As people in North America continue — with varying degrees of success — to cope with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a range of stories published in recent weeks by CRC News provides a glimpse of how others around the world are faring with the disease.
Unlike many of us in North America, some families around the world are unable to socially distance if they live in crowded camps or tight communities. While we may be able to avoid shopping in stores by having goods delivered, many people don’t have that luxury. And in the most remote places of the world, access to credible information about COVID19 and how it can be prevented may be hard to come by.
Stories written by CRCNA agencies offer insights into the challenges — some pretty intense — that residents of other countries have faced and have learned to live their way through.
The stories also reflect the creative and frequently powerful ways in which the CRCNA has reached out and offered hope and healing to people worldwide in the past months since the pandemic began.
In these stories, from Taiwan to Mexico and from Brazil to Bangladesh to Germany, we see the ministry of God at work and revealing different approaches, sometimes based on a country’s resources, that are addressing the pandemic.
During stay-at-home orders in Mexico, Resonate Global Mission missionaries James and Barbarita Lee and their children wanted to provide books for their neighbors to read. So they set up a “Little Free Library” in front of their home. People told them it was a bad idea, but God had put it on the Lees’ hearts.
At first, the family filled the library with books, including Spanish translations of the Bible. But then the Lees began filling the library with something else too: food.
Wanting to help provide for people who needed it, the Lees took food from their own cupboards and filled the library with beans, rice, noodles, and cans of tuna. The food quickly disappeared, and thank-you notes from neighbors began filling the library guest book.
The Lees knew they needed to provide more food, so they took a trip to the grocery store and brought home five bulging bags. That food lasted only a few days.
The Lees prayed and bought 110 pounds of beans and rice. That same day, people started asking to help. Members from the Lees’ church, families from their children’s school, and other community members stepped in to help cover the cost of food, or helped to package and prepare it.
Although Taiwan is located near China, where the coronavirus pandemic began, life and ministry continue for Resonate missionaries a few precautions.
Making sure to use caution during this time of COVID-19, the Vander Haaks serve with Morrison Academy, a Resonate partner in Taiwan that provides Christian education for children of missionaries and other international workers.
“Initially, we were projected by reputable models to become the second-worst spot on the planet,” said the Vander Haaks. “The initial outbreak came at a time when conditions should have been ideal for spreading the virus.”
The couple noted that news of the outbreak hit around Chinese New Year in late January, a time when many people are traveling between Taiwan and China to visit and celebrate with family. But as soon as the government in Taiwan heard about the outbreak in China, they restricted flights, screened airline passengers, and enforced quarantine—and Morrison Academy took classes online.
Currently Taiwan has reported fewer cases of COVID-19 than many other countries: 447 cases and 7 deaths. And now, after two separate brief times of online learning, the Vander Haaks are back in the classroom with their students—and hopefully for good.
Resonate missionaries David Kromminga and Mary Buteyn partner with the Berlin City Mission to lead a church plant in Berlin, Germany—where thousands of newcomers seek refuge each year.
On Sunday mornings before the coronavirus pandemic, newcomers from throughout the city gathered for breakfast, prayer, and worship. Some of them traveled up to an hour to get there. Some are new Christians from a Muslim background. Some have been raised in Muslim homes but are asking questions about Jesus.
Like many churches throughout the world, the Berlin City Mission wasn’t able to host public gatherings, so David and Mary took Sunday worship online. Much of it worked great, but they found that some aspects of ministry don’t translate well on the internet. At the same time, they have found creative ways to do their work.
“For what we have given up, we have also gained,” said Mary. The church plant they lead now meets twice during the week via Zoom for lively conversations. Members and visitors get to catch up, laugh together, mourn together, and pray for one another. For people who live an hour away from where the church meets, it’s easier to check in online.
“We see some people more often now than we actually did before this situation,” said Mary. “That’s a real gain. There are closer relationships developing.”
As it was impossible to meet face-to-face in groups, people in Germany could go outside with members of their household or with one other person. In the midst of this, David has practiced what he calls a “Ministry of Lengthy Walks”—meeting one-on-one with men from the church plant for 90-minute walks around the city.
Over the past several years, World Renew’s partner in Lebanon, MERATH, has provided vocational training to vulnerable women in refugee communities. These women have sewn thousands of blankets for refugee families and school uniforms for education programming. With the onset of COVID-19, these women quickly pivoted their work to sewing masks.
World Renew has supported MERATH through many different programs helping displaced families – particularly with food assistance – and although this is one initiative outside of this support, these masks make it possible for refugee families to enter stores and shop for food with the vouchers they receive through World Renew.
In this way, MERATH and World Renew are working together creatively to ensure that families are able to redeem their food vouchers as safely as possible. Moza, one of the women who sews masks in Lebanon, said:
“The mask-sewing project is helping us so much! For starters, I am earning more money through it, which is much needed right now. But we are also aware that these masks will be distributed to families in need and will help protect them from the coronavirus and prevent the spread of the virus in the country. This makes us feel very thankful and proud.”
One country where World Renew is currently supporting hospital care is Zambia. World Renew is working in collaboration with the United Church of Zambia, which operates three hospitals and several other health centers. By equipping frontline healthcare workers with personal protective equipment, the church is taking steps to prevent the spread of this pandemic.
In addition, staff are visiting communities in the surrounding region to provide information about COVID-19 and to see what actions each family can take to protect themselves and their neighbors.
At the Arthur Wina Memorial Hospital all patients who enter the facility are now screened for possible symptoms of COVID-19 and given information on the virus. Each patient receives a reusable face mask and is required to wash their hands during each visit.
Thanks to these seemingly small actions, both healthcare workers and patients are better protected from the virus.
Meanwhile, staff have established outreaches at key places where many community members pass, such as checkpoints along roads. Each person who passes a checkpoint receives information about COVID-19 and how to prevent its transmission. The information can then be passed on to family members.
Bangladesh and Beyond
Some of the poorest people in communities around the world are playing key roles in helping to share information on how to prevent and treat the spread of COVID-19.
In Bangladesh, for example, a local people’s institution (self-help group) known as the Jhinuk Unnayan Sangha, has come forward to increase awareness among people in villages and other locations about this disease.
“They are able in different ways to get out the COVID-19 message and break down rumors,” said Nancy TenBroek, who works for World Renew in Bangladesh and oversees projects involving child and maternal health in several other countries.
“Because of the work World Renew and its partners have done over the years in Bangladesh and elsewhere, we have gained the trust of the poorest people in many communities, especially in dealing with issues of public health,” said TenBroek. “This means people are willing to listen to us.”
Right now, TenBroek is spending hours on the phone and in Zoom meetings to monitor the challenges her coworkers are facing — with the help of a grant from the Baker Estate — in a range of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
As a result, many healthcare volunteers have been trained in distant places – and now they are getting information on new messages regarding COVID-19 to share with their neighbors.
“Every situation in which we work is different, and we don’t have all of the answers,” said TenBroek. “As best we are able, we assist people, and our partners work with the resources that are there in their community.”
Worldwide, Back to God Ministries International has found the need to adapt and refocus its outreach during this pandemic.
With several internet-based video programs and hundreds of speaking events every year, Rev. Hernandes Dias Lopes had a well-established following among Portuguese speakers on social media before the advent of COVID-19 in Brazil.
But now with churches closed as well as the studio where he records most of his regular programs, Lopes has been filming 15- to 30-minute messages from his home.
In one well-received video, Lopes uses the story of Ruth and Naomi to remind his audience that “crises don’t last forever.” And this message offers hope in Brazil, which has one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the world.
“After years of sorrow, a door opened for Ruth and Naiomi to a new future,” Lopes shared. “God gave Ruth not only a home, but a happy home.”
The ministry’s most popular video already has more than 160,000 views, and each of the videos has more than 30,000 views.
“God bless you for those words,” said one viewer. “Let us stand firm in prayer, within our homes, as recommended. Let us pray for our people and for the world.”
Tensions between Muslims and Christians in Burkina Faso were at a peak before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Rev. Marc Nabie, who serves as BTGMI’s French ministry coordinator. Because a well-known Christian pastor had one of the nation’s first confirmed cases, these tensions only increased.
In response, Nabie and his ministry team have been broadcasting a series of messages sharing biblical views on peace, justice, tolerance, unity, and reconciliation.
Nabie has also been sharing special messages from his home during this time. One such message includes examples of Jesus’ response to crisis.
“When the storm came, the disciples were screaming, but he was sleeping,” said Nabie, referring to the story of Jesus calming the storm in Matthew 8, Mark 4, and Luke 8. “By faith, we know that everything is under his control. We too can be at peace in the midst of the storm.”
Working under government restrictions in one of the world’s most technologically advanced places, Pastor Jerry An, BTGMI’s Chinese ministry leader, has been training church leaders and pastors to use media for church services for years.
And now, An’s training is in high demand—one recent video training maxed out at 500 participants. An encourages church leaders to embrace the use of media as a “new normal” for church services.
“Media is a natural attribute of the church and the embodiment of the church’s functions,” An wrote in an article that highlighted his training events. “Christ himself is both the media and the content of the good news, the gospel.” Read more from An’s article on the Network.
“As Christians, we are called to mission as a way of life,” An added. “That call extends into all areas of life, including our digital presence.”
An’s article quickly gained more than 10,000 views.
“The age of internet missions has arrived, and the church must move ahead with the times!” shared one reader. “The church should be putting new technology to good use, as it is created for the gospel! Let's reach places online with the gospel that haven't been reached.”
Lessons from the parable of the Good Samaritan weave through a small manual that the Timothy Leadership Training Institute (TLTI), a part of Raise Up Global Ministries, developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and has sent to people in dozens of countries around the world.
Called “Loving Your Neighbor in the COVID-19 Epidemic,” the manual combines general medical advice, such as to avoid gathering in groups and to wash your hands frequently, with biblical themes from the story of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 and from other Scripture passages.
The goal is for families to read the four short sections of the manual and discuss them as a way to help in coping with the pandemic and in reaching out to others in the midst of it.
“We particularly hope people living under the same roof can use this for personal study and reflection. We also encourage people to share by a text or phone call what they are learning with others,” said Albert Strydhorst, coordinator of TLTI.