With a high number of cases and community transmission, and with extra lockdown measures in place, life in the Fairfield local government area looks very different to a month ago. We asked three local Christians how the latest lockdown was affecting their lives, and how we can be praying for their community.
A difficult season
For nurse and mum of three, Mandy Ponnuswamy, life has become a frustrating juggle of remote learning, shifts at the out-of-area hospital where she works, and trips to testing clinics every three days. Also an essential worker in warehousing, her husband joins her for regular testing.
“Initially the shops felt similar... it didn’t seem like we were in a pandemic,” says Mrs Ponnuswamy, who attends St Barnabas’, Bossley Park. “This week it was very quiet. I think people are starting to take it seriously now. I was trying to decide which shops to go to because there have been so many [local] cases. I went to a different store and then found out there was a case at my local shops at the exact time I would have been shopping. I only go out for essentials, but we run out of fruit and veg and milk and bread every week.”
I think people are starting to take it seriously
They are feeling the loss of not being able to meet with their church community. “Growth group and church on Zoom and YouTube are really hard, especially on a Sunday when the kids are so loud that we don’t hear anything. [But] we are still prioritising having church on... we want to show our kids that church is a priority regardless of the circumstances we are in. If they can see that we are listening, or trying to listen, hopefully, it shows them how important God is and meeting with his people is.”
She prays God would provide resilience for her family and for Fairfield residents. “Pray we would keep trusting Jesus despite hardships and uncertainty. This is very stressful. A lot of people are really worried. Pray we would look out for people, praying for them, messaging and for lots of little ways we could be caring for them.”
Pray we would keep trusting Jesus despite hardships and uncertainty.
Living in the Fairfield LGA has made life much more complex for the Rev David Ould, assistant minister at St John’s, Parramatta. When the lockdown was announced, his children were on a church youth camp, and he was taking his wife away for their 20th anniversary.
“We had a lovely lunch together, and we were just outside Goulburn when my phone pinged,” he says. He arranged their livestream service while heading back to Sydney, and the children were picked up from camp by others..
“We’re all so used to it, so as a leadership team we pivoted quickly, but also the weariness is deeper this time,” he says. “Last year we didn’t know what to expect, but now we know where it could go… The Delta strain is upsetting in that it just is clearly worse, and that unnerves people.”
The past weeks have involved countless shuffling, with funerals to rearrange, weddings to postpone and the inability to physically be with those enduring hardship. “A church member had day-long surgery, and I couldn’t be there,” he says. “I’m not allowed to be there, whereas normally I’d go sit with the spouse for a while.”
Although there are limitations, and in order to continue work Mr Ould must undergo testing every three days, he feels he has little to complain about. “There are multigenerational families living next door, but their work is outside the LGA so they can’t do it. I can’t complain when I think about what they’re going through, and they’re people with English as a second language. It’s the tradies who are now missing out on the work.”
Reflecting on the sovereignty of God helps him stay grounded. “This is a blip in the timeline,” he says. “You have to believe that God knows exactly what he’s doing, not just on the meta scale but with each of us individually... Two thousand years ago, Christ was born, lived, died, ascended, and sometime in the future he will return and there will never be another pandemic.”
He adds: “It has been really encouraging for me when people have written and thanked us for the efforts we have made to adapt and continue to look after them... There have been real disappointments for pastors and they struggle to know what to do and how to look after people. Do know your pastor does care and is working hard, especially if he is on his own.”
The once-bustling streets of Cabramatta are now empty during the day, and a “total ghost town at night”, according to Alex Manisier, who attends Cabramatta Anglican. Mr Manisier is able to work from home but his housemate works outside the area and is required to undergo frequent testing.
There is a mix of gratitude and frustration. Mr Manisier is thankful to still have work and no financial troubles but misses interactions with people at church, the office and playing sport.
“I’m pretty introverted, but I haven’t experienced this kind of isolation and loneliness before, so it’s been an uphill battle trying to stay motivated while lockdown chips away at my mental health,” he says. “I know people try to substitute face-to-face with video calls, but when you spend the working day on Microsoft Teams calls, the last thing you want to do when you finish work is jump on another call.”
Shopping for essentials is now a strange experience. Growing up in the area, he has fond memories of shopping with his mother and the interactions with friends and the community. The lockdown has affected the culture of Cabramatta’s residents, many of whom are blue-collar workers from Vietnamese, Cambodian and Chinese backgrounds.
“I’m worried for local businesses and their employees,” he says. “Not just because my favourite pho or pork roll shop might close down, but because the identity of our town is inseparable from its food. When we get visitors at church, we shout them Vietnamese food and bubble tea. We have conversations with our mates over bowls of bún bò huế… that’s such a big part of our local culture that it’s scary to see it vanish overnight.”
Mr Manisier admits to feeling “frustrated and confused towards God” right now. “It’s difficult enough to spread the gospel when we’re not in a pandemic, so I don’t know why God has made it even harder for us now,” he says. “But at the same time, I’m reminded that he has frustrated and confused his people in the past, and ultimately worked things for his glory.
“I don’t know when this pandemic will end, or what lies for our church beyond it, but I know God is good and I know that God doesn’t delight in our Sunday morning gatherings as much as he delights in our daily trust and obedience. That’s what I have to keep reminding myself of.”