As sickness spreads, as the death toll rises, and as the length of stay-at-home orders are extended, anxiety and fear about the coronavirus pandemic continue to grow. Could this situation really get any worse?
Tragically, the simple answer to this question is a resounding “yes”.
The number of cases is beginning to rise in Africa. And the results could be catastrophic.
South Sudan, a country ravaged by poverty and violence has eleven million people and four ventilators. I shudder to think of the devastation should the virus take a grip amid the squalor and deprivation of the camp for displaced people that I visited in Wau (pictured) during my most recent visit.
The World Health Organization has stated that there are less than 2,000 ventilators for hundreds of millions of people in 41 African countries. (For comparison, the US has an estimated 170,000 ventilators available). Many people in these countries simply have no easy access to healthcare, soap or clean water. And a negative impact of lockdowns is that many people are unable to work and feed their families – increasing hunger, malnutrition and the risk of starvation.
People across the African continent are watching, waiting, praying. I talked recently with the director of a children’s home in a remote area of Tanzania. They are under a stay-at-home order, and he asked if his Christian brothers and sisters around the world could be praying for protection for the children he loves and cares for.
It’s not just in Africa where fears are growing. While the number of reported cases in Lebanon have been fairly low to date, the lockdown there is causing extreme hunger in the slums and refugee camps – and if the virus takes hold in these places, the consequences will be dire. In Venezuela, population 32 million people, there are 84 intensive care beds available. An eye-witness account from a relative of mine in India reveals that “the poor are, right now, subject to the threat of disease, and facing the oncoming tsunami of a humanitarian and economic disaster”.
It can be hard to know where to begin when praying for a disaster as huge as coronavirus. But we have a responsibility – and a privilege – to do so. Here are some suggestions for prayer:
- Ask God to have mercy and to protect those countries where there is a lack of basic healthcare, or where there is already devastation because of conflict and natural disasters. Pray for strength, wisdom and protection for doctors and other healthcare workers in these places.
- Pray for the church around the world to be the hands and feet of Jesus during this time, through both prayer and action. Pray especially for church leaders and congregations in the most vulnerable communities as they respond to the growing needs that people are experiencing.
- Pray for relief and development organizations as they try to get food, soap, medicines, funding and emotional support to people whose already precarious lives have become even more dire because of the virus.
- Ask God to protect displaced people living in refugee camps – in Bangladesh, Kenya, Jordan, and many other places around the world. Pray for wisdom for the leaders of these camps as they prepare to respond to the virus.
- Pray for wisdom and support for the governments of the poorest countries who lack basic resources and have fragile infrastructures.
Why not take a moment, as you wash your hands throughout each day this week, to pray for these needs – as well as those in your own family, church and community?
Psalm 34:18 reminds us that “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” And so, may we not forget that, in the midst of these current unprecedented challenges, God is good. God is present. God is in control. These are truths that should give us encouragement, gratitude – and hope.