What FES Staff Remembered of 2020 (GS Letter Feb 2021)
What do you remember of the year 2020? For the staff of FES and GCF, this is one important photo to remember 2020 by. This photo was taken on 31 January 2020. It is the photo that marked the last time the FES and GCF staff met together in one gathering for a Chinese New Year (CNY) lunch. In normal circumstances, the FES and GCF staff meet together every Friday for morning devotion. But since the Circuit Breaker started in April 2020, we have not managed to meet as one body; our Fridays and our devotions have not been the same since then. Like most other people, we have had to make do with online or hybrid meetings.
Our best sense of an FES and GCF staff gathering happened recently on Friday, 19 February 2021, where we gathered among four households for yet another CNY lunch. At this gathering, I asked the staff what they remember of the year 2020 for FES. One staff amusingly remembered the injunction “don’t come to office!” and the corresponding exhortation to work from home as far as possible. But this inadvertently contributed to feelings of isolation especially for the staff whose work was mainly bound within the office.
A frequent account ministry staff unwittingly give when sharing about their work was all the activities the CFs planned to do but could not do because of COVID-19. Many plans had to be changed or cancelled altogether. It would seem as if 2020 was a year of everything which we could not do, of abandonment and survival, of immobility and incapacity. In numerous sentiments and memes of the Internet, 2020 was a year to forget.
In The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World, Miroslav Volf considers it an ethical responsibility for Christians to remember sufferings and wrongdoings, but we must remember them rightly. While Volf wrote the book in the context of remembering the wrongdoings suffered because of other people, I think that his introductory framework of remembering rightly applies also in the context of suffering through a pandemic. To remember rightly involves four things:
- Healing: remember experiences of suffering and their accompanying emotions by interpreting and inscribing them into a larger pattern of meaning.
- Acknowledgement: remember the truth of what was done and to who, not the unqualified memories distorted by biasness and victim mentality.
- Solidarity: remember past wrongs in order to struggle with present ones, so as to provide additional motivation to empathise with those who continue to struggle today.
- Protection: remember, to keep evil exposed to the light and prevent its perpetration.
In this sense, to remember wrongly is to refuse a larger context of meaning, to distort the past in order to gain more sympathy, to be focused solely upon the suffering of the self, and to hide evil and allow it to fester. A memory wrongly remembered invariably leads back to oppression, but a memory remembered rightly leads to justice and grace.
In Deuteronomy 5:14–15, right in the middle of the Ten Commandments, Israel was called to remember that they were once slaves in the land of Egypt. That is an acknowledgement of the truth. But it is acknowledged in the larger context of God’s deliverance of His people from their oppressors. The regular observance of the Sabbath served to protect this memory so that such evil should never continue. Accordingly, Israel is called to show solidarity by allowing equal access to the rest which they have: rest for their children, their servants, their livestock, and even the foreigners among them.
What do the FES staff then rightly remember of 2020? I highlight two memories for our reflection. One is the fragility of student ministry. Our ministry practically changed overnight because of one press conference to announce the Circuit Breaker. By God’s grace, most of our ministries managed to continue, but with much change to their nature. Another memory is the sheer creativity of the students and staff to find new means and meanings to do ministry and to be witnesses of God wherever they are.
What will you remember of the year 2020? For FES, it has been a humbling reminder of our fragility but also an inspiring insight into the creative spirit given to us by God. I pray that these memories will serve us well for 2021.