China (MNN) — As the coronavirus spreads, Christians remember a plague that ravaged the Roman Empire in the third century.
The coronavirus continues to spread in China and other Asian countries – there are over 20,000 cases worldwide. It is a time of fear for many people, but Denise Godwin of International Media Ministries (IMM) finds a parallel between the coronavirus and a plague that ravished Rome and the surrounding lands roughly AD 250-270.
She says IMM was shooting the story of Cyrprian, a bishop of Carthage. The plague was actually named after him because he rallied the Christians to care for the sick and even attend to burial for the dead. “But the thing that struck me the most [is] now as we see this modern day plague creeping into our newsfeed . . these Christians in the third and the fourth century, went and helped people who [were] being shut out in the streets by family members who were panicked because of the illness that they were seeing.”
Cyprian himself remarked the plague was so severe it seemed like the world was ending. The plague, combined with near-constant wars, left the Roman Empire depleted, and famines followed. While the exact nature of the disease is unknown, some experts point out similarities to Ebola.
Godwin says, “I’m inspired by the believers in the third and fourth centuries who made a mark on their community by serving people who were harmed by the plague of their times.”
Certainly, the coronavirus is not as serious an illness as the Cyprian Plague.
Godwin says, “I don’t think we live in those kind of times where people are going to be shut in the streets and we as Christians are the only ones called to help them. But I think it does [cause us] to reflect and think. Who am I in a crisis, who am I when the plague hits? And what is Christ calling us to do to love our neighbors?”
Christians can help by not contributing to panic. The media in the US is filled with horror stories about the coronavirus; many are now using the word “pandemic.” China recently reprimanded the US government for adding to the fear by pulling citizens out of China and instituting travel bans.
The truth is the flu virus currently making its way through the United States has claimed many more lives than the coronavirus in China, and this has not been a bad flu season. 8,000 people have died in the United States from flu this year, compared to under 500 from coronavirus worldwide.
How can Christians in areas not affected by coronavirus live like those Christians during Cyprian’s plague?
Godwin says believers can understand that the Gospel makes a difference in any time and circumstance. “Where is our hope? Where is our salvation? Where do we truly base our foundation? And of course in the times of crisis this is tested. And it’s time to say I can be compassionate to people around me and I can have hope. Despite what the news media says, despite what is going on in my community, I can be a person of hope, and [offer] the hope that is in Christ.”
Pray also for the protection of Asian Christians and mission workers there. Just as the world witnessed Christians caring for people in the plague of Cyprian, may they see Christians caring fearlessly for those afflicted with coronavirus.
The angel of death striking a door during the plague of Rome. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)