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The Reformation Herald Online Edition

Surviving in the COVID Era

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Is NOW the Time to Leave the Cities? … It May Not Get Any Easier!
Barbara Montrose

Dwelling for the first 20 years of life within the city limits of Washington, D.C., I became familiar with many of the nice advantages of urban living—and the disadvantages as well. At that time, the nation’s capital of the USA had a population of about 700,000. Beyond were quiet suburbs and, further out, some farmland.

Today, the urban sprawl of the Washington metropolitan area has expanded to over 6.2 million inhabitants. But that’s not nearly as large as many other metropolitan areas such as Tokyo with over 32 million, followed by Seoul, Mexico City, New York City, Mumbai, Jakarta, São Paulo, and Delhi, each with well over 18 million.            

Have recent events made city living more perilous?

Let’s consider a few factors that have impacted urban life in the past few years—and even months:

1. Higher risk of COVID-19 and other physical and mental/emotional maladies

“Those who live in cities may be forced into more confined spaces with strangers, thereby increasing their exposure to germs in the course of feeding themselves and their families. In fact, this is a major reason why New York City became the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak—the sheer number of people packed into several square miles made the virus easier to spread.”1

“Density is a factor in this pandemic, as it has been in previous ones. The very same clustering of people that makes our great cities more innovative and productive also makes them, and us, vulnerable to infectious disease. . . .

“The density that transmits the virus is when people are crammed together in multifamily, multi-generational households or in factories or frontline service work in close physical proximity to one another or the public. Such density is why the earlier 1918 flu pandemic ravaged the working-class neighborhoods of industrial centers of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.”2

“Compared to rural residents, researchers have found that urbanites are 21 percent more likely to have anxiety disorders and 39 percent more likely to have mood disorders. A 2017 meta-analysis also found that rates of the following mental health conditions were higher among those living in urban areas:

• PTSD [Post-traumatic stress disorder]

• anger management

• generalized anxiety disorder

“The same was true for more serious psychological disorders like schizophrenia and paranoia. . . .

“The constant stimulation of city life can propel the body into a stressful state, known as the fight-or-flight response. That can make us more vulnerable to mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, and substance use. This might help explain why 19.1 percent of Americans live with an anxiety disorder, while 6.7 percent have depression.

“City living can also chip away at your psychological immune system, which can be precarious for those with a family history of mental illness. According to psychologists, this environmental stress can increase their risk of developing a psychiatric condition, such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. . . .

“What’s more, young adults, especially millennials, often feel burnout—a stressful state of mental and physical exhaustion that can squeeze the joy out of life. . . .

“Not only can city life affect our mental well-being, it can also affect our physical health as well. A 2017 study suggests too much exposure to air pollution and city noise may cause damage to a person’s cardiovascular health.

“It seems traffic noise may interfere with sleep quality and cause cortisol, the stress hormone, to spike. Over time, elevated levels of this hormone can increase a person’s risk for developing cardiovascular disease. . . .

“Crowded city life can also make us more prone to contracting viruses, especially during cold and flu season. Studies have also found that people living in urban areas often eat too much processed and fast food, which puts them at greater risk for weight gain, high blood pressure, and diabetes.”3

2. Risks to the food supply chain

It stands to reason that the longer the supply chain, the more complicated the process of farm-to-table becomes.

According to an article in magazine, May 8, 2020, “The COVID-19 pandemic is profoundly disrupting the global food supply at nearly every level. Those problems, and the economic destruction caused by the virus, could have a devastating impact on the ability of people across the world to access and afford food. At least 265 million people are at risk of going hungry in 2020, according to an estimate made by the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) in April—almost twice as many as in 2019. This is despite the fact that experts agree there should be enough food to feed the world this year. . . .

“ ‘The issue is more about food supply disruption rather than food shortages,’ Julie Howard, a senior adviser on global food security at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) tells TIME.”4

3. The threat of violence

This year has reminded us that under the legitimate banner of freedom of expression, angry people begin to express themselves in illegitimate and even violent ways, particularly when emboldened by a crowd. As of this writing, torching, looting, robbing, defacing, and/or seizing historic buildings and both public and private property, as well as the injuring and even murdering of innocent bystanders have become rampant in many large cities.

“New York City shootings have surged by more than 358% in mid-June when compared with the same time period from 2019, the violence erupting alongside the NYPD’s disbanding of anti-crime units, numerous sources reported.

“Across the five boroughs of New York, 74 people were wounded in the 55 shootings, a significant increase from the 12 shootings in 2019, NBC 4 reports.”5

This horrifying scene depicts just a small portion of the rampant lawlessness recently taking place in several dozen major cities—violent incidents that would have been unimaginable just a short time before.

Do we belong with or near such a crowd of people? Is such an environment safe? Is such an attitude wholesome? The followers of Christ are “to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men” (Titus 3:1, 2).

But when a mob gets riled up, calm reason quickly disintegrates and the Spirit of Jesus is grieved. That’s why we are warned, “Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul” (Proverbs 22:24, 25). [Emphasis added.]

Even when things may not be ideal in society, keeping in mind the way Christ handled matters is the Christian’s only safe model of behavior:

“The government under which Jesus lived was corrupt and oppressive; on every hand were crying abuses—extortion, intolerance, and grinding cruelty. Yet the Saviour attempted no civil reforms. He attacked no national abuses, nor condemned the national enemies. He did not interfere with the authority or administration of those in power. He who was our example kept aloof from earthly governments. Not because He was indifferent to the woes of men, but because the remedy did not lie in merely human and external measures. To be efficient, the cure must reach men individually, and must regenerate the heart.”6

This is why the prophecy about the Anointed One was that “He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street” (Isaiah 42:2).

In the time of Jesus, many of the very ones who had been healed and blessed by His ministry evidently caught a strange fever at Golgotha. Apparently without thinking, in the passion of the moment, these suddenly joined in the perverse chorus that was yelling, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Such is the mentality of a mob.

Why do many stay in the cities?

Let’s face it: Career options and wages usually tend to be a lot more attractive in areas with more inhabitants. So, the enticing lure of urban life is strong, typically offering plentiful possibilities for prestigious positions and possessions. Yet, often at what expense?

“The pursuit of pleasure and amusement centers in the cities. Many parents who choose a city home for their children, thinking to give them greater advantages, meet with disappointment, and too late repent their terrible mistake. The cities of today are fast becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah. The many holidays encourage idleness. The exciting sports—theatergoing, horse racing, gambling, liquor-drinking, and reveling—stimulate every passion to intense activity. The youth are swept away by the popular current. Those who learn to love amusement for its own sake open the door to a flood of temptations. They give themselves up to social gaiety and thoughtless mirth, and their intercourse with pleasure lovers has an intoxicating effect upon the mind. They are led on from one form of dissipation to another, until they lose both the desire and the capacity for a life of usefulness. Their religious aspirations are chilled; their spiritual life is darkened. All the nobler faculties of the soul, all that link man with the spiritual world, are debased.”7

“Send the children to schools located in the city, where every phase of temptation is waiting to attract and demoralize them, and the work of character building is tenfold harder for both parents and children.”8

“But I can’t neglect my children’s future!”

True. But both for ourselves and for our children, “an expensive dwelling, elaborate furnishings, display, luxury, and ease, do not furnish the conditions essential to a happy, useful life. Jesus came to this earth to accomplish the greatest work ever accomplished among men. He came as God’s ambassador, to show us how to live so as to secure life’s best results. What were the conditions chosen by the infinite Father for His Son? A secluded home in the Galilean hills; a household sustained by honest, self-respecting labor; a life of simplicity; daily conflict with difficulty and hardship; self-sacrifice, economy, and patient, gladsome service; the hour of study at His mother’s side, with the open scroll of Scripture; the quiet of dawn or twilight in the green valley; the holy ministries of nature; the study of creation and providence; and the soul’s communion with God—these were the conditions and opportunities of the early life of Jesus.

“So with the great majority of the best and noblest men of all ages. Read the history of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph, of Moses, David, and Elisha. Study the lives of men of later times who have most worthily filled positions of trust and responsibility, the men whose influence has been most effective for the world’s uplifting.

“How many of these were reared in country homes. They knew little of luxury. They did not spend their youth in amusement. Many were forced to struggle with poverty and hardship. They early learned to work, and their active life in the open air gave vigor and elasticity to all their faculties. Forced to depend upon their own resources, they learned to combat difficulties and to surmount obstacles, and they gained courage and perseverance. They learned the lessons of self-reliance and self-control. Sheltered in a great degree from evil associations, they were satisfied with natural pleasures and wholesome companionships. They were simple in their tastes and temperate in their habits. They were governed by principle, and they grew up pure and strong and true. When called to their lifework, they brought to it physical and mental power, buoyancy of spirit, ability to plan and execute, and steadfastness in resisting evil, that made them a positive power for good in the world.

“Better than any other inheritance of wealth you can give to your children will be the gift of a healthy body, a sound mind, and a noble character.”9

Time with our children is the best investment we can offer them. Many young people who are now addicted to devices and questionable acquaintances would be refreshed and renewed to experience precious moments with their parents for whose companionship they may be starved, often due to the hectic pace of city life. The restoration of the family (see Malachi 4:5, 6) begins with self-denial on the part of the parents, not the children. Our children cannot be expected to conjure up a degree of responsive love and attention toward us that they have not been provided with by us.

What was God’s original plan—and how has it been rejected by the masses?

We read in Genesis 2:8, that “The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.” Country living in tune with creation was always the ideal environment for our spiritual, mental, and physical well-being. The human race was clearly directed to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). To replenish the earth means to spread out healthfully and intelligently utilize the vast resources of the planet—not stack up in piles on top of each other.

In stark opposition to this wise plan, the first city was built by Cain—the first murderer on earth (see Genesis 4:17).

Another renowned city from early human history was built on the plain of Shinar, where, after the great flood, rebellious men thought to “outsmart” their Creator by trying to build a city and tower that would be higher than the clouds in case another flood might come to destroy the earth. Yet in Genesis 9:15, the Heavenly Father had assuredly promised not to destroy the earth with another flood. But those who devised this project believed neither His promises nor His warnings.

What were the details behind that city built on the plain of Shinar? We read in Genesis 11:4, “They said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The ego thrill of trying to make a name for themselves and perpetuate their defiant philosophy was speedily halted when their communication network was divinely jammed up and their project arrested. “So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel” (Genesis 11:8, 9).

Likewise, in our day, the same spirit that prompted the tower of Babel prevails in modern culture. Prophecy tells us that spiritual “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird” (Revelation 18:2).

“The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:12–14).

Will it soon become more difficult to leave the cities?

Under the COVID-19 lockdown triggering a mass exodus from the large cities of India, the syndicated news outlet Bloomberg reported that “in small groups and large crowds, through inner-city lanes and down interstate highways, hundreds of thousands of India’s poorest are slowly making a desperate journey on foot back to their villages in a mass exodus. . . .

“ ‘When there is nothing left to eat, what should we stay here and do?’ [Neha] Kashyap said, her eyes welling up with tears. ‘The government says stay where you are. Tell us what will we eat? How will we feed our children? How will we pay our rent? We have to try and get away.’ . . .

“If she didn’t get her family on one of the buses [leaving the city of Delhi], Kashyap’s only option was to keep walking toward her hometown some 530 kilometers away—longer than the distance between London and Paris.

“ ‘Whatever little our parents have, they will keep us alive—we have to go no matter what,’ she said. ‘Let me tell you one thing: More people will die of hunger than from this disease.’ ”10

Nearly 115 years ago, the American writer Ellen G. White foresaw: “Erelong there will be such strife and confusion in the cities that those who wish to leave them will not be able. We must be preparing for these issues.”11

How soon is soon?

Jesus gave clear warnings with regard to both the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 and the final events at the close of earth’s history in a twofold prophecy: “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes” (Matthew 24:15–18).

In A.D. 70

“When the idolatrous standards of the Romans should be set up in the holy ground, which extended some furlongs outside the city walls, then the followers of Christ were to find safety in flight. When the warning sign should be seen, judgment was to follow so quickly that those who would escape must make no delay. He who chanced to be upon the housetop must not go down through his house into the street; but he must speed his way from roof to roof until he reach the city wall, and be saved ‘so as by fire.’ Those who were working in the fields or vineyards must not take time to return for the outer garment laid aside while they should be toiling in the heat of the day. They must not hesitate a moment, lest they be involved in the general destruction.”12

Not a single Christian perished in the destruction of Jerusalem because the believers had taken heed to the words of Jesus and fled as soon as they saw the Roman banners.

In the approaching crisis

“It is no time now for God’s people to be fixing their affections or laying up their treasure in the world. The time is not far distant, when, like the early disciples, we shall be forced to seek a refuge in desolate and solitary places. As the siege of Jerusalem by the Roman armies was the signal for flight to the Judean Christians, so the assumption of power on the part of our nation in the decree enforcing the papal sabbath will be a warning to us. It will then be time to leave the large cities, preparatory to leaving the smaller ones for retired homes in secluded places among the mountains. And now, instead of seeking expensive dwellings here, we should be preparing to move to a better country, even a heavenly.”13

So, we see here three steps:

1. At the Sunday decree, to flee the large cities, never to return. (If you still have a house there to sell at that time, it will be too late. You can’t even run back for your clothes, much less begin to put a house on the market.)

2. Leaving the smaller towns.

3. Secluded places among the mountains. (With modern thermal imaging, plus whatever other technology is likely in place by then, only the intervention of the Omnipotent One is able to shelter His persecuted children on the planet when the crisis escalates to such a level. “He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure” (Isaiah 33:16). See also Psalms 31:19, 20; 91:1–10; , p. 56; and , p. 270.

What happens to those thrust into prison for sharing the everlasting gospel in the cities and therefore cannot escape?

“The Lord knows all about His faithful servants who for His sake are lying in prison or who are banished to lonely islands. He comforts them with His own presence. When for the truth’s sake the believer stands at the bar of unrighteous tribunals, Christ stands by his side. All the reproaches that fall upon him, fall upon Christ. Christ is condemned over again in the person of His disciple. When one is incarcerated in prison walls, Christ ravishes the heart with His love.”14

Is there hope for me?

“To parents who are living in the cities, the Lord is sending the warning cry, Gather your children into your own houses; gather them away from those who are disregarding the commandments of God, who are teaching and practising evil. Get out of the cities as fast as possible. Parents can secure small homes in the country, with land for cultivation, where the children will not be surrounded with the corrupting influences of city life. God will help His people to find such homes outside the cities.” 15 That means you. That means me. What a mighty Saviour we serve! Amen!

6 The Desire of Ages, p. 509. [Emphasis added.]
7 Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 54.
8 Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 326.
9 The Ministry of Healing, pp. 365, 366.
10 10
11 General Conference Bulletin, April 6, 1903. [Emphasis added.]
12 The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, pp. 26, 27. [Emphasis added.]
13 Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 464, 465. [Emphasis added.]
14 The Desire of Ages, p. 669.
15 The Review and Herald, July 5, 1906. [Emphasis added.]