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Author reflects on job loss, how to respond

By April Yamasaki

Earlier this year MennoMedia made the difficult decision to cease publication of Purpose magazine after the August 2020 issue. For decades Purpose had offered inspirational stories of Christian faith to its readers, but it was no match for the financial impact of the COVID-19 epidemic. Its ministry of nurturing faith and discipleship through the sharing of personal stories will soon be over.

By the time MennoMedia made the decision to close the magazine, I had already recruited the three new columnists that were to begin in fall. I had already received their first columns. Given the long lead time to prepare each issue, I had already accepted the other stories and puzzles for publication in September, October, and November.

Although my job was ending abruptly, I didn’t feel right about simply walking away without saying anything. To end well, I wanted to thank my co-workers who had warmly welcomed me and helped me grow into my new role. I wanted to tell my new columnists and all of my writers for the fall quarter that their precious words would not appear in print as we had planned. I felt I owed it to them to tell them myself before the official announcement.

One long-time writer said she cried when she read my email. Others said, “We understand the practical issues, but it seems like a time, more than ever, when people could use the inspiration that Purpose brings.” Another wrote, “I was and still am so grateful to you for being the one to break the news to me. I did receive your note before the official announcement, and believe me when I say it was so much easier to take this news from you with your kind note.”

I’m sad that Purpose will no longer be a resource of teaching and outreach for individual subscribers and for the church. I mourn the loss of work that I loved and the loss of co-workers and writers that I had come to know in my year as editor. And I’m also keenly aware that my experience is just one small personal example among the countless COVID-19-related cancellations and closures in the last months.

What began as a few instances of COVID-19 illness quickly became a public health crisis, and as populations went into lockdown and quarantine, the public health crisis soon became an economic crisis. Unemployment soared. Productivity slowed or in some cases stopped altogether. For 2020, the International Monetary Fund forecasts a 3% contraction in the world economy, which would be the sharpest drop since the 1930s.

“Personal and corporate lament give us permission to be honest with ourselves, with one another, and with God.”

In this time of financial pressure and difficult decisions, how can the church support those experiencing workplace-related disruption, anxiety, and stress? How does Christian faith speak into the lives of business owners and employees, contract workers and freelancers, those with reduced hours or who are suddenly unemployed, and those just entering the job market who see few prospects?

As we seek to live out our faith in the world of work and COV- ID-19, here are some things to consider now and in the days ahead.

Realize it’s not all about you. When we’re under stress, we may become preoccupied with our- selves; instead, we need to realize we’re in this together. We need
to care for one another, including those most at risk on the job: healthcare workers, meatpacking employees, and others in workplaces where physical distance is difficult to maintain. Whatever our work situation, we are all made in the image of God.

Extend grace. Don’t assume that the worker receiving emergency funds is lazy. Or that the employer laying off workers is mean-spirited. Instead of hoarding toilet paper, canned goods, or other supplies, leave enough for others. Wait your turn at the grocery store, and give others physical space. Treat all workers with dignity and respect. Share what you have.

Leave room for lament. Acknowledge disappointment, grief, and loss. When my husband’s job was abruptly terminated a few years ago, I turned to the Psalms. “Give room to my words, O Lord; give heed to my sighing” (Psalm 5:1). “I cry aloud to God” (Psalm 77:1). Personal and corporate lament give us permission to be honest with ourselves, with one another, and with God.

Pray. For all who experience work-related stress, for their physical and mental health, for work and provision for them and their families. For those in government to act responsibly, compassionately, and competently. For business, nonprofits, and churches to find new ways of serving and work- ing. For healthcare workers putting their lives at risk, for medical researchers working toward effective treatments and a vaccine.

Be mindful of mental health. While physical and financial needs may be most obvious, mental health is just as critical. According to the United Nations, coronavirus- related isolation and anxiety could lead to a global mental health crisis. So take time off from the relentless news cycle to rest, seek out wonder and beauty, practice other forms of self-care, seek professional help as needed, and encourage others to do the same.

“Cast all your anxiety on [God], because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7).

Express appreciation. In Winnipeg, two pastors promoted a city-wide whiteout with people posting white hearts, ribbons, and messages in windows and doorways as a thank you to essential workers in their community. On Giving Tuesday, a service organization delivered tulips to all of its contract workers to express gratitude for their work. Say thank you in words and with other expressions of care.

Hope in God. Remember that our personal identity and self-worth do not depend on our productivity in paid or unpaid work. We are not ultimately defined by our resume, job title, work experience, paycheck, business assets, or balance sheet. Our security rests in our identity as the beloved children of God, who gives us “eternal comfort and good hope” (2 Thessalonians 2:16).

April Yamasaki

April Yamasaki has served as a congregational pastor and is now resident author with Valley CrossWay Church, Abbotsford, B.C. She writes online and in print about Christian living and often speaks in other churches and ministry settings.