Dear fellow youth workers, I feel for you. When I was a youth worker in the UK it was not an easy job when things were ‘normal’. Now it’s in a different league. From my observations from afar, youth workers I know are rising to the considerable challenges of life and youth work in a world with Covid-19. That said, I’m pretty sure everyone would rather we were past this era, not just for the physical suffering, but the emotional load it creates on top of everyday life.
So, as you face further restrictions and perhaps a second lockdown in the UK, I wanted to write to you from Melbourne, Australia to encourage you and bring you any comfort I can. We are nearing the end of our second lockdown under stage 4 restrictions. Since March we have been in and out of different stages of restrictions, and for the last eight weeks we have only been allowed to leave the house between 5am and 8pm for essential shopping or doctors’ visits, one hour to exercise/ two if you have children, wearing masks all the time when outside, and all within 5k from our home.
When we knew stage 4 lockdown was coming, I began to prepare mentally for the intense experience it is to home school a 5-year-old and parent a 3-year-old, whilst trying to keep the volume down to support my husband as he began working from home. On the grounds that most battles are won in the mind first, I found the following helpful for ensuring second lockdown didn’t sink my spiritual, emotional, mental and physical wellbeing.
Lectio365. The app from 24/7 prayer. I listen to it every day and it helps me remember how in the wider perspective of history and God’s work within it. Covid-19 is one of many challenges dwarfed by his greatness. Whatever your everyday habit with God, safeguard space for you and him. We all know it’s sometimes a battle, but one that saves us mentally, I think.
Mental & physical strength
Yes, lockdown is oppressive. We are not used to our independence being restricted for the common good. Independence has become sacred in an individualist culture. But in the body of Christ we know we are called to interdependence, to laying down our lives for the sake of others, and perhaps therefore we can more easily accept it, own it, embrace it and lead ourselves and young people within it.
This is what I did – just before we went into stage 4 lockdown I got a post-it note and wrote down four lockdown goals for myself.
I posted it on my social media feeds for both a reminder to myself and the highest and widest accountability that I could manage. And it’s worked. I have run regularly slowly increasing my pace and distance. I’ve not made it to 20k yet, but I can do a 5k every week now. The BBC Goodfood app and a free health course from the Victorian government have helped me learn new ways to cook and eat healthier food. I’ve written more than two new rhyming stories and I’m pursuing my picture book publishing dream. And I’m reading more books, mainly from the neighbour I pray for every day.
Alongside these goals I’m also researching how youth workers can help young people avoid getting radicalised...I know I’m not going to be deradicalising anyone anytime soon, and the word is that the process is problematic to say the least, so that leads me to ask the question how can youth workers help reduce violent extremism in the world today? We know lockdowns have increased the online efforts of extremist groups, and we know young people are online more in lockdown. For them and for the future of the world we as youth workers need to join in with Jesus on this frontline. LinkedIn is a great place to learn, connect with academics, researchers, advisors, and social workers doing an awesome job in this ideological war zone. Interested? I’d love to hear from you.
Instagram. I’m not going to pretend to understand it, but I love photos, so my theme is ‘life is beautiful’ and I am capturing more of that and sharing it with the world on my insta feed. And when life in lockdown feels overwhelming and oppressive I look at my photos and remember there’s so much beauty. I’m noticing it more and more. I’m re-wiring my brain and heart and soul as I focus on how amazing the world is.
I know Melbourne isn’t England, and I know I’m not leading a youth group right now, but know this – I am praying for you. I am praying for the young people you serve, the families you are concerned about, the pain you are going through – God knows every bit of it and is with you in it. As Richard Bauckham writes, only the suffering God can help, and he does. And he will. Hold on dear friends.
Claire Farley is a youth worker from the UK with 12 years’ experience in church, community and schools work settings across England. She is currently researching how youth workers can work with communities to reduce the risk of young people becoming radicalised into violent extremism.