Just hours after *Genesis’s plane landed in Paraguay on March 10, the airport shut down in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Her family drove her to their home in Argentina, where she had planned to spend a week before returning to a second year’s missionary assignment in the Middle East.
She already knew that her March 19 flight to the Middle East had been cancelled because of the pandemic.
What Genesis didn’t know was that, as of early September, she would still be in Argentina.
Locking down in Argentina
As Genesis waited to learn what the spring and summer would hold, the Argentine government implemented strict lockdown measures that have lasted for months. It became illegal to leave one’s home except in certain cases. Only one family member was allowed to buy groceries at a time.
“You were only allowed to exercise or walk 500 meters from your address. Police would stop you and ask for your I.D.,” she said. “Now, you’re allowed to go out from 2 to 6 p.m. to exercise. We have a riverside where people normally go for exercise, and the government shut that down, so the parks are getting crowded because they can’t use the riverside.”
In a late-night culture where businesses are typically open until 11 p.m., 12 a.m. or even 2 a.m., now stores close around 8 p.m. However, the government allows families to gather on weekend and holidays.
“So, we’ve been having a lot of family time. We’ve been taking turns: one Sunday with my dad’s family and one Sunday with Mom’s family. That’s been very nice. I don’t think I’ve had this much family time in a while. Since 2012, this is the longest I’ve stayed in Argentina.”
Originally from Argentina, Genesis’s parents served the Nazarene church as missionaries in several countries, including Mozambique (in Africa). When her high school in Mozambique shut down, at the age of 15 Genesis returned to Argentina to finish high school while her parents and sisters stayed in Mozambique. She then attended university in the United States to earn her bachelor’s degree, and then a master’s. Following her education, she applied with Global Mission and was assigned to the Middle East where she served throughout 2019.
“It’s been good [being with family for so long], but there’s also an adjustment since everyone is experiencing different emotions with the lockdown,” she said.
When it became apparent she would be at home indefinitely while waiting for international borders and public transportation to reopen, the family bought a bed so she could move into her 18-year-old sister’s room. Her grandmother lives next door, eating meals and spending the day with the family.
“There’s not a lot of personal space. But my family has always been super close, we get along super well. Over all, it’s been a blessing to be close to family. Especially since my grandfather passed away last year.
It’s been good to be with my grandmother and have a lot of time together.”
Experiencing God in a time of unknowns
Early in her unintended sojourn to Argentina, Genesis felt discouraged about the uncertainty and ongoing transitions.
“That week we were having a lot of Internet problems. I was already overwhelmed with the lockdown and restrictions we were experiencing. I was seeking purpose during this time, thinking about the future, asking questions like: Will I ever go back to the mission field?”
Jennifer Mann, the Eurasia Region’s personnel coordinator, sent Genesis an email to alert her to an upcoming online conference for women serving in other countries. Genesis eagerly signed up, then traveled across the city to stay with her other grandmother, at whose apartment the Internet was working.
“It was just a blessing in disguise,” she recalls. “Everyone [in the conference] was grieving different things. I was grieving that it was another transition in my life. The whole previous year was a transition as I was adjusting to the new culture I was living in. I really felt God during that conference. It was a point where it was just what I needed. Reading the comments and hearing what everyone was struggling with and going through was very helpful.”
Genesis was assigned to join a group of conference attendees for daily Zoom prayer meetings. The women have continued to meet regularly ever since.
She also sees God’s hand in the timing of her flight home to Argentina, because if she hadn’t arrived when she did, she might have been stuck in the United States, away from family, or even in Paraguay.
Additionally, before leaving the field to raise funds for a second year, she had ended her apartment lease in the Middle East. If she’d kept it, she might be spending her funds on something she isn’t using.
Genesis is making the best use of her time in Argentina as she can. She took four online theology classes from the Nazarene seminary in Pilar. When her language school in the Middle East reopened online, she picked up where she left off last year, taking 16 hours of language class each week. She is also continuing to work for the district in administrating the child sponsorship program, and providing occasional translation for the Global Ministry Center.
She has experienced the support and assistance of leaders at the Global Ministry Center in Kansas City, as well as other missionaries in Eurasia. Sandra Tibi, the regional prayer coordinator, has met Genesis monthly online for prayer and mentoring. As well, Jennifer Mann has organized monthly Zoom meetings for Eurasia missionaries.
“They give updates about different people and they break us into groups and we pray,” she said. “It’s been nice to get to know other people in the region I probably would not know. It was nice to see I’m not the only one that’s stuck. I was grateful they decided to do these calls to have us connected.”
*Name changed for security reasons.
This article was written by Gina Grate Pottenger and previously published in the September 2020 edition of Where Worlds Meet.