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Pandemic Affects Our African Contacts

We are very familiar with how the global pandemic has affected the U.S. In addition to the threat of the virus itself, other challenges include job loss, school closures, cancellation of life events, and other disruptions. The most vulnerable people in developing countries are being impacted even more directly and severely. A majority of people in Kenya and Uganda are not simply living “paycheck to paycheck,” they are living “day to day.” Many are dependent upon their ability to sell the goods that they grow or make each day, to provide a service, or provide motorbike transportation. They are in need of daily wages. For many, nationwide enforcement of a “shelter in place” order could represent a death sentence were it to go on for too long. Very few have a reserve of funds or food in order to sustain them for an extended period of time.
Iganga, Uganda: From Pastor Daniel: “All citizens are under a strict quarantine in their own homes until the end of April. All public transportation has been suspended. Those who fall ill (with the virus or anything else) out in the rural or suburban areas are even being forbidden from using public transportation such as motorcycle or taxi to get to a health centre. Those who can’t afford private transportation like that are dying. The health care workers who live at a distance from the hospitals and health centres cannot get to work. Theft has cropped up and things are worse than anyone could have imagined. I [Daniel] am stuck at home with family and eight orphans that I am caring for and they now have no other source of support.”
Kenya: The school closures here, much like the ones in America, have limited a number of children’s access to food. At Emmaus Hill School of Moi’s Bridge and St. David’s KINSHIP Academy in Etago, many students depend on the lunch program that these schools offer. Sadly, however, there is no option for schools to continue the lunch program at the current time.
The enforcement of a strict curfew (7 P.M. to 5 A.M.) and limits on public gatherings have been abused by those who wield power. People have been forced out of buses and off of ferries and beaten by police and military. The independent group Lutherans In Africa, a translation center and seminary training facility just outside of Nairobi, has been raided by police and military several times since the announcement of the curfew. Clearly, public officials are using this opportunity to enrich themselves, and to disrupt the operation of peaceful nonprofit groups such as this. In the past, Lutherans in Africa has been very helpful to the mission work of the CLC in East Africa by providing catechisms, copies of the Book of Concord, and other resources for teaching in the native languages of several East Africa tribes, all free of charge.
The great disruption to the economy the world over also has far-reaching effects to supply lines into these countries. Panic buying and price gouging is not a strictly American issue. Many essential goods have skyrocketed in price in the last few weeks, which compounds the problems that people are already facing.
Thankfully, there are government leaders and faith communities that are advocating for those people who most severely feel the adverse effects of a curfew and lockdown. We pray that they provide solutions and assistance to those in great need.
“Both the county and national governments should devise a way of reaching the poor at the grassroots during this trying moment. It will be ironical for citizens to die of hunger instead of the coronavirus,” said Apostle Wanyonyi, Bishop of the Church of Christ, Busia County.
Those who were receiving theological training through online correspondence with the CLC have had to suspend their work for the time being while they adjust to all the sudden changes. While we in the U.S. have certainly faced hardship, it is fitting to remember our Christian brothers and sisters on the other side of the globe whose hardships, in many cases, are far more severe. Pray that they may find relief from the many troubles facing them, and that they may find refuge and strength in the Lord, their Creator and Redeemer.
Michael Gurath is pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Phoenix, Arizona, and a visiting missionary to Africa.