Christians respond to Coronavirus crisis

Apr 2, 2020 by

by Chris Sugden, Church of England Newspaper:

The website in India reports that following the lock-down in India: “Migrant workers decided to go home. The prime minister had asked people to stay home, and home was where they were going. They thronged railway stations and clambered on any train going towards home…

“Those who did not make it on to those trains are now stuck in a limbo – at shut down bus and railway stations far away from home, with no jobs, no money and no roof over their heads and far from their families.”

In Bangalore India Divya Shanthi Christian Association began distribution of grocery packets (hampers) to 130 families on daily wages (50 per cent of them single parent families) and a meal to 75 elderly homeless on Friday 27 March. Police gave permission for the church ambulance to do the distribution. Support was asked from local friends in Bangalore and within 48 hours gifts and commitments came in from both Christian and non-Christian friends to meet the four week budget of £2,000.

In North East India however Christian communities are being omitted from Government food schemes. Indonesia reports 1,000 people affected and 90 deaths. It has close business ties with China and so has many Chinese in the country. The upcoming month of Ramadan is when many people return to their home villages for the festival and the mosques are still full. So the risks are currently high.

The lockdowns in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan particularly affect those on daily wages, who do not earn enough to put aside savings and so will soon run out of food. Bishop Azad Marshall in the Diocese of Raiwind, Pakistan is gathering food packages (worth £25 each) for the two-week lockdown for 1,500 families on daily wages.

Barnabas Fund reports it has sent resources for food packages to many parts of Pakistan. Confirmed CV-19 cases are increasing daily including in two Christian colonies in Islamabad. From the 100-year-old self-sustaining Taxila Hospital, founded by North American missionaries, Dr Ashchenaz Lal reports that people do not understand the importance of social distancing and some religious groups believe it is against their religious practices and obligations.

In Sri Lanka the government will distribute food through the majority places of worship, but converts cannot show themselves at a temple or mainstream church so cannot get the food. A pastor visiting from Europe introduced the virus unwittingly in Jaffna so people are speaking out against the churches.

Nepal has already recorded cases of the Coronavirus with at least one death. Food and nonfood packages are being prepared for daily wage earners and poor people. In these lockdowns, churches cannot gather for worship and fellowship, and thus tithes cannot be given, on which the pastors depend for their livelihood. Support is therefore being sought and provided for pastors and their families.

In the Middle East, Syria and Lebanon are on lock-down, but no information is coming into or out of Iran on the situation there.

Three plagues together in Africa

In Africa three plagues are coinciding: the plague of locusts in East Africa, the effects of Boko Haram and Al-Shabab terrorism to which is now added the Coronavirus, which will hit these countries hardest in the next three to six months.

South Africa went into lockdown last Friday night (27 March), policed by the military, and fears that if the virus gets into the crowded townships it will be catastrophic. In Kenya locusts have eaten all the crops so food has run out in many parts, such as Marsabit, and the country is in lockdown.

Uganda, plagued already by locusts, has reported 18 deaths. The Rev Lydia Kitayimbwa reports that this crisis has pushed some churches especially in Kampala and Namirembe diocese to engage digital media platforms in order to reach their members who are now meeting in homes. Where Church of Uganda churches lack equipment, relevant knowledge and a clear strategy to engage digital media they are using their phones.

Working with Anglican International Development and the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, Drs Anil and Shalini Cherian at the National Institute of Medical Science report that since Monday 23 March South Sudan is in a partial lockdown. Testing is presently available in Juba but there are no reports of positive cases. In Bor testing is supposed to start from this week. WHO is supplying 50 kits.

With almost negligible medical supplies even before the pandemic and no ICU capacity, those who develop the virus will most probably die. With nearly 50 per cent of children being malnourished, children and young people will also be affected.

They report: “It is like being in a closed room with a ticking bomb. The price of food has begun rising and food shortages are expected in the coming months. We may also run out of other supplies from Juba and Uganda. Sitting and watching people falling sick and not being able to do anything is going to be tough.”

Zimbabwe is already near famine conditions with very little food due to poor governance. The USA has imposed financial sanctions on the country so no funds can be transferred although food consignments can still be sent in.

Barnabas Fund is co-ordinating a major relief effort with GAFCON, and preparing an Africa-wide committee to assist in deploying relief and assistance, gathering information, making needs known, sourcing finance and supplies and ensuring reliable distribution to those in most need. One hundred per cent of all gifts are sent forward with no overheads charged.

Barnabas Fund Academic is also a member of the Network for African Congregational Theology, of 55 seminaries, colleges and universities, which are in a position to distribute help on the ground. In South Africa, the president Cyril Ramaphosa, has accepted the church as a crucial partner to handle the pandemic. The road and transport infrastructure in Southern Africa can be used to send food and supplies to Zimbabwe and neighbouring countries.

Support can be sent to Barnabas Fund at

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