Responding to the Pandemic: Why I said “yes” to serve

In my 13 years with World Vision, responding to different types of disasters and emergencies has become second nature. From earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, to supertyphoons – I have seen it all! But as they say, you can never be ready for any emergency, as I was about to learn early in March, just as I was coming home from another major response.

I was in Nasugbu, Batangas to attend an orientation and training along with other members of the Tall Volcano Response team, when I learned about the possibility of placing the entire country on lockdown following the sudden rise in COVID-19 cases. Not long after we arrived home in Quezon City, the Enhanced Community Quaratine (ECQ) was announced.

We had just come from a major relief operation, and there it was again – another emergency. We barely had time to wrap our heads around the Taal Eruption Response, and here comes another one! On top of that, this is the first time the office would respond to a global health pandemic. Several thoughts swam in my head:

“What if the office announces another response?”

“How will this response look like?

“How about my family, how do I keep them safe? Will I be able to go home? Will I be able to hold my family, see them?”

“What if I get sick?

Among this sea of questions, one in particular lingered:

“Can I say no?”

Risk or comfort?

Truth is, I can. I can say “no” to this response if I wanted to. The organization lays down the responsibilities and risks involved in being part of the Response team, and respects the staff’s decision whether we want to join or not.

Given the health implications of this crisis, and the risk it posed to my loved ones, I took time to discuss this with my wife. We talked about it and prayed for guidance from the Lord.

During our discussion, we had to consider several factors before we came up with a decision: this crisis is unprecedented in the country’s history. It was the first Response of its kind in World Vision Philippines, and we acknowledge that we are not equipped, nor was there an expert on pandemics on our team.

I was choosing between risking my life or staying in my comfort zone – and that was a tough call to make.

I admit it was one of the most difficult decisions we had to make as a family, but with the support of my wife and children, we decided that I would join the Response team. I said “yes” to the call to serve.

Whenever I arrive at a crossroad where I have to choose between risking my life for service or staying within my comfort zone, I am reminded of a quote by Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Due to the nature of the pandemic, only a few people are allowed to go out and serve as frontliners, not everyone is given the chance to serve at this very crucial time in our country’s history. Instead of looking at it as a risk, I thought of it as an opportunity to extend God’s love to those who need it most.

Serving with joy and peace

Despite the hectic response schedule, the organization allows us to go home to our families, as long as we follow strict sanitary and disinfection protocols before entering our homes. My initial fears were allayed, because now, 3 months into the response, the family is safe and healthy. They remain to be my inspiration and strong support system.

Responding to the COVID-19 presented a different kind of challenge compared to other emergencies we have experienced. Aside from the fear and anxiety caused by the disease, there were also a lot of limitations due to physical distancing. Added to that, messages of panic, alarming statistics of rising cases and death tolls, and the proliferation of fake news that further caused misinformation among people.

Adapting to the “new normal” and how it affected our lives is very tough. In times of uncertainty like this that it is important to anchor ourselves in God’s promise to never leave us, nor forsake us. He, who made us and gave up His Son for the salvation of the world, will not leave His children in this time of need.

How are we (frontliners) able to serve with joy and peace in our hearts amidst the risks associated with the COVID-19 virus? These three things worked for me, and I hope that it also helps you cope with this crisis with a positive mindset and renewed faith:

1. Put your hope and trust on our Creator and connect with Him in prayer – as we have seen in this pandemic, people react and cope in different ways. Instead of living in fear, worry and anxiety, we can respond through prayer, trusting that God is in control, placing our hope in Him. That way, we can serve with peace and joy in our hearts.

2. Choose compassion over convenience – to serve our most vulnerable communities in the midst of a deadly pandemic means we need to step out of the comfortable presence of our families. Yet, it is a risk we are willing to take because our faith compels us to serve those in need. As it is said in Matthew 24:40, what we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we are doing unto God.

3. Never surrender to fear – Faith is the antidote to fear, and nothing reinforces our faith more than rehearsing the promises of God. Always remind yourself of His faithfulness and protection. We also need to stay informed and only share verified and credible news stories to avoid spreading false news.

As we, in World Vision, continue with the Response and as we navigate our lives in this new normal, may we always choose the path of serving each other with joy and peace. I am glad I answered “yes” to the call of service during this COVID-19 pandemic, and that would still be my response to whatever opportunity I am called to serve, for as long as I can.