GOSHEN, Indiana (Mennonite Mission Network) — Bonaventure Akowanou, the director of Benin Bible Institute, sent an Easter message of encouragement to the school's North American partners. He expressed the concern of many of Mennonite Mission Network's brothers and sisters around the world as the United States tops the global charts for confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths.
"This virus reminds us that, as human beings, we are not master of our destinies," Akowanou said. "But fear not; our Lord does not change. May the Lord be with us, protect and preserve us. He is faithful."
The whole world is suffering from COVID-19, yet each year, Easter is a reminder of resurrected joy for Christians, Akowanou said. He paraphrased Romans 8:38-39: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither the present nor the future, nor any virus like COVID-19, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
While comparing COVID-19 statistics between countries is an imprecise endeavor, due to differing definitions of what constitutes a case and the availability of reliable tests, there are clear trends.
As of Apr. 15, Benin has been spared catastrophic effects of the coronavirus due to early closing of international borders and restricting travel between cities. There are 35 confirmed cases and one death. Most, if not all, of these cases are expatriates who brought the disease into the country.
Each member of Jane and Jerrell Ross Richer's family, except Jane, has experienced COVID-19 symptoms. Tests were not available to confirm the diagnosis. The family with three of their children was stranded in Tena, Ecuador, for five weeks due to the country's enforced shelter-in-place policies. An inter-provincial travel ban prevented them from returning to their primary ministry location in Zábalo. This, along with other factors, led to the Ross Richer family's decision to end the Ecuador portion of their two-way mission two months early.
The Ross Richers left Tena Apr. 15 and hope to depart from Ecuador on a Quito-to-Miami flight arranged by the U.S. embassy on Apr. 17. Wednesdays are the only days the Ross Richers' car can be on the road, governed by their license plate number. They hope to make the trip from Tena to Quito in the eight hours between the curfew that extends from 2 p.m. to 5 a.m. They plan to return to their home in Goshen, Indiana, where they will be reunited with their oldest daughter, Sierra, a student at Goshen College, and where Jerrell teaches six months each year.
David Lapp Jost, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Mar. 29, was given a clean bill of health on Easter Sunday. But, Sophie Lapp Jost tested positive on Good Friday. Sophie's case of COVID-19 is mild, and it seems that no other transmission has taken place in their intentional community in Bammental.
Brian Fox wrote on Apr. 8 that Spain was on day 22 of a government-imposed shut-down. In mid-March, Noelia Fox had been in contact with some people who had COVID-19 and a few days later, she began to have symptoms.
"Her symptoms were never severe enough for her to go the hospital, so the doctors asked her to just stay home and they would call her daily. Thankfully, she is doing much better now, not 100 percent yet, but getting there. Also, we are thankful that the rest of us are doing well and we never had any symptoms."
The Foxes had to temporarily close their English academy. They are hoping to start online classes, but many of the students are not convinced this is a good way to learn a language. Brian and Noelia ask for prayer as they try to find a solution that fits the current reality.
When workers in China with a sensitive long-term ministry flew to Malaysia for a conference on Jan. 15, they had no idea they would be there for two months because of China's borders closing to contain the coronavirus outbreak. They stayed with a friend until China allowed them to return on Mar. 20.
Upon their return to the Chinese city where they teach and mentor church leaders, the government closely supervised their two-week quarantine in a hotel. Food and accommodations were paid for by the Chinese government. Their temperatures were taken twice daily, and they were tested for SARS-CoV-2 when they arrived in China and at the end of their quarantine on Apr. 5.
From the hotel room, the couple resumed their ministries of teaching university courses online and preparing resources for emerging Anabaptists in China.
When they were allowed to return to their home, they were monitored by a quarantine supervisor whom they described as "a pleasant young woman." They were required to quarantine for another 14 days with continued twice-a-day temperature checks, and "absolutely no going out and no ordering in: only deliveries from our community grocery stores and garbage pick-ups from our quarantine supervisor."
In an Apr. 9 e-mail, the couple said they felt like those who watched Jesus' crucifixion. "We often don't understand the full meaning of why certain things happen to us and around us. But we do know that as we continue to walk into the unknown, we can trust God who knows. We also know that we have a message to live and to share — that the risen Jesus is the light who walks with us in the darkness."
JCS, the consortium of agencies through which Mission Network works in Mongolia, wrote in an Apr. 9 e-mail that, as of Apr. 8, the country had 16 diagnosed cases, all imported. Despite sharing a border with China, Mongolia has managed to limit the spread of COVID-19 through rigorous testing and quarantine. Four of the 16 cases have recovered. "There is no community spread and no deaths. Pray that God will provide his people with faith, wisdom, healing and comfort during times of struggle, pain and loss. Pray that Christians would remain faithful during this time and look for opportunities to be a witness pointing others to salvation. Pray especially for [those] around the world helping people with COVID-19 sickness."
In correspondence from early April, Mary Raber wrote that in normal times, "quarantine" has been something like a snow day. "It's almost an annual winter event to have the schools in one district or another shut down as the latest flu bug circulates through the population. The kids seem to love it. What we're experiencing now is different."
Raber reported that although there are fewer than 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, authorities are taking serious steps to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Inter-city transportation has halted, and only essential businesses are open. Odessa Seminary, where Raber lives and teaches, is closed and staff are receiving partial salaries.
Christians in Ukraine have a lot of experience in relying on God, Raber said. She finds comfort in their "matter-of-fact practicality and sense of proportion" that balances her Western desire to be in control.
"Oddly, unfolding events may also represent the mercy of God as people are given a chance to stop, think, and consider that eventually we all must die," Raber wrote "Pray that the church would rise to its calling and that we would be faithful, share generously, and, above all, speak the truth of the gospel."