Living in Australia for many years with her husband, Jessie Chen would finally have an opportunity to spend the Chinese New Year (CNY) with her family in Wuhan, her hometown. Jessie’s husband, Benny Wen, was invited by the Fujian Adventist Church to be the speaker for their winter camp.
“I was so looking forward to it, especially this time with our two children,” she says. But Jessie had no idea that less than a week after landing, she would find herself stranded in the epicentre of what the World Health Organization described as “the worst global crisis since the Second World War.”
Arriving in Wuhan in mid-January, just a week before the CNY, Jessie and Benny were looking forward to the big day, when sudden breaking news spoiled the new year atmosphere.
“Because of an initially unknown respiratory disease that had already spread widely in the city, the government decided to have the whole city in hard lockdown,” she explains.
With the lockdown in place, no one was allowed in or out, and everybody inside Wuhan had to quarantine at home for two weeks. “At any given time, each household could have but one person to go out to shop for food,” Jessie adds. “Most businesses in the city were required to close. Wearing masks became compulsory in public areas.”
Almost 10 million people were stuck in the lockdown, and the sudden changes brought anxiety and stress to everyone’s minds.
Staying at a different place from her parents, Jessie, her husband and their children were only a short drive from her family, but still not allowed to see each other due to the lockdown. “We were no longer separated from family across the ocean. We were a short distance away, yet like poles apart,” she describes.
Frustration, worry and disappointment
“At that time, we thought it would last for just two weeks, not knowing there were months to come. I felt very disappointed, but I knew I should not show my parents my frustration, otherwise they would feel even worse.”
She recalls trying to be cheerful and encouraging every time they video chatted. Still, with a hiking number of confirmed cases and the majority of patients being elderly people, Jessie started to worry more about her parents, who already had health conditions. They used to have a helper at home, but during the lockdown, she was away, so they had to look after themselves.”
To make things worse, her parents’ apartment was located just across the street of the biggest hotspot of confirmed cases. “I felt helpless and hopeless at that time,” she admits.
“Every morning, the first thing was not to read the Bible or pray but to call my mum and check whether they were well. This indescribable anxiety gave me numerous sleepless nights. The mighty power of the Lord was forgotten. My heart was sorrowful, and I felt lost.”
Feeling the weight of the world on her heart, Jessie found herself in a vicious cycle of negative feelings and emotions. “How often Satan used this opportunity to pull us down and draw us away from the Lord!” she said. Noticing how depressed and discouraged she felt, Benny prayed with her every night, but anguish would still linger in her heart.
You’re not alone
“Then one midnight, the whistles of an ambulance broke through the quietness of the air, travelling across the lonely streets of the empty city,” she recalls. The echoing of the siren made Jessie realise that thousands of health professionals that also had elderly parents and young children, had been working tirelessly in the snowy winter days.
“Hundreds of them died in the battlefield because of a COVID-19 infection; yet thousands more voluntarily flooded into the city from other parts of the country,” she says. Realising the enormous sacrifices happening all over Wuhan brought Jessie to question her way of facing what she was going through. “What about me? At this most difficult time for the people in this city, what did I contribute?” she asked.
“I even almost forgot I have a merciful and almighty God who is always with me, waiting for me to reach out to Him.”
Count your blessings
Bursting into tears and asking God for his forgiveness, Jessie started counting blessings from above. Almost 30 days of quarantine had passed, but all her family members were well. Her children were coping well with the lockdown; they also had sufficient food supply every day and a loving community in Melbourne that would send her son, Elisha, school and piano lessons regularly. In the epicentre of a pandemic, Jessie was not forsaken. “The Lord has blessed us in our daily life all the time. Count your blessings, and you will also be amazed.”
From then on, Jessie stopped worrying and complaining. She was sure that God cared for them and all the people in that city. “When I would see the news with thousands of new cases of COVID-19 every day, I was concerned, but with no fear. I knew God is the One in charge”.
All things new
Like all the doctors, Jessie wanted to contribute. Even though she couldn’t go to the frontline like them, Jessie decided to pray for Wuhan as Abraham prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah. “With faith and trust in God, my family prayed each day for all the sick, the doctors, nurses, policemen, volunteers, and all who worked hard to keep the city going,” she says.
She also started dedicating herself to make their days enjoyable, by teaching Elisha Chinese, playing Bible games, learning to make many different types of food. “It seemed that God used this experience to prepare us for the end time,” she reflects. From this experience, Jessie learnt that even in the darkest times, she can to draw closer to Him and remember His blessings through the power of prayer.
On 8 April, after 11 weeks of the city’s closure, the lockdown was finally over. Wuhan was alive again. Two weeks later, Jessie could finally see her parents. “It felt like a reunion after a whole millennium. We were so excited we could not hold back our tears.”
Even though the lockdown was over, Jessie says that returning to Melbourne was not a smooth journey, but God provided the air tickets for them to arrive in time for her Bible student’s baptism.
Landing in Sydney, they faced 14 days of quarantine and a 12-hour drive to Melbourne, arriving home on 26 June. “When we arrived home safely, there was a lovely surprise behind the door. Spotless floor, beautiful and fresh flowers, delicious home-cooked food—all from our church family. Tiredness was gone, big smiles on our faces, sweet dreams of the first night home. We were rested in God’s strong arms.”
After a journey of tension, stress and miracles, while stranded for months in the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, Jessie affirms that none of that is more scaring than losing our faith and trust in Jesus. “Faith in the victory that overcomes the world. Nothing should separate us from the love of God,” she concludes.