[Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash]
Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Ruth Hodge

To be inspired to help your family face this difficult time, you can head over to the Adventist Family Ministries Instagram and Facebook, or take a look at the resources mentioned in this article, which are available at family.adventist.org.

As the pandemic continues to present challenges to society, the Seventh-day Adventist Church continues to inspire its members to be present and active in serving one another and their surrounding communities. What perhaps has been at the crossroads of our interactions and challenges in the past year and a half is the family unit. Faithfully married couple and co-directors of Adventist Family Ministries for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Willie and Elaine Oliver, addressed some key factors of living as families during the pandemic, and how we can serve and love with more intention and richness in this unprecedented time.

Addressing the greatest impacts on families since the start of the pandemic, Willie Oliver shared there was no doubt COVID-19 “has impacted everyone - albeit at different levels - depending on the specific situation.” He relayed that certain families have faced “huge changes in their everyday practices and schedules” because of changes in job circumstances, specifically loss of jobs for those who are the head of the household. In looking at the United States, for example, Oliver noted many middle class families who had “never before experienced real hardship” found themselves lining up for food in order to feed their children. 

But this is not the only reality for families. Willie Oliver relayed that stress and anxiety as a result of the lockdown stemmed from the reality that many families have had to work and attend school remotely. “Working and going to school from home -- for those who were able to do so -- meant sharing a space for long hours at a time, making work very difficult for parents who also had to manage their children’s schooling, or infants whose daycares became inoperative.” He went on to share that “spouses had to compete for work-space with each other, often in tiny apartments, experiencing unusually elevated levels of tension, invariably leading to divorce or separation at a very difficult time for everyone.”

In light of the impacts that have flowed on from the pandemic, many are wondering now as countries and communities begin to open up again, how to appropriately reintegrate and connect. The reality is that each country continues to trial different approaches to reduce lockdown measures. This has been seen to cause some uncertainty, frustration and tension in communities and families. Elaine Oliver shared that “at least in certain developed countries [where vaccines have arrived and large numbers of populations have been vaccinated] -- restrictions are being lifted and people are becoming more confident about visiting relatives and friends.” 

While this seems positive, Elaine Oliver reiterated that “regardless of what is happening where you are living, while being careful with the choices you make about remaining physically distant or still wearing a mask, it is important to remain connected to loved ones on a regular basis by aoll safe means possible.” 

The resounding reason for this statement and encouragement was that “feeling connected to family and friends, even during the pandemic, is of great importance.” In making concessions for more strict restrictions, Oliver suggested connecting by Zoom, Facetime, or any “other communication modalities” that can give you a good basis for improving or maintaining good mental health. 

As no two families are alike, Willie Oliver explained that we need to “remain connected to people as a church community and provide dynamic and viable worship experiences during the pandemic.” But this is not all. He called on church leaders - especially Family Ministry leaders - to “remain aware of the needs within their congregations and communities to offer assistance regardless of the need being experienced.” 

Willie Oliver went on to share that it's especially important to keep in contact and connect with “older (and not so older) single adults who live alone and have no family living near them,” and added that they may need to be checked in on by someone on a regular basis. Likewise, he followed up that “there may be families who’ve lost their main source of income and are in need of food or shelter during this difficult time” and, even more devastatingly, there may be some “who have lost a loved one to COVID and need help with processing their grief and coming to grips with their new reality.” This, he shared, is central as one of the roles of Family Ministries leaders - to “remain alert and proactive” to the needs of families and “to have systems in place to deal with emerging needs.”

Family Ministries leaders have had to face a large adaptation to much of their ministry during the pandemic. During the pandemic, Elaine Oliver stated, “flexibility is really the name of the game.” Going on, we should be as the Apostle Paul shared in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “... I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” Oliver shared “the objective here is to remain alert and mindful of the need in our congregations and communities to be able to offer services that are desperately needed by many families and individuals during this time. Being able to pivot based on present needs is key.”

Willie and Elaine Oliver went on to reassure members there are many resources that can be found on the Adventist Family Ministries website at family.adventist.org for both leaders in Family Ministries, but also for families who ultimately are to equip themselves with resilience during this time where possible. Resources include a survival guide for families and for couples, as well as addressing mental health needs for children. Ultimately, the couple share, the following should be practiced for “optimal mental health:

  1. Nurture your faith in God, as found in Philippians 4:6,7.
  2. Nurture your relationships with family and friends on a regular basis.
  3. Practice being resilient. We are stronger than we think if we remain positive and keep helping people along the way.
  4. Live on a mission to be used by God to be a blessing to others.”

These four but non-exhaustive approaches to bettering the immediate family’s experience have a flow on effect to how other families will cope during the ongoing pandemic - both as a witness and model to them of how faith in God can keep families together, but also as a way to have fitness of mind to be able to serve missionally. 

When looking back at the greatest lessons learned by families in this time, Willie Oliver shared that “being filled with the love of God in order to be able to practice patience, kindness, gentleness, joy and peace” is central to a family’s relational survival of the pandemic but also to their thriving in days to come, “regardless of what comes their way.” A takeaway lesson for the world has been, as he puts, that “healthy family relationships are most necessary to help people face crises and be victorious regardless of the difficulty.