By Dancan Muthomi
Several months into the Coronavirus crisis, a great deal has been written. The crisis has shaken individuals and countries, especially with the reports of death and economic destruction. For the first time in many years, every social stratum has been affected. Whether rich or poor, young or old, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, or Gnostic have born the brunt of this virus.
My aim with this article is to share my experience from a Christian perspective. Life can be so fleeting. I also hope that I will deflate the fear-filled air concerning Covid-19 disease.
Our human institutions do not seem to be prepared for this kind of a crisis. Whether it is the government, church, or individuals. I am sure; only God was not caught by surprise.
While some may underestimate everything that surrounds the virus, others are laying unnecessary emphasis on the same. Another common mistake and mostly happening among believers is over-spiritualizing the whole crisis and giving unhealthy and unbiblical answers. Our faith at such a time as this is not “measured” by how much we can declare and speak health on yourself but by the confidence we show in Jesus in light of the epidemic, in sickness and ultimately through death.
Sick, Afraid of death yet Hopeful
First of all, when I got to know I had been infected with the virus, I was so afraid although I was asymptomatic at the onset. As we already know by now, a majority of those who get infected will not necessarily get very sick and over 90% will survive. This is important to note because I think the media has highlighted more of the mortality rates than the recoveries.
When the persisting symptoms began, I was advised to self-isolate as per the UK government guidelines. The doctor that I was in touch with confirmed the virus and, at the same time, assured me that as long as I follow the instructions and isolate from my roommates, I should be okay.
One of the evenings, I walked from my room and found one of my flatmates in masks, and it dawned on me that I was indeed sick. My roommates would drop my food and anything I needed at my door and ensured I stayed 2 meters away. Praise the Lord that I had loving Christian brothers who were willing to take care of me.
After two days, there was a new regulation by the UK government that required all of us in the flat to be isolated. To some extent, it brought some bit of relief that I wasn’t in this alone. The days of isolation brought some level of pain and I couldn’t predict how this infection would end. Will I be among the survivors or I will develop complications. The news of death from those infected was all over. The challenging bit was psychological than it was a health issue. With news of deaths and new infections with the virus spreading, I couldn’t help but wonder what my fate will be. It was complicated by the fact that I was a Kenyan in a foreign land. The pain kept growing, and during sleep time, I thought I would just find myself in heaven. I felt that death would come at any moment, even though there was lots of encouragement that many young people were not dying.
I began to show symptoms of the disease. I had this persistent cough. I have never coughed this way before. The cough came in episodes and it was more intense at night. A very irritating cough. Then there was a sore throat, severe headache, fever and joint pains. During this period, I would get tired very easily on doing any small task. This is the reason they ask one to rest enough. These symptoms continued for 7 days. Some days would be worse than others. This was a hard season for me. It dawned on me that life is so fleeting and death is so near than we can imagine. At times I thought we give a lot of premium to our living as Christians.
While in isolation my conversations with people gave me many opportunities to speak about the hope and sure confidence that I have in Jesus. At times I was afraid I could not make it but the gospel encouraged me even the more. It was always a paradox to talk about calmness amidst this virus, which has killed so many. Some of the friends and family that I spoke were worried for me more than I was.
Over time, I felt this confidence that I had not felt before. Sometimes back, way before this virus struck the world, I had spent some time thinking about death. However, the confidence I felt in the three weeks I had the virus was immense. I knew that I was not in this alone. I strongly felt how powerless death was. Nothing could steal my joy and the confidence I have in Jesus. I was very sure that the Lord would hold me fast, not necessarily to not let me die but most gloriously even through death! One of the passages that encouraged me was in Philippians 3:20-21. Paul says his body will be transformed to be like Christ’s glorious body by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Psalm 23 was also of so much encouragement to me. I was reading through the Psalms for my devotions, and at this time, I found myself going back to Psalms 23 reading and singing it over and over again. How comforting it was for me that the one who has walked through the shadow of death and emerged victoriously, would have his rod and staff comfort me. He is undoubtedly the good shepherd with whom I shall not want.
Lessons during the time of Isolation
We are all facing a common problem. Christians and the non-Christians alike. Therefore, to some extent, we shall all find ourselves responding in the same ways, but with different motivations. The difference between us who believe and the world is that we can respond in a more excellent way. Which begs some questions.
Is it okay to be worried and to lament? Yes.
Is it okay to cry to the Lord for mercy? It is right to do this.
Can we trust in the Lord amidst the worries and crying? Absolutely yes.
Can we serve other people and especially the vulnerable without fear? What a good thing to do!
We talk about the gospel and the living hope we have in Jesus Christ, but these truths are tested when we are faced with this pandemic. Our response cannot be the same as the world. That is hopelessness and fatalism.
Firstly, our response is same everywhere. All of us should obey the government and stay indoors as much as we can. This is one thing we can do to take care of the vulnerable. Moreover, it is our Christian duty to obey the government, and thus, we should practice hygiene.
How, then, are we to respond differently? We can pray. If you have read the Lord’s prayer, you will note it begins with a call to God “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matt. 6:9). Christians have a relationship with God and father and ought to pray to him. He is in control over all we are going through. Prayer is relational, and this is why it is hard to pray without having a relationship with God. Through prayer, I was able to talk with God and feel him even closer to me. Prayer shows our continuous dependence on God. In this time, we should spend more time praying for the sick, the world, the medical health workers, the leaders making decisions etc. We have always felt the lack of time to pray when we have been busy. Here is a good opportunity to spend more time praying because we have a relationship with our father in heaven. Praying for our leaders as 1 Timothy 2:1-2 reminds us is urgent. An even excellent prayer at such time as this is that God may unveil the eyes of those that cannot see him. That at times when fear and hopelessness can be rife, they will know of the rock of refuge and strength for this time and eternity. We pray for the salvation of the world.
Secondly, I realized how much we have put hope on the perishable. Our social structures, intellectualism, technology, science, super-powers, and all have been challenged and cannot match the virus. The best health systems and governments have been mocked by the virus. If we imagined the health insurance kept us safe, we were wrong. When confronted by deaths around you, our securities are shaken. Yet we know that when we put our faith in the imperishable, that is Jesus our savior and our Lord, then we have a living hope. The words of Psalms 56:3-4; When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? We are not as hopeless as the world is. We have our hope in the Lord Jesus. He is our shield and our defender at all times. Even when our health systems and our government do not offer a solution, we can pray and trust in the Lord, and he will surely deliver us.
Singing through Psalm 46 will reveal that the Lord has got this, and he is in control;
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way. However, the mountains are moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah... “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.
Thirdly, deliverance from this global pandemic will vary from one person to another. The Lord never promised that we would not suffer or face trials in this world. But he has promised that he will be with us and deliver us. He will surely deliver us! Paul in Philippians, speaks of how confident he is that the Lord would deliver him – very clearly, he states it’s whether by life or death. The point is that we can trust that he will deliver us but how he will do that, none can tell. Remember he is sovereign and in control. And this truth was a little scary for me. When you think of all the life plans that you have and yet here you are sick and not so sure which way it goes. Amidst the virus, we mourn those that have departed and thank God that it could be healing for them and for those who get healed from the disease, the challenge like Paul says is to rejoice in the Lord and proclaim the gospel even more.
Fourthly, Christians should serve one another. Throughout history, Christians have displayed their trust in the Lord during epidemics, such as these by their selfless service. They did this with the knowledge that they had an even better city to live after leaving this world. Their love, sacrificial service to the needy, was nothing else but Christ-like and it made the Christian faith to be admired and grow significantly.
During the plague of Cyprian which was by far worse, at some points caused 5,000 deaths a day in Rome, Christians’ response was admired. Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, reported:
“Most of our brothers (Christians) showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead… But with the non-believers, everything was quite otherwise. They deserted those who began to be sick and fled from their dearest friends. They shunned any participation or fellowship with death; which yet, with all their precautions, it was not easy for them to escape.” (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 7.22.7–10).
How wonderful would it be if we found lots to borrow as a church today from those who have gone before us! May the Lord grant us to know what is the most excellent step to take for us at such a time. How we can best serve those who need our service. Not putting our interest ahead of others but humbly and sacrificially giving up our comforts for the sake of others. If there was a request for volunteers to help with the pandemic, Christians should be among the first to go and serve the sick.
Fifth lesson is that this is a very good period to spend time listening to Jesus in his word, growing in godliness, reading the Bible with people (some people now got much time), praying for and with people, calling to check on and encourage a brother/sister, reading some good books, listening to sermons, being intentional to rest. “…Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8). Let us use this time to grow. The time that we thought we did not have is here with us in plenty, we can take a step of faith and do these feeble yet powerful and faith-filled means of graces. In the end, we will look back be glad we did.
Praise the Lord I am recovered
At the time of writing this, it was two weeks of isolation although the coughing went on to the third week. I am fully recovered and praise the Lord that this gift of life means fruitful labor for the gospel. My prayer is that I will spend the rest of the time in lockdown in a way that bears fruits that last. Also praise the Lord that a lot is still happening online. Still being able to continue with the training, reading the Bible with others and spending more time in my personal reading. The Christian hope in light of death is real and sure. It is not a myth. See how confident the words of apostle Paul are to us. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39).
We have a living hope amidst Corona virus.
Dancan Muthomi is an apprentice with iServe Africa. He is currently a Ministry Trainee on the Associate scheme at St. Helen’s Bishopsgate in the London. https://www.st-helens.org.uk/about/associate-scheme/