Mark was scheduled to teach the first course in Biblical Hebrew this month, a course which comes up on the rotation only every other year. Any language course is a challenge in the one-week intensive format, and doubly so when it has to be transitioned to an on-line class.
We had been thinking through how to take a trip to Texas for a number of months already, always with an eye to what pandemic-ness would mean for not only travel, but ongoing teaching at the seminary. A hidden blessing of 2020 was being forced to figure out and then do on-line teaching, rapidly. It has meant a flexibility that although not a first choice for teaching, makes teaching still possible.
After Mark’s father’s death on December 20th, we immediately packed our bags… and then didn’t go anywhere. Mark started feeling achy and had some fever on the 22nd and it seemed wrong to just muscle on through and get to Texas. What we had been thinking about happening all year was confirmed on Saturday, January 2nd when we got tested in order to meet airline requirements. Mark tested positive for the virus and I tested negative. This made us both automatically ineligible for travel until we could both show a negative test.
We read everything in sight but the gatekeeping factor always came back to the airlines. It didn’t matter how we felt or any other guidelines. What we hadn’t known until then was the very real possibility of re-testing positive after recovering, due to the biology of it (not the quality of the tests, etc.)
Faced with the upcoming class, we couldn’t quite figure out how to do it. Finally, Mark said, ‘Ok, let’s look at it this way: What do we have to lose? If we test now (the Wednesday before the class) and it comes back positive, then we just have to stay in Kyiv until the class is over. By the time we re-test after the class it will be the same as having just waited the recommended amount of time.’
The Ukrainian celebration of Christmas on January 7th pushed the test to Friday the 8th, with the results coming by email within 12 hours as they had before. By this point, the bags had been packed for two and a half weeks, we’d had to tentatively re-stock on some groceries with a view to trying to eat well in the waiting, and the apartment was a little less ‘travel-ready’ than it had been.
We had been looking at flight options, with the upcoming Monday class start very much on our minds. The academic dean at the seminary offered to move the class from 2:00 – 8:00 pm Kyiv time in the event that it would be happening from Texas instead of Kyiv. (The ordinary class time would have meant teaching from midnight to 6:00 am in Texas!)
At 9:20 pm the email came in and, miraculously, we were both negative. After being stunned for several minutes, we both started looking at flights, and were even more stunned that we were considering getting onto a flight out that left just a few hours hence.
The Lord gave us the wherewithal to re-pack, tell everybody who needed telling, get the apartment back in order, find a place to land on the other side, and more that I’ve already forgotten. We walked out the door six hours after we got the email.
It was interesting each morning last week to be all set and ready to go before 6:00 am, when the class started. It was a wild swirl of Russian and Ukrainian and Hebrew and English, with hilariously Ukrainianized descriptions of how to write Hebrew letters, an 8-hour time difference that constantly had Mark correcting his time references when he announced a break, and blood-pressure raising moments of the internet going out mid-sentence. I saw the beauty of the Lord’s enabling as, at the end of the first day, the timing worked as Mark had planned (even with the fog of all that had preceded it) and they all read slowly aloud the very first verses of Genesis chapter one in Hebrew.
It was a joy for me to be in the room, quite literally, to see how years of experience and interacting with students and culture and so much more come together. Mark isn’t one to tout his own virtues, but his humility and humor and hard work were clearly on display, and the respect of the students and his Ukrainian colleague and academic dean are plainly evident.
(If you’d like to hear as they read the first verses of Genesis in Hebrew, click here.)