Lockdown: Mission unscripted

We check in with CMS people in mission around the globe to see how we can best pray for and support them in these unexpected times.

Photo from Eric and Sandra Read in the Philippines: The barangay [parish] captain talks to drivers at the now much expanded Covid checkpoint. A high temperature gets you whisked straight to the municipal headquarters and into isolation for two weeks

J and R, holding onto hope in the Middle East

Most of our Bible translation team have left, so we are holding the reigns and trying to carry on. This is not completely uncharted territory for J: he worked on Bible translation by Skype from the UK between 2010 and 2015. Our colleague has the office laptop at home with a reasonable internet connection and so he and J can keep working together, currently on Ezra and Psalms. They are also doing an on-line Hebrew course.  So J is almost as busy as he used to be.

One thing that has increased is the number of on-line meetings and we are enjoying on-line services from the UK several days a week, along with prayer meetings and Bible study. They really help us to keep going. 

In contrast, people here feel a bit hopeless – we have this lockdown even though the number of C-19 cases in our province is in single digits. We think the authorities want to prevent an outbreak in the various refugee camps in the province. People’s salaries are delayed, as there is a fear that C-19 could spread when everybody goes together to collect them. We have lent our landlord a small sum of money; a friend in another city has asked for a ‘loan’ – but this is not easy to do. As for us, we have some cash, but if lockdown goes on and on we will run out as most banks are closed – and even if they were open we couldn’t get to them. There are checkpoints at many junctions and you can’t drive a car through them without official permission.

PRAY that Covid-19 won’t get into the camps, and that people will get paid, that God will provide work for his people. Please pray for good progress with the Bible translation. Also a family member has died and we won’t be able to go to the funeral. Pray for comfort in this.

Joe and Sarah, teaching English in Egypt

Joe has been assisting the English teachers with creating video and resources to send home while the children are off school due to the coronavirus pandemic – as yet we are not certain when school will start up again. Sarah has been planning to teach a module on pharmacology at the nursing school this semester – she is excited to use her practical skills. This was due to start during the last week of March, but the nursing school is currently on hold due coronavirus – we are praying for wisdom for the hospital as it decides when it will be appropriate to open up the school again.

PRAY: We ask God for protection for Egypt, who would struggle significantly with an outbreak, but also for the communities where you are.

Tom and Verity Clare, Arrived in Arua

It was touch and go, but new mission partners Tom and Verity Clare and their four sons were able to travel to Uganda to begin their ministry before the borders closed. Tom, a GP, has been planning to work in healthcare for both local people and among refugees.

PRAY: International mission director Paul Thaxter says there is particular concern about the possibility of the coronavirus pandemic reaching and spreading through refugee camps, a big matter for prayer.

David and Heather Sharland, mixed reactions in Arua

Supporting sustainable agriculture and critical healthcare: David and Heather Sharland

It is interesting to watch the different reactions of Christians and the church here. We see three reactions:

  1. To blame Satan: he has a lot of power
  2. To blame God: judgement for our neglect of him
  3. Knowing God suffers with us: we need to plead that God will restrain the virus and faith will be built.

For many Christians it is a time of drawing closer to God and trusting his faithful promises which give us hope. For some being a Christian is no more than adding the Living God to all the other gods they worship, and now they are trying to appease the spirits by bashing cooking pans together to make a loud noise to chase away the spirits. We have so much to do!

Our friends are expecting their first baby at the beginning of April; with the restriction on movement of motorised vehicles it is very difficult to travel. This is a big challenge for pregnant women. How do they get to the health centre for delivery?  Many more births will have to be at home with unskilled attendants. We interviewed a clinical officer, Jocelyn, for one of our health centres (100kms from Arua) in March and were planning to take her to the health centre, which desperately need her skills. She is eager to go, and the health centre is eager to receive her.

Much effort was put into planning our annual Tree Sunday; sermons were prepared, t-shirts printed, everyone keyed up to go, then, the Presidential directive; no meeting with more than five people. Much re-arrangement had to be done, a message was prepared to be shared over the radio as part of the church service. Now we face the challenge of how to facilitate tree planting without travel!

PRAY for the tree planting project, for health workers, so under resourced, and for rain to continue to fall at the right time so there will be enough food.

A and L, choosing to stay in Southeast Asia

We had no plans of leaving, but it’s getting close to the point we couldn’t even if we wanted to. A lot of expats including friends and colleagues have left, many because they have been called home by governments or organisations.

Many, like us, have chosen to stay. It may get a lot harder to be here, but we feel it is the right thing to do. As the first cases were all foreigners, coronavirus is seen by locals as an imported disease and there has been increased ill feeling towards foreigners. We have not experienced anything overt ourselves. A lot of our ministry has been put on hold yet we still seek to be a light by remaining here, helping people remain calm but also vigilant.

PRAY: Having made the decision to stay, we have been practically locked into giving birth to our next child here, which was always our preference. We feel like God is doing something through the birth of our little one, we can’t see it yet, but he is with us in it and we are glad that our third child will be born here like the others. 

Eric and Sandra Read, crossing checkpoints and sharing fruit in the Philippines

Supporting holistic mission and natural farming: Eric and Sandra Read

Although the numbers here are much lower than in the UK it is thought there are a lot of undetected cases. The government brought in lockdown measures quite early on and maybe being lots of islands will help too. There is no movement of people between islands, only cargo. We have to pass through checkpoints going to Cagayan and back and have to get a gate pass from the barangay (parish) captain each time we go to be able to come back home. The car gets sprayed against African swine fever and then we have to step in a footbath and have our temperature and residency checked.

Work continues as normal on our farm and we are still delivering food weekly to Cagayan. We started donating a box of guavas weekly to the hospital staff who are handling the virus patients.

PRAY that they will be able to bring this under control quickly and (like the UK) for personal protective equipment (PPE) for the medical staff. Several doctors have died of the virus in the Philippines already. Our son Peter is here with us and will be until his university reopens (when it seems he will still have to sit his exams. Atiyyah is confined with Eric’s sister in Devon. She won’t be taking A levels. Please pray particularly for her protection from the virus as she suffers from asthma, and for Sandra as she had a very persistent lung infection during our last leave in 2018.

David and Shelley Stokes, navigating change in Chaco churches

Supporting leadership training and women’s empowerment: David and Shelley Stokes

These are strange days. As in many countries, there is a sense here that life has been put on hold by the government restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus. There are no known cases in Juarez as we write, but it is not far away. The road outside our house is unusually quiet, as everything is closed except food shops. Church services have stopped, and people are being encouraged to meet to pray at home with their families. The criollo church in Juarez has formed a WhatsApp group. Many have joined the group who are not regular members of the congregation, and the level of participation for the virtual services has been good.

PRAY: Wichi language Bible translation projects have had to be put on hold, there could be increasing tensions between Wichi and criollo people and we are hoping and praying more churches will find creative ways to stay connected. Please also pray for small local hospitals to be able to cope with present and future patients, as larger hospitals are hours away.

We will be publishing news from people in mission regularly. To keep up to date, sign up for our Call in Action email and our weekly Prayerspace email. To give to people in mission at this critical time see Ways to Give

Published 9 April 2020

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