What did COVID-19 restrictions, closures, and shut-downs teach me?
By Bradley Schapf
In many ways, 2020 was an interesting year: It turned out in ways we couldn’t have imagined when we found ourselves on its doorstep over two years ago. The pandemic, lockdowns, not being able to gather for worship, having to use masks, the Black Lives Matter movement, riots in American cities, and other events around the world made it a year for the history books.
One thing that became especially different, often even difficult for Christian believers, had been working with children and young people during this time. In many places, the restrictions made it impossible to carry out youth and children’s work in the same way we did before lockdowns. It could have been easy to think that maybe we should just stop with youth and children’s work until the pandemic is over and things go back to “normal,” but to me, that didn’t seem like the right answer.
The Importance of This Work
I think it’s important to remind ourselves why we work with youth and children in the first place. I can say for myself that the reason I am involved in this work is because I have experienced that Jesus Christ loves me, and this has been a comfort for me many times throughout my life. He has set me free from sin and has helped me through difficult situations that I would not have been able to deal with on my own. To guide the hearts of other young people to Jesus so that they too can experience the same thing is an extremely valuable work in my eyes. Through this work, good memories can be made in the childhood or youth time that they can look back on with fondness later in life, even if they choose a different path for their lives.
This conclusion didn’t answer the question of how I was supposed to work with them during these times of restrictions, but if you love someone – just as Jesus loves you – then you find ways to bless and make it good for them no matter the situation. I believe it’s not the activity that we are doing that is so important, but more that the children and young people can feel a genuine love and care from the mentors who are working with them. I have also experienced that as long as I am living wholeheartedly for Jesus then it naturally has an effect on the people that I spend time with. I don’t need to be constantly preaching God’s word to others to knit their hearts to Jesus. In fact, too much of that becomes very dry and boring! Rather when I spend time with them and they see my actions, reactions, and interactions, they get to see the life of Christ come forth in normal situations. I believe this has a far greater effect on young people and children, and if they experience that goodness from me, then they also listen when I speak about God’s word and my faith for them and myself.
The point is: no matter what changes COVID brought, there were still fun things we could do with youth and children. For example, when restrictions didn’t allow us to gather at all, we met with some of the younger children over Zoom and enjoyed lots of different activities. We did scavenger hunts around the house, played Hangman and Charades, and even did arts and crafts together, using little packages dropped off on doorsteps by mentors ahead of time. Once, we even played on a Minecraft server all together.
With the youth, we often met on Discord (an online voice-chat service) and played games like Minecraft, Fortnite, and Call of Duty as a group. We also held our weekly youth meetings over Zoom and played party games like Jackbox, Mafia, Bingo and online board games afterwards – with a youth group of almost 50 people. Although meeting online was not the same as getting together in person, it was still very encouraging to see our friends, and far better than not meeting at all!
What I’ve Learned
It’s now the middle of 2022, and we are able to go back to “normal” activities in most places. But, what have I learned from this pandemic? What did this time teach me?
I learned a lot. Certain times and experiences can be more straining for us as mentors. Maybe some activities take more time to organize than others. Maybe some things don’t even interest us all that much all the time… but when I think that I am helping the children and young people develop in a love for Jesus, then it’s not so hard to be along. I can always contribute in some way!
Through a most tumultuous time, I have experienced that love is creative – and I want this love and creativity to only grow from here. When I look at the big picture, my time, energy, and effort is a small price to pay to make it good for the others, and knit their hearts to Jesus.