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A Genuinely Global Crisis

Jim Sayers reports on the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the work of GBM

The word ‘global’ may be overused, but the coronavirus pandemic is a genuinely global crisis like almost no other. From Greenland to the Falklands, from China to Mexico, Covid-19 has shown itself to be no respecter of persons, challenging even the healthcare systems of the richest nations. Globalisation has been a positive tool in the work of world mission, allowing us to travel anywhere in the world in a couple of days, and enabling us to move funds wherever they are needed. This crisis has made it obvious that globalisation also brings great vulnerabilities, as the virus has spread rapidly with air travel, while exposing our dependence on long supply chains for food and medical supplies. It has affected every situation where we work.

Asia – the first epicentre

In China, the initial outbreak of the virus produced the first severe lockdown. For those living in an apartment block, no one else was allowed to come into their compound, a major hindrance for underground churches that meet in homes. Chinese churches were already familiar with meeting online, a habit that western churches have adopted as a novelty.

In the Philippines, the government locked down the whole island of Luzon, including a ban on public transport. Cubao Reformed Baptist Church operates a ministry to the homeless, but this has had to be suspended for the duration of the lockdown, and their annual camp cancelled. The team can only hope that the government have been able to provide temporary housing for those who live on the streets.

In India, the Tamil Baptist Churches are feeling the effects of the Indian lockdown. Pastor Sam Devenesam, who has pastored Kilpauk Baptist Church in Chennai for some forty years, was expecting to retire and hand over to John Nelson, but the lockdown means that John will not be able to move to Chennai until near the end of this year. Many of the Tamil Baptist Churches are in the villages, and the pastors make a living as day labourers. Pastor Ebi Paul in Sendamangalam reports that they have been delivering food supplies to many in their congregation, and they have ‘adopted’ three other villages where they are also delivering food supplies.

Serving the poorest

Please pray for countries that have weak and sparse medical facilities. Our mission partners at SIM are coordinating an international emergency response that covers some 2,000 of their workers, some of whom will be operating medical facilities in situations where their care is urgently needed.

In Arequipa, Peru, despite the lockdown Anthony Green has been given permission to deliver emergency supplies to many families in the township of Villa Magisterial. These are people with no stable income, and little in the way of state aid to support them in this crisis. The church in Simon Bolivar mourn the death of one of their stalwart members, Tomasita, an elderly lady from the hillside shanty town of San Pedro where she and her husband have lived and witnessed for many years. Ronny Tipismana conducted the funeral with only a handful of the family allowed to be present.

Europe in lockdown

Lockdowns across Europe have affected every church where our missionaries have been working, and each church is discovering ways of streaming services online and meeting up in small groups on Zoom. In Serbia, anyone returning from abroad was told to self-isolate at home, even to the extent of living separately from the rest of their family, and police made regular visits to check they were complying. Over the Orthodox Easter weekend, in Belgrade the government imposed a full curfew for the whole weekend.

In Bordeaux, James Hammond and others in the church have been delivering shopping and medicines to their neighbours, and finding a positive response from many in the community. James says ‘If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it shows us that we are not in control… Something so small and microscopic has enough power to lockdown countries, close borders, and shake the world economy.’

The Austrian Deaf community are used to a sense of isolation within wider society, but restrictions have had a particular impact on them. Jean Ellis asks for prayer for one particular issue. While the deaf communicate in sign language with each other, many are adept at lip reading, but from early April the Austrian government required everyone to wear a mask, severely limiting the ability of the deaf to understand what others are saying.

In Poland the lower infection rate meant that their lockdown was beginning to reduce at the time we went to press. Andrzej Kempczyński was able to hold their first service in Legionowo at the end of April, with a limit on the number allowed to attend, and the requirement that all wore masks, washed their hands, and refreshments were not to be served. Poland’s experience may give hope to others.

Rural Africa

The churches of rural Western Kenya do not have the technology to livestream their services, so they have had to close their gatherings, but they are being creative in the way that they pastor and keep in touch via basic mobile phones. Graham and Sally Jones were booked to return to the UK in March as Sally had a hospital appointment. A week after they arrived, the Kenyan Government closed the country to air travel, so they are currently based in a vacant mission house at GBM Mission Centre in Abingdon.

Ian Flanders of GBM Radio had a long-scheduled visit to Cote D’Ivoire in March with Pastor Training International. He flew out with David Vaughn, a pastor from France, to run a training conference which drew together about 100 pastors, some coming across the border from Burkina Faso. They were able to hold their first day of lectures on Monday, 16 March, which was greatly appreciated by the pastors. That day they heard about President Macron’s lockdown in France, and of an impending lockdown in Cote D’Ivoire, so they managed to book flights home that night.

Training goes online

GBM missionaries are involved in two ministry training institutions. Theo Donner teaches at the Biblical Seminary of Colombia, which has had to close its classes. Married students remain on campus, but all others have returned home to study online. Thankfully the Seminary’s online course was well-established.

The government of Zambia moved faster than some African countries to close educational institutions. This meant that Proclamation Institute Zambia had to send their students home and teaching has to be done by email. Chris and Helen Hawthorne and their family decided with GBM and their church that they should return to the UK to care for Chris’s mother while PIZ remains closed.

GBM’s Radio ministry continues, and indeed comes into its own in such times. With our radio studios closed due to the lockdown, Andrew Cook is recording with an improvised sound rig at home, where he is also editing programmes for broadcast in Africa and elsewhere. Please join us in prayer for the nations of the world during this crisis, and pray that despite all the present restrictions the Word of God will spread and bear fruit.

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