Many people have been asking if and how the Coronavirus is affecting life and ministry among the Kwakum people. Until very recently, I would have said that there has not been much of a change here at all. However, a few days ago, the Cameroonian government closed all land and air borders as well as schools. Since then, there has been some changes.
The first change is that people are starting to speculate as to why everything has closed. Unfortunately, due to illiteracy as well as unreliable news sources, people are left with hear-say. People are therefore wondering if there is something in the air that is going to kill everyone in the world, or if only people in certain climates will be effected, or if they can avoid the virus by making some type of aloe plant tea.
I have been going around our village talking to people about how the Coronavirus is transmitted and how to prevent it from spreading. Overall, people have been very interested in what I have to say and thankful for the knowledge I’m giving them. One funny thing is that when I tell them they need to wash their hands often with soap and water for twenty seconds each time, they are horrified. They don’t have money to buy soap and they need to haul the water on their heads from the well, so they are hesitant to put in the effort necessary to implement this practice. The conversation usually goes something like this:
Me: You guys need to wash your hands often for 20 seconds.
Them: Stacey, really?! For 20 seconds!
Me: Yes, for 20 seconds. Let’s all count to 20 together. One..two..three…
Them: …TWENTY!? You’ve got to be kidding me?!
Me: Nope, not kidding. You need to do it.
There have been other reactions to the spread of the Coronavirus. Today in church, one of our Kwakum colleagues read information about the virus and how to prevent it from spreading and people mocked the recommendations as they were read. Also in church, someone quoted a common saying, “La saleté ne tue pas les noirs,” which basically means that black people don’t die from lack of hygiene, only white people do.
This lie kills our friends and their children. And then, as we go to their funerals and grieve with them, people start screaming at one another for using witchcraft to kill one another. It is not witchcraft killing people; it is the fact that they let their children suck on the bloody bandaids they find in our trash pit. This ideology is beyond frustrating/heartbreaking/maddening/etc.
There are other responses to the virus here too. We have had two different missionary colleagues who were approached by people accusing “white people” of bringing this virus into the country. They say it is a white man’s virus and we are responsible for it. There have been other reported cases of violence towards Americans by people who were blaming them for the virus.
In light of all that, the virus, to our knowledge, has not reached our region and for that we are very thankful. However, if and when it does, it could be very serious due to mob violence, lack of good medical care, lack of hygiene, ignorance of what a virus is and how it spreads, and a generally unhealthy population.
There are a couple ways in which the coronavirus is affecting our ministry. First of all, our homeschool teachers will likely return to the States as soon as possible (right now all flights are cancelled). While we love our kids, and are very implicated in their learning, the tutors allow us to spend hours each day in training, translation, and literacy. If/when they leave, our ability to work will be greatly limited.
Another way in which this affects our ministry is that our supporters are suffering financially which has already started to trickle over into our ministry. We are so thankful for our supporters who have given month-in and month-out for the last 9 years! And please know that we are praying for you.
Outside of these two realities, we continue to stay the course in ministry as we keep working hard in literacy and Bible translation. Is this the end of the world? Probably not. But if it is, we want to be found seeking first God’s Kingdom. We are not anxious in any way, but instead are prayerful that we will be able to complete the decades of work that lie ahead of us with excellence.
Also, more than health and safety, our deepest longing is that the Lord would use this virus for his glory and the expansion of his Kingdom. Although it seems like the whole world is spiraling out of control, our great hope is in Jesus. He is “before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). I do not know what the Lord will do through this virus and yet as Jesus holds the world together our prayer is for the Church to continue to bring him glory. In our context, we believe that bringing Jesus glory means continuing on in the technical work before us.
I end with this inspiring story that Dave saw on a friend’s facebook page of the impact that Christians had in the 3rd Century during a pandemic:
In the 3rd Century there was a pandemic that was sweeping across Italy, Africa and the western empire. The scholar Kyler Harper believes it was the Ebola virus. At its height it killed more than 5,000 people every day in Rome. Some cities had their population wiped out by more than 60 percent.
During the pandemic people panicked. Many people abandoned the sick in ditches and left the dead unburied. People fled areas where there was sickness and abandoned the elderly, the sick and the disabled.
But there was one class of people who refused to panic. The last non-Christian Emperor was a man named Julian. He wrote: “that the recent Christian growth was caused by their ‘moral character, even if pretended,’ and by their ‘benevolence toward strangers and care for the graves of the dead.’” In a letter to another priest he wrote, “The impious Galileans (Christians) support not only their poor, but ours as well, every one can see that our people lack aid from us.”
Christians instead of leaving the city, stayed at great risk to themselves. They cared for the poor, the sick and the elderly.
The historian Rodney Stark said that you can trace the rise of Christianity to the three major plagues in the 2nd, 3rd and 6th Century. He said Christianity grew because people looked at the incredible witness of Christians during times of crisis. Instead of panicking, they demonstrated tremendous faith and compassion.
If you are a believer, this is an incredible opportunity to bear witness, to be people of faith and compassion. Instead of hoarding, give generously. Instead panicking, respond thoughtfully. It’s a time to demonstrate a love that is sacrificial and a hope that no disease can destroy.
May the Lord make this a time for Christianity to rise in your community and in mine through simple people like you and me refusing to panic but rather seek first the Kingdom of God. May the shock and awe be more about the Christian’s response to this crisis rather than the crisis itself.