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The Day I Caught a Mysterious Virus

I was weak. I felt tired. There was just no energy at all. But maybe I wasn’t sick. Maybe it was just the exhaustion of a long trip or the stress of returning home and trying to catch up on all I had missed.

And then the fever started. And the chills. And then my body broke out in hives from head to toe. That was enough for my wife to insist – it was time for me to go to the emergency room.

The nurse looked a little worried. The form I had filled out included recent travel history. I was isolated in a room, and she kept coming in and out to confirm the details I had already provided. On her last visit, she had a stack of papers. She didn’t hide them. They were Google searches freshly printed off: “symptoms and treatment of Zika Virus.”

Ten days earlier I was in a small, humid building in a remote village in Haiti. I was with about a dozen friends from my church in Wichita, Kansas, and we had made the journey to build a sanctuary for a congregation that had previously been meeting in a tin shack under a tree. They outgrew the shack, and we were there to construct a building that would seat at least 100.

They had no electricity, no clean water, no indoor plumbing - but an unlimited number of mosquitos. The school building we were using as lodging had a concrete floor and little else. We pumped up our air mattresses by flashlight and my friend, Duane, pulled out a small, citronella candle, designed to keep the bugs away.

Apparently, the candle didn’t work.

At some point in the night, one of those mosquitos got me. Ten days later, I was quarantined in my home in Wichita with Zika Virus. I was the fourth diagnosis in the state of Kansas and the first in Sedgwick County. The health department put out a press release. I was sent home with a packet full of instructions. Most of them came from those Google searches.

For a week, it was bad. Full body aches, chills, fever, total weakness. There was no treatment and no cure. I’d have to stay at home while the virus ran its course.

Fortunately, I was still relatively young, healthy and received great care. After a week the symptoms faded, my strength returned and I was able to rejoin society with one important reminder: this virus was at its worst when it found a pregnant mother and an unborn baby. It leads to brain defects and permanent development problems. Sometimes it’s even fatal.

So the plans CJ and I had to start a family were immediately put on hold. This virus, which gave me a bad week, could do far worse for my wife and an unborn baby. And, though my symptoms were gone, the virus remained present in my system for up to six months. The threat to my own body was past after a week, but I took precautions for half of a year to ensure no one else would be impacted.

I’ve long since recovered from the Zika Virus. That was four years ago. But today we’re facing another virus and another predicament. There are two scary things about this one. The symptoms don’t always show up right away (one study showed 95 percent of cases had the virus 5 days before showing symptoms). And older people seem to be at a higher risk (a report from the Center for Disease Control says 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are people who were 65 or older).

Here’s what this means for me: This virus may not be all that harmful to my body. In Kansas, of the people in my age group (35-44 years old) who have tested positive for the virus, only 11 percent have ended up in the hospital.

However, since it can be far more harmful to other portions of the population and since I may have this virus without even knowing it, I’m taking some precautions. The facemask that I have (thanks, Mom, for making one for each of my family members) goes on my face when I go to the grocery store – not for my sake – but to protect others from a virus that I may be carrying without even knowing it. I’m not visiting members of my church who are in the hospital. I’m not making house calls to connect with so many of you I haven’t seen in weeks. I’m not leaving my house unless I need to. And it has very little to do with putting myself at risk.

I believe the Christian life is a calling to not only take care of yourself but also to look out for others. For some, that means a specific calling to be doctors, nurses, first responders or members of the military – all who have committed to care for and defend those who may not otherwise be able to care for and defend themselves.

For others, that means considering how your own actions may impact others. We live in a country that values individual rights and freedoms, and I am among the many who are grateful for them. However, the choices we make have consequences beyond ourselves.

I’m thankful for a community and elected leaders who have made difficult decisions over the past several weeks in favor of the collective health of our people. These sacrifices we have made are not just for ourselves; they’re for everyone. Remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

My hope is that the sacrifices and restrictions we have endured over the past several weeks has worked, especially in our area. My prayer is that we will soon be able to re-open some areas of our society (including the church building!) while remaining wise in our social distancing. When that time comes, we will proceed carefully and smartly.

Please join me in prayer for our local, state and federal leaders as well as our church board and your pastor as decisions are made in the coming days. Also, continue to join me in being a good citizen and member of our community. Let’s keep looking out for each other, being smart and representing the Kingdom of God well to all who see us.

‘til the storm passes by,

Pastor Billy Byler

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