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Saturday, March 21, 2020

We don't know what to do . . . COVID-19 and 2 Chronicles 20

Here are some words written several thousand years ago, but applicable today: "For we have no power against this great multitude (or virus) that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You."

When God's people were backed into a corner, with no hope, facing annihilation, this is what they said.

I don't even know how many times a day we have to make a major decision based on very little information, conflicting reports, impossible projections, with grave consequences. We don't know what to do. Or the times, here and there, when the weight of losses and the gravity of potential sorrows just feels overwhelming.

So here's what it's like at the end of the road this week, in one of the few countries left that has not yet reported a positive test.

We supervise 79 adults and 72 kids for Serge East and Central Africa. Two of our four countries have had low numbers of imported cases reported, two have not. Yesterday the US Department of State issued their most dire, war-like, travel warning ever: If you're an American on a trip, come home now. If you're an American that lives abroad, stay put and don't travel. Which means that there was a sudden calculation by and for 151 souls, do I live here or am I visiting? What is my risk? Should I leave? And these are not simple questions. A delay of a day could mean flights stop and borders close. We had already made sure our only over-65 people were off the continent, not because the rest of the world is safer, but because IF THEY were in critical condition there were NO OPTIONS for them to be in an ICU. But even younger people can have critical disease. Where do we say, your life is valuable, we want to protect you, it's our job to get you back to a place where the health system might be able to support you? And where do we say, your choice to shoulder this risk speaks of the Gospel to your community, and we want to allow you to stay in the long tradition of the church and pandemics? These are not simple questions. They have multiple right answers. We don't know what to do, our eyes are on You.

In most of our life here in Africa, we have a hidden privilege. When security deteriorates, when Ebola arises, when family at home is ill, when we are weary, we can usually pick up and take a break.  But not now. After 9/11 felt similar to this. It is a whole new level of faith to live in a place of poverty and margin, when you can't leave. Our colleagues are cognisant of the fact that if a treasured grandparent dies, if an adult child breaks a leg, if a two-year-old needs a special surgery, if any one of a thousand crises arise related to coronavirus or not, we most likely cannot go anywhere. Today my mom called with the news that my Aunt who is nearly 90 fell and hit her head and is in the ICU with bleeding in her brain. I hope I will see her again, but it is quite possible I won't. On that note, a shout-out to all our parents who are strictly quarantining. It is a tremendous relief to your distant family to know that you are sacrificing your freedoms, you are giving up movement out and about, to protect yourselves. We are so grateful. We don't know what to do, our eyes are upon You.

Usually, we live in rhythms. After a few months, there is a. break. We look forward to conferences or trips. The day to day slog of heat and need can be wearing, the distance gets draining. It is a whole new layer of difficult to not know when we might see our kids again, or our parents, or many others. Or even when we might see our other teams. Or get to a place with swimming or quiet. We don't know what to do, our eyes are upon You.

Africa is braced. Our country shut down schools, churches, bars, gatherings, sports. We spent time scouring up some facemasks and hand santiser.  I taught a CME for the hospital yesterday on the novel coronavirus. Teams are researching the best approaches. Our hospital set up handwashing stations outside every ward (since water and plumbing is not always reliable, these are refillable jugs). But once in side the ward, there is extreme crowding. All but two of our teams have a core of medical work. When the world stops moving, and people stay home, almost all of our missionaries in Africa are in a different category of essential workers. We are watching Italy on the news and wondering, if they had hundreds of deaths yesterday, how can we possibly not be even worse? Our population is malnourished. We have immune compromise from HIV, we have lung damage from TB, we have a high prevalence of malaria. We have about 9 oxygen cylinders, each of which will give a low flow for one patient for about 24 hours. We have no ICU. No ventilator. No oxygen plant. The ratios of health care workers to population where we work is among the lowest in the world. Options are so limited, for our neighbours, for all of us. We don't know what to do, our eyes are upon You.
These are the measures Uganda announced this week

This little can of water with a spigot is our defense against the pandemic

Collateral damage. This child from yesterday is swollen from lack of protein, a mom who was too soon pregnant again, no good food options without breast milk. When the pandemic hits, what happens to kids like this? 
Teaching CME. Everyone usually sits physically touching; it was our first time to space ourselves out like this. But this is a team who has worked through cholera and Ebola and untold crises. They can do it.

Christ School closing, all schools closing, hits Bundibugyo hard. Our students don't have internet access. There won't be online anything options. They are returning to homes which have no books, no electricity, perhaps even limited food. We struggle to keep up with the national curves even with all our school days; doing so with half the term canceled (or more??) will push us to the limits. The teachers are staying around to create a packet of work sheets since no one has texts. Monday Scott and Patrick will meet district leaders with a plan to teach on the radio, a gesture of good will, a way to come together in crisis and bless kids from many schools. With no church, no sports, no school, no books, few outlets, what will the impact be on this generation if this lasts very long? We don't know what to do, our eyes are upon You.

And so the days go, dozens of texts, hundreds of messages and emails, calls at all hours. Trying to stay alert and empathetic. Giving grace to various people in our orbit to make different choices. Wanting everyone to feel seen, cared for, supported. Then long days of the normal work of serving sick kids and their families. The disorienting feeling, is that cough evidence that the new coronavirus is already here? Is that fever potentially dangerous? Should I start using precious masks or wait? If we can barely make it through the ward where the patients cover not just the beds but the floor now, what will it be like in two weeks? In a month? We don't know what to do, our eyes are upon You.

In an era of distance, the group was giving me "roses", picking them from the air and throwing them to me to receive after teaching, rather than a clap our hand shake. 

We are praying for our world. For God's powerful rescue. For a 2 Chronicles 20 story, where we find out in the end that God was with us all along, that our worst fears are already defeated, that we are going to be all right. That in the end, because our eyes are on God, all shall be well.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I read this with chills, for the longing of my heart for ya to know globally the truth of that 2 Chronicles 20 story....and for the reality you describe so well there, and the potential impact. I read it too with tears and with so so much prayer. I have been on my knees repeatedly for Bundibugyo and Uganda. I am thankful for the measures you are taking, for the long hours and the heart work alongside the physical work. And I am thankful the Lord has put you all there for such a time — you have faced Ebola and war alongside many of our friends there, and your leadership and friendship is an incredible gift in this time. Continuing constantly in prayer. ♥️