Philippines (CAM) — COVID-19 cases surged in the Philippines, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to extend Manila’s lockdown to May 15th.
Against that backdrop, local missionaries in the Philippines are facing steep challenges to help people afflicted by the new coronavirus even as the pandemic threatens their own lives and families.
First Manilla and then the rest of the country went into a state of emergency in March, with the accompanying lock-down and travel restrictions. Most ministry workers have temporarily curtailed activities, while others are in areas so remote the virus hasn’t slowed them. Those who are able are striving to meet physical needs while bringing the message of hope in Christ.
“Many people are worried due to daily needs – food, income and health – and we have encouraged everyone to stay alert and trust God for everything,” the leader of one native ministry said. “We remain busy doing what God’s servants like us have to do in such a time as this. Last Sunday all churches were closed, so no giving, tithes and offerings. The government gave us relief goods once, and just for one day of meals.” With vitamins in short supply and wide-ranging medical needs, any assistance is appreciated, he said.
Amid the disruption and distress that so many are suffering around the world, the ministry leader also has suffered; quarantine kept him in one location and relatives in another in the midst of the tragic loss of an adopted child. “This morning my adopted daughter died of acute leukemia, only 20 years old,” the ministry leader wrote last month. “I cannot visit her funeral and comfort the family, for we are in lockdown. Hold us in your prayers, as we pray also to God for you all.”
The leader of another native ministry said the government’s declaration of emergency has driven people to panic-buying of food, face masks and personal hygiene items – at least those who can afford to. “Rich people can buy them, but how about the poor people and us living by faith?” the leader said. “Pray that through this the gospel of Jesus Christ will be spread as we deliver rubbing [isopropyl] alcohol for disinfection and face masks.”
As symptoms of COVID-19 may not show for several days, workers are at risk of contracting it from those they are serving. “My wife is not feeling well for the past three days and is under observation,” another ministry leader said. “We are praying that she is not infected by the said virus.”
Faith amid Despair
President Rodrigo Duterte on March 24 won special, temporary powers to manage the COVID-19 outbreak at a time where there were 552 confirmed cases and 35 deaths in the country of 110 million people. A nationwide state of emergency then went into effect. As in many parts of the world, churches are not allowed to meet in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
Christian leaders in the Philippines have stated that they will obey the directives of the government. “We in the churches are asked to take extra care in maintaining and promoting healthy living and to view the cancellation of church meetings and gatherings as temporary, although pastors and missionaries will continue to minister to members and communities when needed,” the leader of another native ministry said.
The ministry had yet to receive any notice of the virus reaching remote tribal people. “We will follow the directive of not gathering to help avoid the contracting and spread of the virus,” he said. “It will be a temporary cancellation of meetings; scheduled conferences and camps will not push through for the meantime. But our missionaries will be visiting homes to minister to those who may have some needs.”
The ministries are hard-pressed to meet needs, however, without assistance from a world that is in economic paralysis. “Last Sunday all churches were closed, so no giving, tithes and offerings,” said one native ministry leader. “The government gave us relief goods once, and just for one day of meals.”
Church members forbidden to go to work under the lock-down have called the ministry leader, who is the church pastor, for help as they have no food to eat, he said. “So we gave them five kilos of rice, canned goods and soap,” he said. “But the problem now is we don’t have stock, and we don’t have money to buy.”
Besides encouraging their church member and ministry workers to pray, native ministry leaders are finding people open to the gospel amid the crisis. “Many Christians now are using social media like Facebook, and the Internet generally, to send messages to encourage one another and to share the gospel with their friends, loved ones and co-workers,” one ministry leader said.
Other leaders said the epic scale of the crisis has opened the way to apocalyptic teaching. “It’s an opportunity to also preach to them lessons related to Bible prophecy and end times,” one leader said. “Optimistically, when the crisis is over we will increase church attendance as people will have learned to wholly put their trust in the God of the Bible in a time of chaos and turmoil.”
Such workers are struggling to serve the poor and feed their own families in the Philippines amid the worldwide COVID-19 crisis; please consider what you can do to encourage and sustain them and their ministries. (Click here if you want to give)
(Headline photo courtesy Christian Aid Mission)