Thinking back to this time last year, very little of what we had planned went as expected, so why should the months since our last link letter be any different?!
We said last time that we were hoping to make it back to the UK before Christmas, which amazingly did actually happen. We left Jordan on 6 December, with return tickets booked for 24 February. It was an incredible privilege to introduce Nora to her grandparents, and also thereby get something of a rest (aided by some much-needed sleep training!).
Following quarantine, our Christmas plans changed at the last minute, as many of yours will have done, but we enjoyed the unexpected opportunity to spend the day with Fiona’s sister, her husband and their daughter. With the use of a car very kindly lent to us by a couple from one of our link churches we have been able to get to see much of Fiona’s family, and are incredibly grateful for the generosity of that gesture. Joel is looking forward to Easter and introducing Nora to his brothers then. Which means yes, we are actually still here!
As the days counted down to our return flight, we were facing several new realities. While we were in the UK the new strain of COVID-19 emerged and spread – reaching Jordan fairly quickly. Flights from the UK to Jordan were suspended, and travellers from the UK would be required to go via a third country and stay for 14 days there before travelling on to Jordan. Meanwhile there was a huge increase in cases, hospitalisations and deaths from COVID-19 in Jordan. The concern we felt about reaching 1,000 cases daily in Jordan last year has been dwarfed by the current rates of around 9,000 new cases per day.
We spent a confusing couple of weeks trying to work out what to do. Our flight was not officially cancelled until 21 February, so we were living with an unlikely but potential imminent return, while simultaneously trying to find third countries that we could actually enter and had somewhere feasible we could quarantine with two kids, as well as trying to find affordable additional flights. Then two things happened: the reopening schedule for the UK was published, and with the not too distant possibility of seeing additional family members on the horizon, staying at least until we could meet them felt hopeful and worth waiting for. Then Joel received a call from a colleague in Jordan, who – not knowing what we were trying to work out but that we were due to return – strongly advised us it would be better to stay put in the UK. Joel’s colleague’s intervention felt like an answer to prayer, providing a decisive perspective on where to be putting our efforts.
While entry is still prevented from the UK, Jordan has since returned to lockdowns and curfews, and we would be working from home, with church online and very little human interaction in the country. Any benefits of being back were reduced, and realistically the work Joel in particular is doing has been online for the past year and will continue to be so. In contrast, the benefits of staying are high – we get to spend time with family we have not seen that much of for many years, and we hope that we will also be able to spend time together in person with our link churches, following the Zoom services we’ve already joined this year.
So, with the blessing of the Anglican Alliance, the Province and CMS, that is what we are doing – staying put with Joel’s parents. Given the time difference Joel can finish work early, although this does also mean some very early morning starts! We are also hopeful that we will be able to get vaccinated while in the UK. This will not be likely for a long time in Jordan, but we believe it will be a necessary condition for Joel to travel regionally again when possible. In the meantime, Aidan will have a term of UK nursery, we’ll be able to celebrate Joel’s brother’s wedding in the summer, meet our newest nephew or niece, and return to Jordan in time for the beginning of the school year… insh’allah!
Joel’s work continues to develop – he has facilitated another climate justice workshop with the ACT Alliance and churches in Lebanon and a workshop between the Anglican Provinces in the Middle East and Africa on collaborating to prevent human trafficking. He continues to work alongside Tearfund and clergy from the Diocese of Jerusalem to develop the Church and Community Mobilisation contextualisation. Please pray that it will become possible to plan for in person meetings to be able to work through this fully at some point in the next year. It was also great to be able to present Joel’s “Footsteps of Jesus” talk to various CMS partners, which you can watch here if you missed it at the time: https://youtu.be/YjuctAYGxo4
We are incredibly fortunate to have been able to travel at all and to have seen the family we have, at a time when many have been separated for months without seeing relatives. We are so grateful for the hospitality of Joel’s parents, and the time spent as an extended family. However we also miss Jordan deeply, and are looking forward to our return when it is possible. In the meantime, please keep the people of Jordan in your prayers, as they desperately attempt to get the coronavirus spread under control while there is both less access and more resistance to vaccination than in the UK.
Grace and peace,