The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is recalling many of its overseas mission co-workers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sara Lisherness, the PC(USA)’s interim director of World Mission, posted an announcement on World Mission’s Facebook page March 21 stating that “the PC(USA) has requested that all mission co-workers with the United States as home-base (U.S. Citizens and U.S. permanent residents) return to the U.S. as recommended by the State Department.”
World Mission’s crisis team is coordinating individually with each mission co-worker to determine the best approach, the message from Lisherness states.
“In some cases, borders and airports are closed and in other cases our mission co-workers are making the decision to shelter-in-place. Those that are sheltering-in-place have submitted detailed plans for how to remain safe or be evacuated if necessary.
“This was a very difficult decision, arrived at after much prayer and discernment, but considering the unpredictable spread of the virus, we strongly believe it is the best course of action.”
The message states that “the situation is changing rapidly,” and asks Presbyterians to continue to pray for the PC(USA)’s mission co-workers.
According to Kathy Melvin, the PC(USA)’s director of Mission Communications, a decision also has been made to close the international Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) sites for the remainder of this YAV year, through July 2020. All of the international YAVs are either already back in the U.S. and already in quarantine, or in transit, Melvin said.
Everdith Landrau, the PC(USA)’s YAV coordinator, is in conversation with the coordinators of the YAV sites in the U.S. to determine what is best for the volunteers there, Melvin said. Currently, YAVs at the domestic sites are sheltering in place.
Some of the mission co-workers have already arrived in the U.S. and have begun 14-day quarantines. So far, about 70 co-workers are sheltering place – some are in countries where the airport is closed or travel isn’t permitted, some have family or medical concerns – and 41 have either returned to the U.S. or are en route, Melvin said.
World Mission is also working to find them housing – including for quarantines – and also to make longer-term arrangements as well.
“Every situation is different, so it’s very complicated,” she said.
The World Mission Facebook page also includes some updates from individual mission co-workers, explaining their circumstances.
Jed and Jenny Koball, who serve in Peru (he with the Joining Hands-Peru network and she as a site coordinator for the Young Adult Volunteer Network), wrote that they have asked for an exemption and will stay in Lima. They gave several reasons – their son does not have a visa to travel to the U.S.; they are on mandatory lockdown and Peru’s borders are closed; and her parents live in Peru.
Another mission co-worker in Peru, Chenoa Stock, who serves as delegation and partnership coordinator for the PERUSA program of Joining Hands-Peru, also has requested to stay, along with her family, Jed Koball wrote on Facebook.
Koball asked for encouragement and prayer. “I really do not need more people telling me what could go wrong. I need folks to share positive thoughts — that we are strong, we will get through this, that the Peruvian government took swift and appropriate action, that we are not alone!” he wrote, asking also for prayer for colleagues traveling, for all affected by COVID-19 and for the world. “Rarely do we see just how connected we are. One earth. One people. One love. Let’s be kind to one another.”
Scott Parker, serving in Lebanon, wrote that he has been given an exemption because Lebanon’s international airport is closed – and he might stay there even if the airport reopens, as travel may pose greater risk than sheltering in place.
“I am very grateful to the Presbyterian World Mission staff who are skillfully and compassionately walking with us through this difficult process of discernment,” Parker wrote.
“My apologies in advance to those who are inconvenienced by the massive increase in cat memes on my social media platforms while I am sheltering in place.”