Like many states, Iowa has had a rough time with COVID-19. We saw a spike in the last several weeks when hundreds of meatpacking workers in Iowa tested positive for COVID-19. This resulted in some Midwest processing plants significantly slowing production or suspending operations, causing drastically falling prices. Iowa is the number one pork producing state in the U.S. and raises nearly one-third of the nation’s hogs. With 6,200 pig farms and 25 million pigs in confinement, backed-up processing presents a major dilemma.
Across the world, COVID-19 has affected hundreds of countries and millions of people. In the midst of it all, the church stands ready to witness to God’s love. Last week I reached out to United Methodist friends in different parts of the world to learn how COVID-19 is affecting their population and how disciples of Jesus Christ are rising up to help.
I first met Pastor Max Maregmen at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, and we have become good friends. Max is an elder serving in Davao City in the East Mindanao Annual Conference. Max is an excellent pastor, but, like most clergy in the Philippines, he has very limited resources. Several weeks ago, the Davao City (population 1.633 million) government implemented a total lockdown, which means that families have a food and medicine quarantine pass but can only leave their home three times a week.
On Sundays Max is providing online/livestream worship, but the Internet connection is very poor, and viewing the entire service is not smooth. Financial resources and food are extremely scarce, but Max said, “We just keep doing our part to minister our people, especially in this time of crisis… We thank God because none of our members and workers are infected. We will continue to obey government ordinances… Staying home is a very effective way to control covid-19. Let us keep praying for each other…”
My colleague on the Iowa Annual Conference cabinet, Rev. Dr. Heecheon Jeon, has shared that South Korea responded quickly and effectively to COVID-19, primary due to three factors. First, South Korea issued protective equipment immediately to all hospitals and personnel and set up quarantined sites for rapid testing. Second, everyone in South Korea is provided with free medical insurance, including undocumented immigrants and foreign workers. And third, South Korea has an advanced IT infrastructure to effectively trace those who have been infected and rapidly develop testing kits.
District Superintendent Heecheon writes, “Most of the Korean churches, including the Korean Methodist Church, have been creative to adapt to the pandemic challenge by offering online and drive-in services. During Easter, some of the churches offered in-person services as well virtual services… but they were sitting apart from each other in worship. Many churches could not serve a lunch after the service any longer, so pastors encouraged their parishioners to go out to town restaurants to support them. Because the whole country practiced social distancing … with test, trace and treat, they could avoid the complete lockdown.” Let us keep praying for each other.
Bishop Eduard Khegay is the United Methodist bishop of the Eurasia Episcopal Area, which includes the Central Russia Annual Conference, Eastern Russia and Central Asia Provisional Annual Conference, Northwest Russia Provisional Annual Conference, Southern Russia Provisional Annual Conference, and Ukraine-Moldova Provisional Annual Conference. In a recent article entitled People of Faith; Hope and Love in the Time of Crisis. Bishop Khegay celebrated the success of a joint Eurasia Area Easter online worship service on April 19. He said, “This was a unique moment in our history when we participated together as a connectional church from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad, from Bishkek to St. Petersburg, from Satka to Kiev, from Uzhgorod to Almaty and many other places in Eurasia. Even in isolation we can feel united and connected.”
In the midst of social distancing Bishop Khegay emphasized how important is to keep reaching out to those who need our help. “When our government decided to announce self-isolation, I was very touched by our pastors’ concern for the homeless and poor: ‘How are they going to be fed if they cannot come to our church for meals?’ …
“John Wesley made it his weekly practice to visit the poor and minister to them… Many churches continue to feed the poor and homeless people by distributing lunch bags to them. Some do it at the church door with keeping the distance and following quarantine safety rules, and others drive around the city and bring lunch bags to where the homeless people are. This is love in action, and I am grateful to God for our people who overcome fear and are filled with the power of love.” Let us keep praying for each other.
Aabiskar Sharma is a friend that Gary met when we were in Nepal two years ago. Aabiskar says that the Nepal government announced a lockdown on March 24. For the first several weeks, all of the necessary shops like food stores and gas stations were permitted to open. Now the government is becoming more strict and shops are open only for three hours in the morning, and after 9 am all of the shops are closed.
Aabiskar is a student in India, but classes have been canceled, and she is currently in Kathmandu on lockdown with her sister and mother-in-law. She says, “The lockdown was a good decision on the part of the government, but many poor people are suffering because they are jobless now. The government is giving food and money to the poor, however, and people are helping each other.” Let us keep praying for each other.
Finally, on March 24, the government of Zimbabwe directed all colleges and universities to switch to online instruction to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Our United Methodist Africa University sent all of its students home except for those who could not afford to return or students whose home countries instituted a lockdown that closed the borders. All remaining students must comply with strict guidelines regarding social distancing, hand sanitizing, and the taking of temperatures at the main gate. Students also no longer share rooms, and staff are using protective equipment.
Zimbabwe, which has a population of 14.5 million, had recorded 29 coronavirus cases and 4 deaths as of April 22, but many fear that the true numbers could be much higher because of the lack of Covid-19 testing capacity.
With a national stay-at-home order aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus in Zimbabwe extended to early May, Africa University is moving toward full production of its prototype face mask. The mask performed well in efficacy testing, prompting a visit by officials from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Industry and Commerce and interest from potential corporate partners.
In addition, last week marked the start of national distribution of U-Safe hand sanitizer manufactured on the Africa University campus with support from Old Mutual Zimbabwe. Led by the staff of the university Department of Public Health and Nursing, a nine-person team is currently scaling up production from 145 to 264 gallons a day. Africa University Vice-Chancellor and Professor Munashe Furusa said, “As we reflect on the happenings of the past few weeks, we are concerned and share with the entire continent and globe a sense of urgency to reinvent our institutions, our mechanisms and our strategies in response to this adversity.”
Let us keep praying for each other.