Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC, 2017

Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC, 2017

Africa is of huge concern around the novel coronavirus pandemic for the World Health Organization (WHO), but the continent’s churches have been preparing for the silent and lethal virus for some time.

The Council of Churches of Zambia has pledged to work closely with the southern African country’s government and other non-state actors.

Africa has so far been blessed with much fewer cases that Europe, North America or Asia. But WHO officials fear that if the COVID-19 virus hits its 54 countries in a big way those nations with weak health systems could flounder.

Dr Fidon Mwombeki, general secretary of the All Africa Conference Of Churches said on 30 April to representatives of religious communities that COVID-19 had become the most extensive pandemic and disaster the world had seen in the memory of his generation.

“First and foremost, churches are opinion leaders in their communities. Their voices to accept the reality and severity of the threat, has been very important, particularly in supporting the members to follow the protocols set by their governments to help prevent the spread of the virus,” he said.

Health contribution of churches

“it is well known that in Africa, churches contribute a large portion of health services, especially in remote and rural areas. In this way churches are using their medical facilities as frontline responders. We thank God that so far, the virus is mainly in large cities in Africa,” said Mwombeki.

In Zambia, Council of Churches of Zambia general secretary Father Emmanuel Yona Chikoya said, “We have worked with the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia.

“We have issued pastoral statements to the nation calling the church to follow and abide by government guidelines regarding the fight against COVID-19.”

The Council of Churches of Zambia has permitted the use of its David Livingstone College of Education in Livingstone, as a quarantine facility by the government.

As of 6 May, Zambia had 146 confirmed COVID-19 cases and four recorded deaths.

South Africa had 7,808 confirmed cases with 153 deaths, the highest tally on the continent and with the world’s most severe lockdown in which people are unable even to buy liquor and cigarettes.

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa had on Good Friday joined an online liturgy led by the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, which the Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, Justin Welby joined.

Archbishop Makgoba called on South Africans to make even greater sacrifices to save thousands of lives, and not to relax or be complacent, as the solutions will not be immediate. “In South Africa…those who live behind high walls are not immune. It will spread fast and far if we allow it to,” he warned.

Meeting in Galilee

“As all humanity fights this pandemic, we are aware that no Good Friday lasts forever. In a few days, we will hear the angels sing: ‘He is not here, He will meet you in Galilee.’

“After the agony of Good Friday, there always comes the hope of Easter, the hope of new beginnings. We will overcome this challenge.” And he hoped that what would emerge from the pandemic would be “a better South Africa, a better world, a more equitable future and a more just future.”

The Ebola virus hit Liberia in 2014, which claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people over 21 months, so COVID-19 sparked fears in people.

Jim Winkler, president and general secretary of the U.S. National Council of Churches said he received a message from the president of the Liberian Council of Churches, Rev. Dr Kortu K. Brown who had sent out his own message.

“No, God is not punishing us through this virus. Coronavirus, I believe, from the innermost part of my heart is not from God. Someone is wounding His child.

“We appreciate the prayers. Ours, I mean the health system is weaker. Ivory Coast, Guinea, our closest neighbours are reporting cases. This is sending panic throughout the already Ebola-exhausted nation.”

In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria in late March had sent out a pastoral letter with a “Special Message on COVID-19.

Heeding the government

“It has been slow in reaching and spreading around our country Nigeria, and we thank God for that,” said the message sent out by the moderator Rev. Nzie Nsi Eke. The member church of the World Council of Churches advised people to heed what the government says about physical distancing, wash their hands and shun big gatherings.

Nigeria now has over 2,950 cases and 98 deaths, which is relatively low, considering it has a population estimated at more than 206 million but like in South Africa rising at an increasing rate.

“Do not panic or fear. Pray fervently about the situation, knowing that we have a sovereign Lord who is not unaware of what is happening. He is in control. Nothing is too difficult for Him (Jer.32:17,27). Do also draw strength from Psalm 91,” said the church’s general assembly in its message.

The Nigeria Baptist Convention offered similar advice.

The South Sudan Council of Churches that includes Anglicans, Pentecostals, Protestants, Roman Catholics said places of worship and church schools would stay closed during a time of restrictions.

Campaigns focus on information sharing, hand washing, providing protective equipment, keeping distance.

Refugee camps

In Uganda, Lutheran World Federation staff in Uganda have stepped up efforts to prevent infections in refugee camps and host communities.

In Uganda, the Lutheran World Federation works with over 450,000 refugees, providing support, shelter, sanitation and other essential services to those who have fled mainly from conflicts in neighbouring South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

All vehicles used to broadcast information in the camps are equipped with face masks and hand sanitizers and are thoroughly cleaned after each field visit.

And in Somalia, ACT Alliance member Finn Church Aid has launched a preventative campaign against the spread of the virus in schools and settlements for internally displaced people in the southwest State of Baidoa, Somalia.

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Lutheran World Federation: LWF Uganda ramps up prevention