Photo illustration by Mission Network graphic artist Cynthia Friesen Coyle and her daughter, Rebekah.

Mission Network personnel contract COVID-19 in Europe

By Lynda Hollinger-Janzen
Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The first Mennonite Mission Network workers to become infected in the global pandemic are serving in France, Germany and Spain. African partners are taking precautions.

ELKHART, Indiana (Mennonite Mission Network) — Four Mennonite Mission Network families are recovering from COVID-19 in France, Germany and Spain.


Martine Audéoud, her husband, Gary Wittig, and their 12-year-old son, Samuel, live in Illzach, France, near the German border. They trace their exposure to a conference of evangelical churches that assembled thousands of people in the Alsace region of eastern France.

Daniel and Marianne Goldschmidt-Nussbaumer wrote about this conference in a Mar. 28 e-mail: "In post-Christian France, it seems unthinkable that a week of prayer and fasting would contribute to the spread of COVID-19. However, that seems to have been one of the ways that several members of Mennonite churches contracted the virus."

Some of the Mennonites recovered, among them Audéoud, Wittig and Samuel, and three Goldschmidt-Nussbaumer family members. A sister-in-law is still ill. However, other Mennonites were among those older than 70 years old who died.

"The obituary pages in the local newspaper have multiplied with the promise of masses and memorials in the future," the Goldschmidt-Nussbaumers wrote.

The Goldschmidt-Nussbaumers, a French Mennonite doctor and midwife, served through Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network, from 1987-1993. They were catalysts, working alongside 30 denominations, in creating the health ministries in Benin, including Bethesda Hospital and its community health program.

Anne-Cathy Graber believes she was infected with COVID-19 during recent travels. Graber is an associate staff member of the Paris Mennonite Center, an itinerant Mennonite pastor, and participant in Chemin Neuf, an ecumenical Catholic community. Mission Network has not received an update on her condition.



Noelia Fox is recovering from COVID-19, according to Steve Wiebe-Johnson, co-director for Africa and Europe. So far, the rest of her family has not developed symptoms. Brian and Noelia Fox and their three daughters serve alongside Communidades Unidas Anabautistas, the Mennonite church in Burgos, Spain, where they have lived since 2006. They helped the congregation develop a thriving youth group and now nurture couples, families, and the next generation of church leaders. They also direct an English-language learning school, which has closed during the pandemic.



David and Sophie Lapp Jost are serving in Bammental, Germany, where David works with the German Peace Committee and Sophie is a pastoral intern in the Bammental Mennonite congregation. The Lapp Josts formerly served with Mission Network in the Middle East. They began working in Germany last year.

David tested positive for COVID-19 on Mar. 29, after being exposed two weeks before in a language class. So far, he hasn't needed emergency care. Because of his pre-existing auto-immune conditions, the German health system sent someone from a mobile check-in unit to the Lapp Josts' home. They have high praise for the German health system and the quality of care they have received.

As of Mar. 31, Sophie continues to feel well and David reports that he is feeling better. They wrote: "We ask for your continued prayers for us and the older people in our intentional community who may have been exposed through us. We pray that you are taking measures to stay healthy. We feel fortunate to be in the hands of the German healthcare system and the wonderful community in which we live in Bammental."



At La Casa Grande, a children's home in Benin and a Mission Network partner, the community gathered to pray for God's protection for them, their country, and the whole world. "We are in distress, but not in despair," Director Bienvenu Kadja wrote in a Facebook post Mar. 22.

Bonaventure Akowanu, director of Benin Bible Institute, said in a phone conversation that the Beninese government canceled all public gatherings, on Saturday, Mar. 21, but many congregations were unaware of the order. They held services the following day, which were broken up by the police.

Benin's international borders are closed, and all inter-city travel was shut down at midnight Mar. 29. To date, all COVID-19 cases have been expatriate travelers and no deaths have been reported.


Burkina Faso

Siaka Traoré, Mennonite Church leader in Burkina Faso, said in a Mar. 28 WhatsApp message that the international airport in the capital city of Ouagadougou has been closed with no date for reopening. The 10 cities that have reported cases of COVID-19 have been locked down. In a country where most people don't have access to the Internet, phone calls are now the only means of communication.

"I can't visit my parishioners," Traoré said. "One of our pastors is stranded in [the neighboring country] Togo and can't get home to his family." 


​Lynda Hollinger-Janzen is a writer for Mennonite Mission Network.




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