When we landed in our target country a few weeks ago, the word “pandemic” still seemed like a remote possibility that elicited varied responses. From calm reassurance to outright mockery that this could ever get that far, everyone had an opinion. What a difference a few weeks make. We set out to Africa as first time long-term, full-time missionaries. During our travel we saw a few masks in the airport (and even one full body hazmat-type suit), but everything seemed like business as usual. Within two weeks of our arrival in-country, airports and borders all across the world began closing as that “remote possibility” became our reality. The pandemic was official.
At the time of this writing, our country of service in West Africa, that is less than 2% Christian, has just confirmed its first case of COVID-19. Ironically, this occurred on the same day that all airports were scheduled to shut down at midnight. Many in the missionary community had to make quick decisions about whether to return to their passport country or stay in the country where they serve. Most have stayed, including us.
In a country that ranked last on the 2019 Human Development Index and has as little access to healthcare as anywhere in the world, we are bracing for the worst. As Christian physicians, we are here at a unique time. Many people here, as is the case everywhere, are panicking and looking for answers. This poses an incredible opportunity to serve people through direct healthcare and also through education and comfort. We have the ability to point people to resources and reading material, but most importantly we can point them to our Father in heaven who loves His creation and wills that none should perish.
Despite all of our education, medical training, and procedural skills, the Good News of Jesus is still the greatest and most needed thing we can offer to people. We can offer medicine and the skills within our power, but the Gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). We may not have a cure for this terrible pandemic, but we have the very power of God, the Creator of the universe, on our lips waiting to be spoken to a desperate and fearful world. “This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1:19-20). That is what is available to us.
We not only have access to this power, but we also have the privilege of proclaiming it. This is what a sick and dying world needs more than medicine, more than vaccines and more than anything else we can offer. If we cure the body but lose the soul, what have we accomplished? People can call on a physician for medical care, but if they call on their Father they can have eternal life. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:13-14) Giving people an opportunity to hear is our first and most important responsibility.
In addition to offering the way to salvation, we can also offer prayer. Prayer for our patients, families, leaders, and the scientists who work tirelessly to develop tests, vaccines, and potential treatments. Prayer is one thing that cannot be shut down. It cannot be quarantined and it cannot be confined. Borders may close. The arms of the Father stay open. Coronavirus tests may be delayed. The Lord does not delay. Nations and stock markets may crash all around us. People may panic and all medical options may fail us. But our God remains on His throne. Our steadfast Prince of Peace is not surprised by any of this. He will use it for His good, as He always does.
So in this time of unprecedented challenges and uncertainty, let us remember who is on the throne and who is in control. It is not the physicians, the hospitals, or the politicians. All of those will fail us eventually. Of course we offer the medical care available to us, but we must turn to the Lord and point others to Him first and foremost. He is what a sick and dying world needs most of all.