Dear Family and Friends,
Now, if you’re interested in the back-story to these, grab yourself a cuppa and keep reading!
First, my heart is filled with deep gratitude to you all for your faithful and generous support, caring and prayers during these years. You have been with me on an amazing journey, as together, we have heard God’s Call to serve “the least of these” and have followed wherever God has led. Since becoming a Global Consultant in 2001, that journey has involved traveling between 100,000-150,000 miles a year, all over the world, raising awareness about human trafficking and gathering practitioners together, who are working in the darkest of places, to encourage them and sharpen their skills and increase their numbers.
And then came 2020. At the dawn of this New Year, God gave me a special gift: telling me that “all my plans should be held lightly”. I knew that there were transitions afoot—but of course, had no idea how much I needed to take God’s words to heart. March 7-14, 2020, I was shepherding a group of 14 women from 4 countries around New York City.
The original plan was to attend the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the UN—but the week before, it was canceled because of COVID-19. I had made all the hotel arrangements for this group of women—which was sponsored by the Baptist World Alliance Women’s Department—and the reservations and many of our airplane tickets were non-refundable. At that time, we had no idea what COVID-19 really meant. I quickly went into action and offered the women the alternative of an educational experience, visiting various NGO’s and individuals in the greater NYC area with which I had connections, who are doing stellar ministry in anti-trafficking, domestic violence intervention and community development. During the time we were in New York, the world, as we knew it, underwent a seismic shift. Our visits to the NGO’s and individuals were fascinating—as was the group of women—and we all learned SO much from our visits—and from each other. Some of our visits were socially distanced—a new concept for us—and some had to be done by Zoom—because some people in NYC were already needing to be quarantined. Every 5 minutes, it seemed, things were changing. Broadway went dark mid-week. And by the week-end, on the 14th, when everyone—except me–flew home, I realized that I needed to change my plans—the visits I was going to make in the Northeast were not going to be possible—and Europe was shutting its doors to me. I couldn’t fly home. I holed up in the hotel in NYC for 2 more days after the group left—the room was really cheap—hardly anyone was there—and I prayed, calling out to God for “Help!”. What do I do? Where do I go?” It became clear that I was to return to California, where my brother lives, and wait things out there.
My original plan had been to return to the Netherlands for April-May-June, during which time I’d be hosting groups, and packing my goods for shipment back to the USA. I had a ticket to depart from Amsterdam on June 30th, with my precious cat, Mischa. I had purchased a condo in Fresno, CA in Dec., in preparation for relocating to California. It had renters living in it, who would move out in June.
I landed in Fresno on March 16th, thinking I’d wait things out at my brother’s, where I have a room. That day, the governor of California declared the state to be under lock-down. On March 17th, I received a text which said that one of our group of 14 women, who is from Canada, (hence fast testing and immediate results) tested positive for COVID-19. I immediately packed my things up and moved into a nearby hotel to quarantine myself so as not to endanger my family, should I also test positive. Very Providentially, the renters in my condo suddenly moved out—freeing it up for me. On March 21st, I moved into a totally empty, very echo-y condo. It did have appliances, and my brother bought me mattresses and loaned me a folding table and a couple of chairs, along with some cooking and eating equipment. I organized “life” over the internet—turning on electricity, gas, water, internet, cable TV—all on-line. I ordered a TV—and even bought a car—all on the internet. I spent my quarantine time figuring out how to survive in this “new normal”, in my passport country—where I haven’t lived for more nearly 40 years.
After my 2-week quarantine, I’m happy to say that I didn’t get COVID-19, nor did the other 12 women in the group. The woman who did have COVID-19 survived, but is still suffering fatigue and breathing problems, even these 6 months later.
The condo is nearly 50 years old and has never been updated—and I already had had an
architect friend draw up renovation plans. My brother is a construction engineer, with his own company, and he recruited his network of friends to begin demolition and renovation in mid-April; in the midst of lock-down, the construction industry was considered “essential”. I was able to continue living in the condo–in a room with bathroom–while the rest of it was torn apart. The kitchen appliances were moved into the garage, and I cooked there. Then at the end of April, my room and bathroom had to be taken apart, and so I moved back to my room at my brother’s, where I slept. The table and folding chair moved into the garage, which became my office and kitchen–and where I spent from early morning until the evening, overseeing the construction, and doing my best to get work done, as the weather got hotter and hotter (read: 111℉ !!!)
After 4 months of commuting between my brother’s place and the condo (about ½ hr.), living out of suitcases, working in a very hot garage, feeling very displaced, and doing my best to avoid contracting COVID-19, finally, on August 25th I moved into my (mostly!) completed condo—and you may have heard my shouts of joy! The first morning there, when I was able to take my clothes out of a drawer—rather than a suitcase (since January 18th!) I knew that I was finally “home”.
Except….. that most of my worldly goods—and my adorable cat, Mischa, are still in the Netherlands. What was originally a travel ban that would theoretically be lifted within a month, has been extended and extended. Fortunately, a friend is living in my apartment in Holland and she and my neighbors are taking good care of Mischa. My main goal, now is to get as settled as I can in the condo, and then figure out a way to get back into Europe, hopefully, by the early fall.
So this is probably more than you wanted to know about my personal situation. And my ministry? From mid-March, when I began quarantine, I watched my very carefully prepared, planned and very full calendar empty out. I’ve often described it as “dissolving, like cotton candy in the rain”. My ministry for these 2 decades as a Global Consultant has centered on 1) travel to 2) get people together to 3) raise awareness and do trainings about human trafficking. And now, none of that was possible.
It was as if God had pushed the “Pause” button on my life, and placed me in a country that was unfamiliar—literally and figuratively. I realized that if I was going to mentally survive the isolation, the unknowing, the culture shock I was experiencing, I needed to harken back to other times in my life when I had entered “new countries” and dealt with culture shock and aloneness. I have the skills. They needed to be re-honed and deepened. I was planning on a transition during this year—from Europe to California. I didn’t anticipate a tectonic shift. I needed to fling myself totally in God’s care, and count on God “showing up” and guiding every step of the way. That’s how I had survived—and thrived– before. And that’s how I would survive, and hopefully thrive, now.
I’m fortunate that I’ve been using Zoom for the past year, with a subscription, so was up to speed with it, as all of the sudden, the majority of my human contact was through Zoom. My first job, which took significant time, was unwinding all the reservations previously made, getting refunds and vouchers, trying to decide whether to reschedule—or just scrap plans for now.
Prophetically, God’s words “Hold all your plans lightly”, have held me in good stead as plans have dissolved—and any new plans made, needing to adjust or change frequently. Two decades ago, when I became a Global Consultant, and really didn’t know “what to do”, I felt God saying “Let me design the job description”. And God Did—and the job took on dynamics and dimensions that I could never have imagined or dreamed. Clearly, this is another “Let God design the job description” moment—as I enter this “new land”. Through much of this time, I’ve had no words. Much of the time, I’ve just had to be silent. I haven’t been able to begin to express the feelings of confusion, loss, aloneness. But God’s quiet voice of Love has assured me that being quiet and simply listening was what I was Called to do. And I have confidence that God will write the new chapter, and will use me, my new condo, and location, for God’s purposes.
And that question mark in your mind: “Is Lauran retiring?” The simple answer is “No”. That said, I turned 70 years old on Sept. 18th, and began drawing my Social Security and retirement pension (MMBB) on Oct. 1. Therefore, after October 1, I will not need salary support funds. However, I will continue as a Global Consultant, having signed another 2-year agreement with International Ministries, and WILL need work account funds. That of course, is a much smaller number! I totally understand if you choose to send your support to other people from now on. BUT if you are willing to continue to support my ministry—in the new form that God creates!—I will be very appreciative. Please be in touch with me personally if you would like to discuss this. Or you can just continue to give as you have in the past.
I have tears in my eyes thinking about many of you and how much you have meant to me through these years as we’ve journeyed together! Please do stay in touch! I HOPE to be able to travel in 2021, again, and would love to speak in your church, or visit you, in whatever manner is safe–virtually or in person.
I pray that you have been healthy—and continue to stay healthy–through this time, and that you’ve know God’s Abundant Blessings in your lives.
With Much Love and Gratitude,
(Rev.) Lauran Bethell