It’s early morning here on the West Coast. The rest of my family is still sleeping soundly when my alarm goes off at 5:30am. I stumble about, getting dressed, making a cup of hot tea, fiddling with the settings on my phone and WhatsApp – the application I’ll be using shortly to do something I’ve not done before.
Surprisingly, given my somewhat bleary state of mind, it works. I’m able to create a group video chat. Will anyone show up? But very shortly I have three faces – or at least the portion of three faces – staring back at me. People I’ve never met, but brothers and a sister in Christ a half a world away from me in the small country/city of Singapore.
They stare back at me with nervous smiles that probably match my own. Who am I, this strange new face introduced just a week or two ago by a familiar pastor they haven’t been able to see since halfway through Covid? What will I be like? What will they be like? I’ve been teaching in one capacity or another for close to 30 years now, but it’s always like this the first day of class. Uncertainties. Learning who one another is, what sorts of senses of humor people have (if any!), whether they’ll be engaged and active or more passive and quiet.
All of that aside from cross-cultural challenges. As I ask for feedback and input from these folks and they are reticent to reply, is this a cross-cultural issue? Is it unusual for a teacher or a pastor to ask students and parishioners for feedback, opinions, suggestions? Am I creating greater tension and nervousness by trying to be solicitous?
Eventually things begin to move forward. I’ll take the lead, since as a pastor that’s somewhat expected of me and one I’ve had to develop a comfortability with over the years. When I ask for their prayer requests they are far quicker to answer. Nervousness about career options. Fear because a co-worker in a large office-building tested positive for Covid. Worries about family in neighboring countries that is still recovering from Covid. Together we pray, eyes closed on the small screen, united in faith and trust in our heavenly Father from whom all blessings flow, most particularly the blessing of forgiveness and salvation in his Son, Jesus the Christ.
I think this will be a good experience, moving forward. We’ll get to know each other, but more importantly the Word of God will do what it always does, and that’s far more important than the earliness of the hour or technological tenuousness. The Word that promises to bind our hearts in faith in Christ together across the globe and for all eternity.