Tuesday, March 17, 2020


When we lived in Novi Sad, Serbia during the Bosnian War (academic years 1992-94) we weren’t technically under quarantine.  On the other hand I often felt very awkward, if not unsafe, due to being an American in a country whose nation was about to bomb Serbs in Bosnia.

There were frequent military police sweeps picking up men who had not fulfilled their military duties.  There was conscription to the army for all able bodied men.  At the same time all over the country people were wearing “Ja sam snaga haosa” (“I am a force of chaos”) button. They were protesting a government propaganda campaign, which was looking for scapegoats to blame for the problems caused by the war.  Of course, all foreigners were “forces of chaos” or in ordinary language “spies.”

By Serbian standards, I am “blond” and I am blue eyed.  I don’t look like a Serb: black hair, black eyes... I stand out immediately as a non-Serb.  Wherever I went paranoid people would see me as a threat and a possible spy.  Linda, however, looked “Hungarian:” darker skin, blond hair, but brown eyed...  She seemed to have no problems...

While I wasn’t quarantined I spent a lot of time indoors.  I did go out to church or Bible studies or at times the stores, etc., but it wasn’t at all pleasant to go out.  Perhaps it was a sort of “self-quarantine.”  We did teach classes in our second floor apartment, go back and forth to Budapest to pick up guest teachers and were involved in our local church.

There were shortages, though, for everyone.  Slobodan Milosevic had lost the election in Vojvodina, the farming area in the north of Serbia. Novi Sad is the capital of Vojvodina.  As a result all food and products were taken from Vojvodina and sent south.

The open air market continued with people bringing produce from their gardens and plots directly to customers. Eventually there was nothing to buy, at least food stuffs, in the stores.  Everyone depended on the open air market or went across the border into Hungary to shop.

We learned to live with the constant low grade irritants of life in a country under sanctions.  I had to buy gasoline either in Hungary or from an ingenious lad who “trafficked” in gasoline. 

Water mains broke regularly.  Often we had to go to the corner to get water in canisters.  Electrical transformers on utility poles constantly blew up throwing sparks and plunging us into darkness.  Natural gas for furnaces was available only four hours per day: two in the morning and two in the evening.

Perhaps the most familiar feeling for me being under the current quarantine in the Netherlands is one of unease.  We weren’t under any immediate threat in Novi Sad.  In general all went pretty well, but we were watched by police and we never knew exactly where we stood with neighbors or other people in the town.

Some people had even been killed nearby.  Some black marketeers brought ordinary prescription medications from abroad and sold them to the pharmacy near the hospital.  Some were shot down after receiving their hard currency payments.  The killers took the money and left the black marketeers dead... It was not two block from our house.

Armed police and soldiers in abundance are not something to inspire confidence, at least not when you are not “one of us.”  This living with a possible interview with police or being arrested and questioned was nerve wracking.

Quarantine is irksome and at the same time something a bit fearful.  I don’t expect to be infected.  Even if I were, I would not expect more than a bad cold.  At the same time I could die.

I could always die... I could die in a car accident.  It’s quite common.  I could have a heart attack...

We are mortal and our life is only a temporary affair, at least our life on this planet.  No one escapes death.  It comes sooner or later.

Fear of death is a low grade infection of sorts.  It is something any thoughtful person wrestles with.  We might block it out with things and activities, but it is always there even if just in our subconscious mind.

Both while in Novi Sad and now, I think of Paul’s words, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.”  Christians have a hope that is “other worldly.”  We should not be afraid of death since Jesus defeated death. 

I was going to quote a familiar statement about John Wesley and his traveling by horseback alone.  However, I found one source which refutes that statement.  In fact the biographer said that Wesley was very “methodical” and always had people with him because of highwaymen.

Supposedly when asked why he risked traveling by horse to preach tempting bandits to rob and kill him, John Wesley said, “I am in God’s hand until he calls me home.” Whether the story is true or not the point is still the same: whatever it will be COVID19 or cancer or heart attack or plane crash, my times are in his hands.

In my searching for this quote of Wesley’s I came upon a story of George Whitfield and William Tennent.  Whitfield was in New Jersey. So, Tennent went to visit him.  Tennent was a much older man.  He had started the “Log College” which was a school to train pastors.  Many who had been trained in Europe, as he had, jeered the Log College.  In fact it was called the “Log College” as an insult. The Log College eventually joined with the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton University.

When Whitfield pressed Tennent to say whether he was looking to going to heaven soon, as Tennent was the oldest person present, Tennent said that he had no opinion.  When pressed further Tennent said more or less that he would work until the Lord called him home.  There was still much to do.

I will end my thoughts here and put below the discussion between Whitfield and Tennent which is recorded in the Cyclopedia Cyclopedia of Moral and Religious Anecdotes by Kazlitt Arvine, 1849

(2) WAITING THE LORD'S TlME.--When the Rev. George Whitfield was last in America, the Rev. W. Tennent paid him a visit, as he was passing through New Jersey; and one day dined with him, and other ministers, at a gentlemen’s house. After dinner, Mr. W. adverted to the difficulties at tending the gospel ministry; lamented that all their zeal availed but little; said, that he was weary with the burden of the day; and declared the great consolation, that in a short time his work would be done, when he should depart and be with Christ. He then appealed to the ministers if it was not their great comfort that they should soon go to rest. They generally assented, except Mr. T. who sat next to Mr. W. in silence, and by his countenance discovered but little pleasure in the conversation. On which Mr. W. tapping him on the knee said, “Well, brother Tennent, you are the oldest man among us; do you not rejoice to think that your time is so near at hand, when you will be called homeI” Mr. T. bluntly answered, “I have no wish about it.” Mr. W. pressed him again. Mr. T. again again answered, “No, sir, it is no pleasure to me at all; and if you knew your duty, it would be none to you. l have nothing to do with death my business is to live as long as I can, as well as I can, and to serve my Master as faithfully as l can, until he shall think proper to call me home.” Mr. W. still urged for an explicit answer to his question, in case the time of death were left to his own choice. Mr. T. replied, “I have no choice about it; I am God's servant, and have engaged to do his business as long as he pleases to continue me there- in. But now, brother, let me ask you a question. What do you think l should say, if l were to send my man into the 􏰀field to plough; and if at noon l should go to the field, and find him lounging under a tree, and complaining, ‘Master, the sun is very hot, and the ploughing hard; l am weary of the work you have appointed me, and am overcome with the heat und burden of the day. Do, master , let me return home, and be discharged from this hard service?’ What should l say‘? Why, that he was a lazy fellow, and that it his business to do the work that I had appointed him, until l should think 􏰀fit to call him home.”
Kazlitt Arvine. Cyclopedia of Moral and Religious Anecdotes: A Collection of Nearly 3000 Facts ... with Copious Topical and Scriptural Indexes. Leavitt, 1849, 471, 472


Accessed 17 March 2020

1 comment:

  1. Grateful for these words.. especially the story at the end.