Last week I shared some tips on surviving lockdown from a believer in Italy. I’ve since heard from quite a number of other Christians there and wanted to share some of their tips and experiences. As so many of us across the world face the possibility of lockdowns, this information may help us be better prepared.
I’ll begin with some general tips I compiled from common themes. The first and biggest is this: Don’t panic and don’t be anxious. The Bible reminds us that God is in control, not the virus! God has a perfect plan even in this dramatic situation. We can rest in his sovereignty.
For individuals and families:
- Be disciplined. Develop personal and family routines and stick with them, even if they seem a little over-the-top. You will do better with structure than without it.
- Take these restrictions in a serious way in your family and with your friends. Many will die if you do not. Submit to the guidance and leadership of your government and consider how you can co-labor with them for the good of the community.
- Keep praying and keep trusting the Lord. Keep reading the Bible and go to his promises. Keep family worship central in the life of your family. Perhaps focus on Psalm 91 (a lot of Christians here are quoting it inappropriately saying the sickness will not come to our tent) and have an appropriate understanding as Christians about Christian suffering and sickness. Be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us. There are a ton of scared people and this is a great opportunity for us to bring hope.
- Focus on your spiritual, physical, and mental health. All will be tried during this time, but all can actually be strengthened. Also expect that you will gain some weight during lockdowns, so try to find some form of exercise while watching how much you eat.
- Wash your hands well multiple times during the day, and every time you go outside or come into contact with people who are not part of your household.
- Do your best to stay in touch with people in your church and neighborhood. For church, stay in touch electronically; for nearby neighbors, try to speak to them in ways that maintain appropriate distances.
- Prepare to ride out the storm for a long period of time. Take time to rest as a family and find fun activities to do with your kids. Learn to be okay with quarantine, knowing that it will end.
- Remember the elderly people in your church and family as they may become depressed. Young people, on the other hand, may find themselves suffering from exhaustion and nervousness.
- Make sure you are intentional in having lists of numbers of people in your church to make phone call connections. We have to get creative to pastor from a distance.
- Consider video recording short devotionals that you can send out to your congregants to keep them in touch with you as their pastor.
- Upload PDFs of kids ministry material that parents can use on Sundays as they do church from home. Equip the parents.
- Keep in touch with believers (WhatsApp, email, hangouts, live YouTube for sermons) much more than before, since there is more serenity and much less hurry.
- Consider appointing certain days for fasting and prayer as a church.
Now here are some specific experiences.
From a Wife and Mother
As far as protecting ourselves against the virus, we are following the rules imposed by our government. Going out is strictly forbidden unless you can prove you are driving or walking to work, grocery shopping (one person per family) or you are seeing a doctor for a serious health condition. For some of us, life has dramatically changed. Other people continue working (against their will), especially in our area. My husband is a factory worker and he is still working with hundreds of co-workers from central Italy.
Every day they take their temperature before allowing the workers in. They gave them one disposable mask each, and that is it. Next monday the factory will shut down for one week. As for myself, I am staying home with our seven-month-old. I am doing as much as I can to protect him, but when my husband is at work and the dog needs to go out, I am forced to take the baby with me. This actually isn’t a big deal considering no one would even consider coming close to somebody else these days. Our baby doesn’t normally go to daycare, so we’re used to having him home. Church services are forbidden but we are allowed to go to our church building (those directly involved in the service) and live-stream a service. Our pastor is streaming Bible studies from his living room on Wednesdays and Fridays . Our youth group leaders and Sunday school teachers are meeting the kids via Zoom on Saturdays. I am meeting the other members of the worship team via Zoom as well, on Mondays.
As church members, we find ourselves longing for fellowship and have deep affection for each other. We have a church WhatsApp chat and we call one another on a daily basis. My husband and I are reading the same books we were reading before the quarantine stage began. We keep reading our Bibles as per our reading plan. My husband is preparing his next sermon on Romans 8. Encouraging non-believing families and friends is the greatest challenge. Many are angry at God, some are simply paralyzed by fear. Others are all-of-a-sudden self-proclaiming atheists and a great amount are devoted to Mary. We are thankful for the leadership of our local church that is taking extraordinary care of us and grateful to God for how clearly He is showing His sovereignty over everything. He is using this event to make us desire eternal life more ardently.
My personal prayer request is, that in preaching the Gospel we guard ourselves against the horrible sin of watering it down. We greatly appreciate your affection and your interest in the advancement of the kingdom of God in our country during this unprecedented emergency.
From Another Wife and Mother
From Turin our current life is as follows: We stay at home and do not go out except for shopping or medicine. We work from home—I specifically have a husband, mother and 28 year old daughter at home and she is currently a teacher via the web. We have a church chat which we use each day to share passages of the Word, exhortations, encouragement and even news.
On Sunday we connect to different Christians who have a YouTube channel to follow preaching. Encouragement is done via telephone, through social networks. We also try to evangelize. The books I read continue to be those of before (I have not directed my interest on specific topics of the moment). But the most important thing is certainly the prayer which, we can see, is greater in the moment of suffering. There are groups of Christians who, via WhatsApp, organize common prayer in a common time.
These are all initiatives which, in my opinion, are perhaps bringing believers around the nation closer together. My daughter is included in prayer groups with some young people of Milan and also with the GBUs (University Biblical Groups). I must say that there are many initiatives and this strengthens us despite what is happening #andràtuttobene because the Lord is with us. Let us pray that the unconverted may soon find peace with Christ.
From a Pastor & Father of Five
When COVID-19 arrived in Italy and the government started to put serious measures into place, it felt like the “perfect storm”. My wife and I have five mostly young children (youngest is almost 2, oldest is 12) who are now at home all day. We just purchased a home so are starting some renovation work and preparing to move, and our church is about one month into a leadership transition. We rejoice and rest in God’s sovereignty.
Once we could no longer meet as a church body, a local videographer who we have worked with for many years was able to get us the equipment necessary to begin streaming almost immediately. Right now we are holding two services a week via streaming, and we plan to resume our men’s discipleship groups this Sunday via video conferencing.
We are trying to keep tabs on the members of our church, especially those who are older or who do not have believing family members. The father-in-law of a woman who attends our church just tested positive for COVID-19, and he is not doing well. Her family (her husband and children) are in isolation for two weeks, they are not even allowed to eat together. Her husband and in-laws are not believers; we pray that God will use this to bring them to salvation.
My prayer is for wisdom to know how to navigate this moment, to appreciate the increased opportunities to grow in shepherding my wife and children (having more time together at home has been a blessing), as well as wisdom to shepherd the church family (even though we are not able to physically be together). I have tried to lead our church in reflecting on our mortality and the fact that we exist for God’s glory.
I have been encouraged to see how much they have missed being together as a church body. This was something I was taking for granted; I was viewing church more as “work” and not so much as a “family” that I need. In this way God has admonished me about my own incorrect thinking, along with convicting me (again) of my own arrogance. If I could borrow part of a phrase from Spurgeon, “anything is a blessing that shows me my own arrogance”.
This moment has been a great lesson in humble gratitude. I must be thankful, not because I determine that something is good, but because God has sovereignly ordained it.
From a Mother of Three
I’m a mother of three children between the ages of two and nine. Being a mother is my main occupation, but I dedicate part of my time to doing some activities for the Coram Deo Ministry and for the praise ministry in the Sola Grazia Church of Porto Mantovano.
Since the Italian government imposed the closure of the schools, we have had to reorganize our days and I must admit that the time I used to dedicate to other activities has been almost completely absorbed by my family. Thank God we have a big house with a garden that allows us to let the children out, even though we have to stay on our property. This allows them not to be overly affected by the now nagging imposition of a restricted home. Their day is therefore marked by games, homework, family relaxation and reflection. They are serene, but they have sensed that something anomalous is happening and it is a good opportunity to talk to them in a deeper way about Jesus.
My husband has also been working from home for two weeks through remote connections. This allows us to have more time to spend together and to have the peace of mind that we are all united and little exposed to the danger of contracting the disease. We go out once a week (only one of us at a time) to do the shopping, trying to wear DIY masks (because you can’t find any more on the market), respecting the limits imposed and taking care of personal hygiene.
Meetings with the church have been suspended as imposed, but we try to hear the brothers and sisters of the church through messages and video conferences to encourage and join in prayer. I find it very useful to listen to music with texts taken from the Word, which encourage, strengthen and nourish our thoughts and our hearts with the hope that we find only in Christ. At a time when we are assailed by negative news and fears, singing the Word is like a soothing balm. The opportunities for witness are many and we know that Italians will not be the same when all this is over. We pray that this circumstance will be an opportunity for the Italian people to awaken.
From a Pastor/Missionary in Milan
Things here in Milan evolved extremely rapidly and were changing on an almost daily basis at the beginning. This virus brings much uncertainty and I believe those of us who are less flexible would be well served to prepare themselves mentally for not being able to have your calendar planned out.
Here are a few thoughts about preparing for lockdown and living it well:
- Think about home projects. My wife and I went to a hardware store on Saturday because we were getting ready to do two projects at home. We decided to wait until Monday to get everything we needed so that we can have a few days to think about our decisions. The following Monday was lockdown. Oh, well. They will have to wait. Even to have made a list of smaller projects to make sure I had everything I needed would have been helpful.
- We sat down with our kids and told them with more time in the house we are going to have to think through ways to be productive. I told them to think about some skill they would like to learn and/or develop. I even told them that we were willing to buy books or video lessons if need be (for a reasonable price of course). My older son has offered his video editing skills on Upwork and is seeking to improve his knowledge of Adobe Premier. My youngest son has been working on learning piano and has tried his hand at baking. My youngest daughter has been watching training videos on time management.
- Our work as missionaries means we are with people a lot. So what do we do now? I have shifted my work focus to preparation and planning. That is, I am getting ready for what I want to do once the lockdown ends. People may want to think through what resources they need in order to prepare sermon series, special classes, etc. Or go through some online training.
- My wife says she wishes we would have planned for the worst-case scenario. We were just thinking a few days and everything would get back to normal.
- Our church has been meeting via Skype on Sunday mornings. These last two weeks have been a blessing seeing each other even if online meetings are not optimal. For churches that are bigger you might want to think of having small groups get together online. Also, we are changing from Skype to Zoom this Sunday. If we would have had time, we would have made sure everyone was set up prior to lockdown. Some people need extra help when it comes to technology. We have kept things simple as there tends to be a lot of confusion on these calls. Italians like to talk over each other and on Skype this reaches new heights! We have taken time to listen to God’s word and pray together. Here again, watch expectations. This is not a normal church service and will not be perfect. But in the confusion, as more than one person is talking at once, as one person’s audio is delayed or fades in and out, there is a joy to “be” with God’s people!
- At the beginning of February we had started a new program called “a friend in prayer.” We put everyone in the church in pairs and they were supposed to pray for one another daily and get together physically at least once a month. My friend and I decided to call each other each day to pray together on phone for 10 minutes. It has been a rich time of fellowship as I did not know this brother that well before this. Now with the lockdown happening, it is even more precious. Obviously we cannot get together physically as originally planed, but we have sure prayed.
- In our church we have a chat group on WhatsApp. It has really been active now that more people are at home. It has also proven to be a place where people can use their gifts. One lady in our church really has a gift of writing and communicating deep theological truths. She has posted a few short messages and yesterday she decided to record a vocal message reading what she had written. One word of warning is that I have also noticed people forwarding a lot of messages. Sometimes they are innocent (like the announcement about John MacArthur’s sermon being live-streamed in Italian this past Sunday), but other times they are fake and conspiratorial. I would rather see messages of encouragement that come from our people personally.
- As far as grocery stores, the problem is not a shortage of food (and fortunately for us there is no shortage of toilet paper either!), but the lines getting in are long. We waited an hour to get into the store last Friday. This is simply due to the stores having to enforce a minimum distance between customers of 1 meter. So, people may want to make a more detailed list and even buy for a few extra days simply to not have to go back to the store that often. You don’t want to stand in line for an hour just to buy milk.
Unfortunately, we have lost someone in our church to the coronavirus. At this time we cannot have a funeral and will have to wait until this crisis passes. The other elder in our church is close to the family and has been in contact with them. Churches may want to think about how they can comfort people who lose loved ones.