Walking on the Front Lines

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2. I am still processing the deep griefs and unexpected joys God has worked through this COVID19 causing virus. I am not ready to write about them.

Instead, I want to tell you about my friend Emily.

Emily was my senior year roommate at Asbury College.


She is the type of friend who takes you to the emergency room at two o’clock in the morning after you sleep-walk off your top-bunk. And reads to you aloud from the book of Judges for the next hour without questioning whether it’s you or the morphine making that request.


My “prescription” to encourage Emily to persevere in practice  as she was preparing for her senior recital in 2011

She’s the type of friend who plays the piano at your wedding reception. Who invites you home with her on school breaks. Who convinces you to run a half-marathon. Who dresses in her sari and invites you over for naan and daal to reminisce about your experiences in India.


She’s the type of friend who reaches out regularly and prays for you when you live in opposite hemispheres for two and half years.

When we arrived in Kentucky at the end of January, I was eager to see Emily again.

She had me over for dinner and listened well as I discussed the deep grief I have felt as we are daily confronted by the extreme needs surrounding us in Kenya. The need for food, shelter, and medicine.The need for stability, family, and community. The need for a savior. The need for The Savior.


Our community at Tenwek

I remember walking out of her house feeling lighter.

Emily is a counselor for teenagers in our school system. So it should have come as no surprise to me that she–who daily meets with underserved and overlooked kids who are hungry, who are alone, who face violence, who confront so many of the same challenges faced by our friends in Kenya—would understand the burden we’ve been living with.


Somehow “Junior High School Counselor” doesn’t read quite the same as “Medical Missionary to Africa.” I had never acknowledged how similar our Kingdom work is.

On March 16th all the schools in our county were closed. And Emily was laid off.

Despite her two master’s degrees, Emily was also working part-time at Kroger to make ends meet. The same virus that shut down our schools drove people en-masse to the grocery stores. Kroger was more than happy to give her more work.

So, Emily picked up shifts. She started working 12+ hours every day. Doing her normal work in the floral department. Stocking produce. Working the cash register. Bagging groceries.


Me with some of our colleagues with UK’s Department of Hospital Medicine

At the same time, my work admitting folks onto our internal medicine service was changing daily. New gear. New protocol. New priorities.

And through this time Emily was regularly reaching out. “Just checking in…” “How are you holding up?” “How are Luke and Hannah doing?”


And so many others were to. Offering love and support to us as health care workers. Offering shoes and meals and masks and child care.

I am grateful for this support.

And I am thinking of Emily.

She is on the front line every day. She has sacrificed her time off to fill in for those at her store who are too high risk to continue working. She exposes herself to hundreds of people every day so our community can survive.

Somehow “Grocery Bagger” doesn’t read quite the same as “Front Line Health Care Worker.”

So, labels aside, thank you Emily.

And thank you to all of you who are loving and serving well in the place to which you’ve been called in these days.

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love…”

Ephesians 4:1-2


*I would love to hear from you about the Emily you know or have observed in these past weeks, faithfully serving in the place they’ve been given. Tell me about this person in the comments and consider sending them some extra thanks this week!

**Written by Val Sleeth

5 thoughts on “Walking on the Front Lines

  1. This is beautiful. I’m glad you have this kind of friend. Please thank her for me. Too many people to list here from the R.N. daughter working in ICU, to the neighbor furiously sewing masks, to our church staff who have been caring for people and preaching/singing to an empty sanctuary for 7 weeks leading online worship. ❤️


  2. Thanks you Val for sharing this.

    Our neighbor lady would normally be working in our local school as a teacher’s aide, but since she can’t work, she has volunteered every Friday since the virus outbreak to do our grocery shopping, her mom and dad’s shopping and her own shopping to save us from being exposed to the virus. Our children live in PA and AZ, so they are very grateful for this precious lady to make sure we have what we need. Nice to have younger neighbors who love us.

    Thank you for serving as well Val!
    Love, Sharon

    Delighted to Serve,

    Sharon Martin
    missionary pastor to retirees
    World Gospel Mission
    phone: 765.618.5194
    site: http://www.wgm.org
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