June 8, 2020 | Bogota, Colombia | Josney Rodriguez, Inter-American Division
Stuck in my apartment in Colombia, I was already in bed, but I couldn’t sleep. The day had been as long as any day during the coronavirus lockdown. Some time had passed since the government had taken measures to avoid infections. I woke up early and followed my routine of physical exercise, personal hygiene, devotional, phone calls, Zoom meetings, and other assignments, until it was dark. But all the time, I had this pressing concern—I was trying to reach my brother to find out how he was doing, but I couldn’t.
Challenges in this world have multiplied because there is one virus threatening our lives and the lives of those for whom we care. In countries such as Venezuela, where my brother lived, there was no gas, and transportation and food are scarce and costly. The future is uncertain, precarious, and dark. The plans we make today are likely to change tomorrow. We live under the threat of a virus which is invisible to human eyes, but with the power of taking down governments and nations all around the world.
How many could imagine that 2020 would be so different? Today, as you read these lines, your life is surrounded by biosecurity measures, face masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, fear, and uncertainty. What is the way out? For me, there is only one — Only God offers hope when facing the distress of a future of shadows and death.
On Monday evening I was able to reach hold of my brother. “How are you, my brother?”, I asked him.
He answered, “I couldn’t complete my dialysis today. The dialysis machine is broken, so I hope that by tomorrow, it’s fixed and I am able to use it.”
He was not doing well, as liquids were accumulating in his body, and even his lungs were now affected. After chatting with him about additional details, I said goodbye telling him, “I love you, brother!” “I love you too, brother!”, he told me.
On Tuesday night, my daughter called. “Dad, you know that your brother was very sick….” I did not need to hear another word. I understood my brother had passed. It was already past midnight, and I would have wished to hear my brother’s voice again. As my heart cried, my mind got busy, thinking of all the details we had to take care of – Call a friend to help me get my brother’s death certificate, hire a funeral home, get everything ready for his burial and find a way of traveling to see and touch my brother for a last time.
The country, however, had forbidden inter-city trips or border crossings. I thought about it all night. We have been told that, if we make an effort for long enough, we will always find a way. But this virus has arrived to repeatedly remind us of our finite vulnerability and the futility of our efforts and plans. There was no way I could make it to my brother’s funeral, not even on a private jet! And sanitary measures demanded he must be buried within 24 hours.
What should I do? David the Psalmist wrote, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23.4). My hands grabbed the brown bars of my apartment window, as I looked outside. I was shut in, isolated from the world, and separated from my brother. I cried as images with memories from his life raced through my mind. It was at that moment that I felt God’s presence, certain and deep inside my soul and chest where my pain threatened to become frustration and despair. Yes! I felt His promised encouragement. My heart became full of hope and humble trust, as I perceived that God always loves us, and that “His love endures forever.” Those had been my brother’s precise words a few weeks before he passed. “God’s love is constant and endures forever, my brother!”
Every farewell, even the one when we can’t be physically present, can be endured if we think of God’s presence, and the thought of how constant and eternal is His love. Death, disease or even the threat of getting infected with COVID-19 cannot reduce, obliterate, or even alter that love. It is present now, and it will endure forever! And just because of it, today and tomorrow, I can trust in the fact that our separation will not last forever. When Lazarus, Martha and Mary’s brother, died, Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25). And I believe Him!
Josney Rodriguez is ministerial secretary of the Inter-American Division of the Seventh-day Adventists. He currently resides n Bogota, Colombia.