ten minutes of our calls are spent chatting and laughing. I have commiserated and brainstormed with staff at other mission agencies, prayed with Steppers’ and Striders’ family members, and got on first name terms with people in embassies and consulates.

I had a personal moment of clarity where God spoke so clearly to me through a call with a Strider. She had no idea that by sharing her journey through this uncertainty, she was speaking directly into my life,
and God was challenging and encouraging me. I love how God is unrestricted, how he mixes things up to challenge one person and yet encourage another.

Even at the lowest points, God has brought hope. When I was rushing to get the Step team home in the early days of the pandemic, I was on a 3am call to the flight agency and, embarrassingly, found myself in
sleep-deprived-what-do-we-do now tears to one of the agents.

Within moments we went from being colleagues to friends. She shared some of her own fears, some of the abuse she had received from angry customers, and offered words of comfort.

By the end of the call we had arranged to meet in person post-Covid – I could almost see God rubbing his hands together in glee!


EMBRACING CHALLENGE

Watching Striders embrace significant changes to their plans has been hugely motivating. During their interviews we always ask questions about their flexibility – never before has that been so well put to the test!

Andrew (on Stride in Bolivia) was unable to go to his original project in Oruro, and has instead spent many months on an entirely different project. In spite of the challenges and perhaps disappointments this change has brought, he has thrown himself into it and touched many lives.

And now, over a year into his Stride placement, he’s finally been able to move across Bolivia to his intended project, serving with prison ministries in Oruro.


GOD IS STILL SPEAKING

As a team, we have also had to test our flexibility and willingness to adapt our plans and hopes for the programmes, and even to press ‘pause’ on some things. For me this is the saddest part; I miss the interview days, the orientation weekends, the interaction with applicants and staff. But even in this, God has brought hope and joy as we’ve had time to dream up new ideas, re-assess our programmes, and reflect on the highs and lows of the past year.

Just as with Andrew’s change of plans, God has not let anything go to waste – he is using the chaos.

And people want to join in! Even as I write this I have had an email from an past-Stepper. The team want to respond to any needs in the community where they worked several years ago. Striders are extending their placements.

Past-Steppers want to return. We have had a steady flow of enquiries and applications from people hearing from God during these quiet months. And each enquiry serves as a reminder for me that while we’re on hold – maybe even because we’re on hold – God is still speaking, still preparing. He has a plan through all this, and nothing it seems, will get in his way.

We’re constantly being told that the impact of this pandemic will be felt long after it’s over, and I fully believe the same will be said for all that God has been teaching us.


Short-term mission has many more challenges to overcome in the years ahead. But as long as God keeps calling people to serve, we’ll be ready to send, support and equip. To find out about opportunities for short-term mission, click here.


This article was first published in Latinfile spring 2021. Read the full edition here.