She Knew She Was Called to Serve. Then COVID-19 Came.

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Aboard a Mercy Ship, a kindergarten teacher asked, “Should I stay or should I go?”

She had to decide right then. Should she stay or should she go?

In early March, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, hundreds of volunteers aboard the Africa Mercy gathered in the ship’s lounge for a mandatory meeting. The American Embassy had announced a special repatriation flight for US citizens, and the staff on the ship anchored outside Dakar, Senegal, providing medical care and humanitarian aid to the Senegalese, had to choose whether or not to write their names on the “fly list” and return home.

Beth Kirchner, a kindergarten teacher, had talked with her family before the meeting, but now the decision was hers. An initial wave of nonessential volunteer staff had already left the ship, but then the city’s airport canceled all international flights. This flight was the last option if she was going to leave.

She couldn’t sit on the deck of the ship at sunset and allow the dolphins and turtles and other creatures of the sea to speak God’s peace to her. There was no time.

From school teachers and caregivers to health care workers and heads of state, no one was unaffected when the virus swept across the globe in early 2020. Many people had to make decisions about safety and risk, and some, like Kirchner, faced existential questions of calling.

As with many aid workers and missionaries, Kirchner’s job wasn’t a job so much as a part of her core identity. It was how she answered the question “Who am I?” and connected her deepest self and God’s calling on her life.

It was her answer to that call in the first place that put her in the lounge, facing the decision to stay or go. More than a dozen years earlier, Kirchner had become …

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