Latin America (CAM) — It’s not easy overseeing churches in Latin America, a new “hot spot” for the spread of COVID-19 that is crushing already troubled economies. Latin America surpassed Europe last week as the region with the highest COVID-19 death toll.
Christian Aid Mission reports the director of a ministry based in Chile had already seen thousands of people in need — including pastors without income in churches his ministry had planted — when he learned that five people in one church were infected with the novel coronavirus.
Then he received more bad news.
“I was just told that a young church couple has COVID-19, and the wife in this family is six months pregnant,” he said. “She has just been hospitalized. God protect her.”
“We are seeing thousands of people who do not have food to eat, and there is so much need of all kinds. Without work, they are without money.”
In the church with five COVID-19 cases, three other members were infected and have recovered. The native ministry works in poorer areas. In Chile as in the rest of Latin America, the coronavirus is hitting the poor the hardest, as many are part of the informal labor sector that lacks protections while having limited access to health services, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently said.
“The situation in Chile is difficult,” the native ministry leader said. “We are seeing thousands of people who do not have food to eat, and there is so much need of all kinds. Without work, they are without money.”
The capital, Santiago de Chile, has been in quarantine for weeks and people don’t know what to do, he said.
“Our pastors and workers are doing well but with great need,” he said. “The churches were closed by order of the government three months ago so as not to spread the virus, so there is no income, and the common expenses have to be paid.”
Assistance from Christian Aid Mission donors has helped pastors, other local missionaries and church members to survive during the crisis, he said.
“We appreciate the offering for COVID-19 relief,” the leader said. “We are helping those most in need.”
Church leaders are exhorting, encouraging and supporting members of their flocks through Facebook and other means of social media. The ministry director provides teaching materials online to the leaders, along with devotionals.
With church meetings prohibited, the ministry’s gospel radio program outreach is all the more crucial, he said.
“We deeply appreciate the help of Christian Aid Mission as it blesses us,” the leader said. “God is in control, and with all this the church will come out stronger. We are firm in prayer and fasting, trusting God to help us in this difficult time.”
The pandemic represents a massive health, social and economic shock with an immense human toll for the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a recent U.N. report.
“It is expected to result in the deepest recession in living memory,” the report states.
Unemployment in the region is expected to rise to 13.5 percent from 8.1 percent last year, raising the number of people affected to more than 44 million people from 18 million in 2019. The expected increase in the poverty rate, from 30.2 percent to 37.2 percent, means a rise in people affected from 185 million last year to 230 million people this year, according to the report.
Indigenous peoples, migrants and refugees are also suffering disproportionately, and urban transmission of COVID-19 is of special concern as some 80 percent of the region’s population lives in cities – with urban slums especially vulnerable to swift spread of coronavirus infections, U.N. chief Gutteres said.
A native ministry in Guatemala has a heavy presence in an urban slum area, caring for poor children who have nowhere else to turn even in the best of times. Last year five such children began attending the ministry’s Bible studies, the director said.
“They live in extreme poverty and, in order to survive, they go out to collect scraps from the garbage,” he said. “To eat, they came to our ministry center. They found it difficult to integrate themselves, but they are doing so much better. Our ministry has provided them with food, clothes, and shoes.”
Workers also provide skills training to help the parents of such children to provide for them.
“There are no jobs, so I cannot provide food for my children,” said one young mother of two. “I am thankful that this ministry is teaching women like me to learn how to sew, which is a great blessing for me and my family. I am learning to sew children’s clothing, which I can sell and earn some income for my family.”
Local missionaries providing such training, aid and the message of salvation throughout the region are themselves in need as the pandemic crushes economies. Please consider a donation today to help them survive and serve.
Header photo courtesy of Loïc Mermilliod via Unsplash.