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  • Rebecca Leppard (admin)

A Pandemic Exodus

Rebecca shares her personal story of fleeing from Indonesia to England in the middle of COVID-19 outbreak.

All five of us at the start of Autumn 2020, a few months after we landed in England.

Hello


I was born in Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, raised in a devout Christian household and am named after a Jew. Ethnically, I am a mix of Melanesian, Arab and Hispanic, so nobody can really guess what I am. Identity issues continued when I married a British man in 2012 and have given birth triennially since to three children who don’t look like either of us or each other. There have even been times when I have had to explain to strangers that they really are biological siblings.


Fast-forward to 2019 when COVID-19 was first discovered in China, and the entire population of Indonesia, including myself, was naively proud that our unique blood (and the fact that we are a nation of faith, as opposed to a more secular society) made us immune to the virus.


But as we all know, within weeks the virus hit many other countries quickly –Indonesia included. By March 2020, my husband had lost his job.

All of this happened after we had paid our boys’ non-refundable school tuition fees for 2021. We had also just paid for my caesarean section and drained our savings to pay our rent for an entire year upfront. All and all, we were broke and broken.


Over the course of the pandemic, you will have heard and will continue to hear many heart-breaking stories like ours; in fact, many far worse. At times like this, it is very easy to lose faith or feel betrayed by your belief system. I witnessed my own uncle who denounced his Christianity because of a certain loss and is now a man of a different religion. And, of course, the one tune that I hear all the time: where is God in this [insert a disaster]?


My answer, as I hang on by a thread, is this: God is everywhere. God led the way when we had to make the toughest decision thus far in our lives. We had to uproot our little boys, who only months before had had to adjust to a new routine after the arrival of their baby sister in October 2019. Not to mention moving to a new house in December 2019 and starting in another new school in January 2020. By that May, we were packing our bags yet again.


Living in England in the past months has resulted in high levels of uncertainty in our household, which inevitably breeds anxiety. But they have been nothing compared with the weeks leading up to our move to the UK, because we were unsure about COVID-related issues like closures to visa offices, which airlines would be flying and would they take us, and would we be in danger and then endangering others at the airport and in the plane and taxi?


I feel queasy now just recalling what went through my mind that month, but I firmly believe that it was the Holy Spirit working within us, as it was beyond human strength and endurance. Selecting 1 June as our departure date was a conscious decision to make it easy for us remember it amid all the numbers and dates in our mountain of paperwork.


Every day we woke up to new science, new statistics, new protocols and, of course, every country was different. At that point, what the science said was that kids could carry corona and it could be fatal for seniors.


My seven-month old baby taking a drive-through blood test for COVID-19 antigen

So that immediately threw up red flags about our three children and their 80-year-old grandad, who is Romsey-based with lengthy family ties to the town. So we got all five of us, plus our two live-in nannies, a rapid antigen test the day before we flew. We were all COVID negative.


And then departure day came. The five of us, eight suitcases, one stroller, one cot and three car seats riding a taxi to Jakarta, flying from Jakarta to Doha, and running through the airport like maniacs to catch the flight from Doha to London.



My 7-year-old and 3-year-old sons in a half-empty Qatar flight to London

Then we moved the whole operation into a taxi from London to Romsey, Hampshire. If it was not the same pillar of cloud and fire that protected the people of Israel in the wilderness, I don’t know what it was. As we entered grandad’s house, I passed out. I didn’t change or eat or anything. I was spent.


The first two weeks in England, living like we never had before — all together, all the time, without any face-to-face contact with anyone else — were filled with jet lag, the research and more paperwork for everything from GPs to schools. To add to that, we had to explain over and over to our young sons that despite it being very sunny and hot, it is actually bedtime. Meanwhile, grandad had to stay with my sister-in-law, some five minutes away, during our 14-day quarantine. But overall, I felt relieved. For the first time in months, I felt secure in the nook of God’s arm and He was saying to me, “It’s okay, you are safe now.”



This is us. The entire extended family of my husband’s side.

As I continue navigating in this new culture and new climate, I continue finding God everywhere — in people, for example, despite whether or not they believe in anything. I don’t kid myself; I still feel low at times. I still am anxious about our future. I still feel annoyed when our children misbehave. The dynamics don’t change. But what has changed is that I actively seek little seedlings of improvement and hope where I can and appreciate them, however trivial. Like finding a £10 note in your pocket. It may not be a million pounds, but it makes you smile instantly.


In the spirit of this month of love, I would like to encourage all of us to start recognising the God in us, the God in others and the God in the smallest of blessings. TV tidiness guru Marie Kondo says, “Ask yourself: does it spark joy?” and I would add: if it does spark joy, it must be God.

 

For more stories, I microblog on Instagram @rebeccaleppard









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