by Rita Johnson, Associate Director
“Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
For in you I have taken shelter.
In the shadow of your wings I take shelter until trouble passes.”
—Psalm 57:1 NET
Gulya’s whole body ached, yet she tried not to cry too loudly or else she might wake her sleeping children. Her husband, out of work and drunk, had beaten her again. Strict orders for everyone to stay home meant no jobs or income, and plenty of anger. Gulya noticed that the abuse was more frequent than before.
The New York Times reports that domestic violence around the world is increasing as a result of necessary measures to control the spread of the coronavirus. The stresses of unemployment, being crowded inside small houses for days, and other factors are leading to more physical and emotional abuse. In the lockdown situations present in a number of nations, there is nowhere for women to go.
“How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”
Gulya heard from a friend about a safe place in the town about 10 miles from her village in the mountains of Central Asia: temporary housing run by caring women. But with lockdown orders in effect and almost no transportation available, there was no way for her to travel there. The sad reality is that the shelter is temporarily closed: the government won’t allow a large group of unrelated people to stay in close proximity. Even if some people already there had been allowed to stay, admitting new people, who might bring infection, would be impossible.
The women who operate the shelter have probably received a few agonizing phone calls. A neighbor in the village telling about the problems and requesting intervention. Perhaps even the quiet voice of a woman like Gulya, begging for help. But there is nothing physically they can do until stay-at-home orders relax. They can listen and pray over the phone, and promise assistance at some unknown, future date.
“Jesus said, ‘The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’”
The challenges of having a safe abode aren’t limited to victims of domestic violence. My church in the Pacific Northwest hosts an overnight shelter for about a dozen unhoused people who are trying to change their lives for the better. Before stay-at-home orders came into effect, these shelter guests would go to jobs, support groups, training courses, or counseling during the day. But when gatherings were banned and businesses closed, they had nowhere to go during the day anymore. Loitering around our church building, which is near an elementary school where families come on walks, is not an option.
A request came from our community partner to expand the hours of the shelter. I’m an elder and, like my fellow session members (the group that makes decisions for a Presbyterian church), I was trying to understand the situation and discern a healthy way forward. What if one of the shelter residents started showing signs of COVID-19? They sleep in our fellowship hall where there isn’t a separate room for quarantine.
After some long email threads, a small group met via Zoom and then presented a temporary 24-hour shelter agreement to the session for approval. With agreement from the community partner and implementation by shelter guests, the arrangement is providing people without homes with a place to comply with stay-at-home orders and demonstrate their solidarity with the neighborhood.
If those in Central Asia had the resources to provide more safe places and intervention resources, Gulya and others like her would not suffer so in the days ahead.
Living God, we pray that Your own strong hand will protect women and children during this crisis and into the future! We praise You for the work of community-based partners who offer shelter and care. Send Your Spirit to guide our prayers for those suffering from abuse in their homes, or who may not have housing in which to comply with public health orders. We long for the fulfillment of Your Word: that the wounds suffered by You, O Lamb of God, will heal each person’s brokenness and restore humanity to the blessings that flow from deep within God’s heart. Amen.