Distance alters the Andersons' family and ministry

By Tianna Haas | Bolivia in South America

During the current COVID-19 crisis, being surrounded by family is a welcome comfort. Unfortunately, 11-year-old Joel Anderson, who attends boarding school in the UK, is unable to reunite with his parents, Jonny and Olga, SIM workers to Bolivia. While the familial separation is difficult, the Andersons are also encountering changes in missions work.

Jonny and Olga have served in Bolivia for 10 years, focussing on sharing the gospel with the Quechua community through orality ministry. The Andersons have two other children, Joanna, age 10, and Jonah, age nine, and they’re already seasoned homeschoolers

Their oldest, Joel, has now spent three years in boarding school, which have been enjoyable. However, his Easter holidays this year played out quite differently than expected.

Joel’s return flight through Madrid was cancelled from fear of infection. His backup route through Brazil was also disrupted when Bolivia announced that Europeans could not enter the country.

As these events were unfolding, Jonny and Olga scrambled to find an alternate way to gather their family. Jonny said: “It took us a day to realise, ‘Hang on – if they’re going to close this country down and Britain’s shutting down, we’re probably better off being with Joel in Britain to sit it out with him there.”

Jonny and Olga attempted to gather funds and travel to the UK, but by the time they collected the money, the local flights had sold out and the international airports were not an option because of the driving distance and instituted curfew.

Jonny said: “That was a real wrench. It still makes us a little sad to think about it at times.”

Still, they are grateful to the Lord that Joel has wonderful caretakers. A dorm-mate’s family offered to take him in, and other close friends had invited him to stay. Jonny and Olga are encouraged that he is supported even miles away, which is clearly a provision from the Lord.

In the coming weeks, they’ll monitor travel restrictions for international flights in hope that they can bring their family back together again.

Jonny said: “Joel’s made that mental adjustment, and he seems to be alright. We’ll make every effort to see him in the summer.”

In the meantime, they are keeping in touch over Skype several times a week. Though Joel is currently content with friends, cricket matches and video games, Olga has also given him some remedies to curb any homesickness. She tells him, “Phone a friend, tell them about it, or make yourself a hot chocolate and think of us,” which is good advice for others who may be anxious and stranded far from home during this pandemic.

Jonny with a friend in Bolivia.

The Quechua people that Jonny and Olga serve are also undergoing a level of isolation, since face-to-face contact is their preferred channel of communication. Those under age 50 likely have WhatsApp downloaded, but text messages and long chats aren’t preferred.

Jonny said: “It’s a work-oriented culture, so people don’t have time for that … It’s a totally new way of communicating for them.”

While ministry is greatly limited in light of social distancing, Jonny’s neighbour, Dutch theologian Janita Ortiz, came up with an idea to produce two-minute videos explaining biblical responses to the COVID-19 crisis in Quechua to share on social media.

Jonny has two other friends who will join the project, an Argentinian mission worker Walter Callegari and Bolivian mission worker Edgar Ramos. Jonny met Edgar 13 years prior in London, and he will be an indispensable resource as a trilingual public communicator (English, Spanish, and Quechua).

So far, they’ve identified five themes to cover in the videos that address spiritual needs or misconceptions of God’s role in sickness.

One element they’ll combat is fear. Jonny said: “For instance, some in the area are very fearful, because their pastors tend to say in sermons that they’re not doing enough, not coming to church enough, not giving enough money. So, they fear an economic collapse, and they’ll get the disease as a punishment because they haven’t been faithful enough.”

Recently, Olga had an opportunity to soothe the anxiety of one woman, Claudia*. Claudia expressed how frightened she was of contracting COVID-19 or facing financial difficulties. Although she had genuine faith in Jesus, her church culture had imposed the idea that these trials would be God’s judgement on her.

Jonny said: “Olga told her that God dearly loves her and that those misfortunes wouldn’t be a punishment from God and that she needs to trust in him.”

"Olga told her that God dearly loves her and that those misfortunes wouldn’t be a punishment from God and that she needs to trust in him."

     

They hope to proclaim the message of God’s compassion that Olga shared with Claudia to a larger audience over video, along with other vital themes. They’re attempting to keep the content up to date as the global situation is ever-changing, but the aim is to produce the videos on a weekly schedule.

Though the Anderson family has experienced hardships and discouragement as a result of the coronavirus, their ministry and family stand on a secure foundation. They remain confident that God is active and shaping better plans than humanity can now see.

Pray for:

Joel to find comfort in the Lord as he’s away from his parents.

Jonny and Olga to have peace while their family is separated. Pray that they are able to find an international flight as soon as air travel restrictions allow.

the Quechua video projects to turn hearts to God and correct misconceptions. Pray that, in response to the series, any who do not truly know Christ as Saviour would repent and believe.

Quechua believers to find fellowship while in lockdown.


*Name changed.