A mission partner in South East Asia reports on how their prison and church ministries continue during lockdown
We have been in lockdown since 30 March. The country where we are has fewer than 20 confirmed Covid-19 cases (early May 2020). Though we have heard of people with symptoms being refused tests and some are reluctant to go to hospital if they cannot afford it or if they think they will be kept in confinement.
The country has a low population density with most people living in the countryside. However, medical services and people’s access to them are very limited. Also tens of thousands of migrant workers have returned from neighbouring countries as the borders began closing; some were quarantined but many weren’t.
We are no longer able to visit prisoners but we are able to make deliveries of food and medicine, which we buy at local markets. We are also helping with money transfers from family members to prisoners. Since the postal service isn’t getting any international airmail and surface mail isn’t much better at present, we also print out electronic letters sent by relatives and take them with us when we make deliveries. Last week, we realised we hadn’t printed a letter from someone’s daughter and so it was necessary to painstakingly copy it onto the back of an old church order of service sheet so it could be handed to the girl’s father. No mean feat, since it was written in Cyrillic!
We have moved to online church. We are able to keep in touch using email and have a WhatsApp group and prayer meetings by Zoom. We hope we can sustain the community in this way for a few more weeks to come. I have been checking in with potentially more vulnerable members of the congregation, so pastoral work continues, albeit in most cases from a distance.
With the uncertainty surrounding how the healthcare system here might be able to cope, we had hoped that my wife and children could go back to the UK, where there would have been a more assured safety-net. But this was not possible as flights were cancelled. So having struggled for a while with the frustration of not being able to pursue our favoured option, we have tried to make the most of being here.
We are grateful to God that so far, things have been much less challenging than we had feared. This has been largely due to food supplies, upon which this country is heavily reliant, still being allowed to cross the border. In common with many of you, we do not know what will happen when “lockdown” measures are eased. So far, our elderly/vulnerable parents back in the UK have managed to cope reasonably well. I have been particularly concerned about my mum, who lives on her own. Thankfully her local church has been a terrific support to her and that has taken a considerable weight off my shoulders.
We are conscious that some of you back in the UK have lost loved ones to Covid-19 and we sense how hard this must be, especially with restrictions on church services and funerals. A good friend of ours lost two family members in one week. There was a joint funeral and only six people were allowed to attend. This has been a terribly hard time for our friend and this kind of situation will have been experienced by many, all over the world.
It seems such a terrible mess and yet we cling onto the hope that God is still able to turn this tragedy, along with other ongoing tragedies, around. We believe in the sovereignty of a good God, who takes no pleasure in needless human suffering and has shown us through sending Jesus, that he can bring deliverance from evil and sin and death.
Many thanks again for your continuing support as we remain here and seek to continue to love and serve the Lord and the people he has called us to be alongside.