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Displaced by the Pandemic: Global Workers in North America Due to COVID-19

“It’s hard,” said Cecil Ramos, from his temporary home in California, “because we’re constantly dealing with mixed emotions. We want to be at home in Thailand, but we’re here in the States with friends and family.” 

Cecil and his wife Tracy, along with their two sons, have been serving as Multiply long-term workers in Thailand since 2013. They returned to California in late 2019 for a routine season of ministry in North America to visit churches and supporters, but their time away from Thailand was extended indefinitely because of COVID-19. 

“We are now planning to return to Thailand in January 2021,” said Cecil. “But we know that planning during a pandemic is difficult. We are hoping and praying. That’s all we can do.”

“It’s been heart wrenching,” said Bonnie Esau, who normally lives and serves in northern Thailand with her husband Jon and their four children. They had planned a routine trip to Canada in Spring 2020, but as borders began to close they made the trip earlier than expected and haven’t been able to return. “Out of our four kids, three were born in Thailand, so it’s been devastating for them to be away this long. Our kids love their family in Canada, but they are very eager to get home.” 

For other long-term global workers like Joanna Chapa and her teammate, Stacy Kuhns, the pandemic hit them hard in the midst of their ministry overseas. “We were still in Peru when COVID restrictions began,” she explained. “We couldn’t leave the house for almost two-and-a-half months. The government in Peru declared a state of emergency and the military enforced a nationwide quarantine.”

After urgent prayer and discernment with their families back in the US, with Multiply leadership, and with church leaders in Peru, Joanna and Stacy made the difficult decision to take a repatriation flight back to the US. “We left Peru on May 13 with the idea that we’d be gone until things got better. We didn’t expect it would be this long.” 

Joanna is currently living with family in south Texas, while Stacy is in Kansas. Both of them feel the pain of being away from Peru. “It feels wrong, heavy and saddening,” said Joanna. “Peru has one of the highest mortality rates in the world due to COVID, so our churches are suffering. The virus has taken the lives of several church members, so it’s hard to be away from those congregations in the midst of their struggles.”

However, the reality for Joanna and Stacy is that even if they were in Peru, they wouldn’t actually be able to be face-to-face with their brothers and sisters there because of the heavy pandemic restrictions. 

Another grim reality for Joanna is that the region where her parents live in south Texas has had one of the highest mortality rates in the US during the past few months. “In our small community, there are three to four people every week dying because of COVID,” explained Joanna. “It’s traumatic for my family, so it has felt right and timely for me to be here with my parents as they grieve.” 

For Cecil Ramos, there’s been another reason to embrace this opportunity to be back in the United States. “We came back to a country in turmoil. The racial violence here during the past few months has been very upsetting for me, but I have also felt like I’m here for such a time as this.”

For the past four years, Cecil has been studying racial reconciliation, and then suddenly, during this season, he was thrown into so many meaningful and fruitful conversations. “People are looking for counsel,” he said. “I’ve been able to help them navigate some difficult waters. As a Mexican-American, this has been a time for me to speak up.” 

Cecil is hopeful the Church will be the Church in the midst of the chaos of racial injustice and the global pandemic. “My heart would be that our loyalties and lordship would be focused on Jesus, and that our view of the world would reflect his priorities. We can’t put our hope in political solutions. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus.”

Joanna is sending the same message as she converses online with her church family in Peru. “We are telling each other, ‘I miss you. I’m praying for you. Please take care of yourselves. Keep your eyes on Jesus!’”

Despite COVID, churches in places like Peru and Thailand are not only surviving, in many cases they are thriving. “Ministry in Thailand is advancing quite well under the leadership of national workers,” said Cecil.

“Another church has just been planted since we left,” said Jon Esau. “I’m really excited and proud of the posture and response that our missional leaders took to this situation, seeing it as a great opportunity to serve and love their communities.”

The Church in Thailand continues to multiply, grow and mature while foreigners like the Esaus remain in North America. “Our ministry partners in Thailand appreciate us and our role,” said Jon, “but we all know that God’s work there is not dependent on our presence. They welcome our partnership, but they aren’t distraught in our absence.”

Jon misses his co-workers in Thailand, but he also admires their maturity and their dependency on Jesus during this season: “Above all else, they have a heart for the kingdom of God and it shows in their zeal for ministry and their missional lifestyle.” 

Whether in Thailand, Peru or North America, the Church is living on mission, even in the face of a pandemic. “God wants to use every one of us in whatever context he’s put us in,” said Bonnie Esau, “and so we want to be faithful to the call, regardless of where we are. We don’t need to be in Thailand to do ministry. We just need to keep our ears and eyes open to what God has for us, and be obedient to that no matter what.”

The lessons being learned by these global workers who are temporarily stuck in North America are profound. “We’ve been reminding our kids of the fact that none of this is a surprise to Jesus,” said Bonnie. “Home can be wherever we are together, and Jesus is with us there, so we need not worry.”

For Cecil, the most important message he’s been hearing from God during COVID-19 is this: “Stay connected to the Vine. Remain in him. When it comes right down to it, my first priority is to stay close to Jesus.”

For Joanna, this challenge has clarified her calling: “Ministry is not solely what one does, but also who one is. What we do overflows from who we are. I’m learning that my greatest ministry as a disciple of Jesus is being more like him to those around me.”

The faithfulness of these workers is an encouragement to many. Whether comforting family members, serving local churches, speaking out about important issues, or staying in touch with churches overseas, God is making them a blessing to others even as they keep their eyes on him and as they adjust to the new realities of life during a pandemic.


Please pray for the global workers who remain in North America due to COVID-19. Pray for effective communication with their partners overseas, as well as strengthened relationships with churches in North America. Pray also for open doors in the future, so they can return to their countries of service. 

If you would like to receive our Daily Prayer Guide with updated prayer requests from our workers, please go to:

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