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We Are Only Really Apart When We Stop Caring and Reaching for One Another

A Letter from Jhan Dotel-Vellenga and Ian Vellenga, serving in Nicaragua

December 2020

Write to Ian Vellenga
Write to Jhanderys Dotel-Vellenga

Individuals: Give online to E200391 for Ian and Jhanderys Dotel-Vellenga’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D507593 for Ian and Jhanderys Dotel-Vellenga’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).


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Dear friends,

It’s that time of year again. In 2020, the year that seemed to last a decade, it is FINALLY time to start saying “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” or whatever you feel more comfortable with. December is also the time when we take a look at and reflect on the year before starting a new one. And during this year, there has been plenty to reflect upon. But clearly the major event that has affected everyone’s life in every corner of the world is the COVID-19 pandemic.

We continue to experience a devastating virus that has affected millions around the world and has significantly affected the way we interact with others. We are told to wear masks, social distance, to stay at home orders, shelter in place, and there are lock downs to contain the pandemic at local and international levels. These measures have changed everything we used to consider normal. From working, to interacting with friends and family, to gathering with strangers or colleagues, what we have done before the pandemic is no longer the norm. These interactions, which are an important part of being human no matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert, have changed everything, from how we shop for groceries, to how frequently we see our love ones, to abandoning or completely changing the places where we use to practice social interactions. These changes are even more impactful during the holidays. As humans, we search for interactions at all kind of levels because it gives us a sense of belonging and keeps us connected to the world and each other.

The way in which we interact with others has a major impact on our physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health as well. The emotional impact the virus has caused to many people and businesses will bring about long-term consequences that are difficult to measure. The loss of our ordinary routines has affected communities at a very deep level.

Merry Christmas

The season of celebration is coming and many wonder how can we continue to build and maintain relationships within this new reality. To nobody’s surprise (well, maybe to some), the internet has been an important tool to keep people connected. One of the amazing things about needing to connect via the internet is how well people have embraced it. Many Presbyterians (not known for embracing change), some of whom could not set the time on their car radios, are utilizing online meetings platforms like they have been doing it for years. And with that ability comes new ways to connect. It may not be the preferred way to connect, but it has opened more doors that have otherwise been closed. People who haven’t been to church in months are now watching services on Facebook and via Zoom. As for us, and other mission co-workers, online meetings in many ways have enhanced our abilities to reach out to those we are serving. Our partners in Nicaragua, CEPAD, just had a national gathering with all of its communities entirely online, as well as an international encounter with all of its partners in the United States. We prefer to meet in person, but admittedly it was a lot easier to organize than figuring out the logistics of flights, lodging, food, in-country transportation, etc.

Another thing that we noticed is that on average we have more meetings (for better or worse) because of Zoom than we have had in person. Taking time out of one’s schedule to converse on the internet is more practical, in many ways, than traveling to the office and back again. You don’t even have to change out of your pajamas (you know who you are)! And even though a lot of people in Nicaragua have no internet access, many do know someone with a cell phone that has a social media app on it. While it is sad that we cannot meet face-to-face or in groups because of the pandemic, we haven’t lost touch with our colleagues in Nicaragua.

One day this pandemic will go away, and we will be able to enjoy many of the things we did before 2020 happened. We will be able to enjoy meals in the same table with family and friends, enjoy public parades, worship inside churches and go caroling and have midnight Christmas services again. This year has had a fair amount of challenge, but we will always be grateful for the means to stay connected with those who we are separated by distance, travel restrictions, and health regulations. Christmas isn’t going away; it’s just going to be a little more physically distant.

We know this Christmas season will be different (the word “different” has been the mantra of the whole year), but we wish and hope that in the mist of everything people get to find rays of light and joyfulness as we try to connect with loved ones, far away relatives, friends and even faith communities through postcards, emails, live chats, and zoom gatherings. For we are only really apart when we stop caring and reaching for one another.

Jhan and Ian

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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