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The Pandemic Isn’t Over Yet: Many of our Global Communities Continue to Suffer

For many of us in the United States, it can feel as though the COVID-19 pandemic is nearly over and done with. As more and more of the population is vaccinated, mask mandates are being lifted, churches are meeting at full capacity, restaurants are filling, and communities are moving back into an uneasy summer rhythm of concerts, festivals, and social gatherings. Despite the rise of the Delta variant and a resurgence of infections, life seems almost back to normal.

Yet, from a global perspective, the pandemic is far from over. In many parts of the world where MTW missionaries serve, the COVID-19 crisis is the worst and deadliest it has ever been.

Uganda

As much of the world reeled from the first wave of COVID-19 in early 2020, Uganda was largely spared. Many East African governments imposed tight lockdowns early on. As a result, the region was hit hard economically, but infections and deaths were few and far between. Just in the past few months, Uganda is suffering the pandemic wave that everyone feared from the beginning. 

“When the pandemic first started, I didn’t know anyone who had tested positive,” said MTW missionary Ben Church, who serves in Uganda. “Now I know a lot of people who have been in the hospital, and I’ve heard of some deaths. It’s really sad.” 

As the number of serious cases rise, hospitals are filling up and the price of treatment is rising. Oxygen, not abundant under normal circumstances, is increasingly scarce. Some hospitals are charging three to five million shillings (around $800–1500 USD) for in-patient COVID treatment. Medical insurance is practically non-existent, and for the vast majority of Ugandans, such prices are far out of reach. As a result, some are being denied treatment and dying because they can’t afford care. 

Meanwhile, under Uganda’s strict, government-mandated lockdown, personal vehicles are not allowed on the roads. Special permission is needed even to take someone to the hospital. While more businesses are allowed to remain open now than in 2020, vehicle and travel restrictions mean that business owners who can’t walk or bike to their workplaces are out of luck. MTW connected churches, seminaries, and the African Bible Institute have been unable to meet in person. With limited resources, and with many congregants or seminary students lacking reliable computer and internet access, MTW missionaries who lead church plants and teach local leaders are working hard to find ways to adapt. Yet conditions remain challenging. 

Still, amid the rising death rates, crumbling economy, and struggling ministries, God has been at work. When people were unable to work and struggled to afford food during 2020 lockdowns, MTW missionaries and members of their churches were able to help meet needs through food distribution. That mercy ministry provided a platform for evangelism, and as a result a number of people have joined the church. In addition, Ben says that Uganda’s current challenges are pushing many to ask more, big questions about spirituality and their relationship with God. Even in the darkness, there are glimmers of hope emerging. 

“Pray for wisdom for figuring out these modified forms of ministry, especially for those who are teaching,” Ben said. “Also, pray for protection and preservation for our folks. If they get into a critical situation, it’s so hard to have the funds to pay for medical treatment. … Pray for the Lord’s provision and that people wouldn’t be charged too much for what they need to be treated.”

South Asia

Anton Thompson* serves as an MTW missionary in a country in South Asia where only a very small percentage of the population has been vaccinated. Though slow progress is being made, the region is still experiencing record-breaking levels of both COVID-19 infections and deaths. 

“Things are difficult,” Anton said. “Thirteen people at the seminary have contracted COVID in just the past three or four months. Two have died.” 

Ten people in Anton’s immediate community of believers have died, including the two at the seminary where Anton teaches, and two more at his church. Many members of the church plant have had relatives die as well. In addition, strict lockdowns and restrictions have caused significant economic and personal hardship for many. Thousands of people have lost their jobs, and students have missed one or more years of school, impacting not only their personal and professional trajectories, but their mental and emotional health. 

Meanwhile, the ministries Anton has been a part of have struggled. Bible studies are held on Zoom—making personal connection and discipleship more challenging—and church planting efforts have slowed. Budding Christian leaders who recently attended seminary and trained for the pastorate find themselves without opportunities to gain experience—churches don’t want to hire pastoral interns just to have them sit at home on Zoom. 

“We’re in this for the long haul,” said Anton. “Pray for wisdom for pastors to lead well under these conditions.”

Cambodia

Farther east, in Cambodia, MTW missionary Mark Ambrose says that things are now the most difficult they have been since the COVID-19 pandemic first started.

“We kind of lagged behind with COVID,” he said. “When it first started the case load was pretty low, so people weren’t too worried about it. Then in February there was a huge outbreak, and we’re still reeling from that. We’re at about 1,000 cases and 25 deaths per day in Phnom Penh and the surrounding cities. Now it’s starting to reach out to the provinces.”

The only vaccine currently available in Cambodia is the Sinovac version, which has proven to be not as effective as the versions available in the West. Some who have been vaccinated are still getting COVID. As the more contagious Delta variant enters the country, things are going from bad to worse.

The church plants MTW works with were not able to meet for most of 2020. After a small reprieve when the country opened up in late 2020, Cambodia locked down again this past February. Churches have not been able to meet in person since. As restrictions made factory and service jobs impossible, many lost their jobs—all without social security, unemployment benefits, or a social services network to fall back on. Meanwhile, with congregations losing income and no one coming to church services in person, church offerings have dried up.

“All our churches in Cambodia are poor, and they have unfortunately become even poorer since COVID hit,” Mark said. “Our MTW Cambodia team has had to provide relief for food for families in our churches: rice, canned fish, cooking oil—just the staples.”

Church programs like computer classes and English classes, cooking groups and Bible studies, all once a major part of the team’s ministry and outreach, have been forced to halt. Local Christian leaders are tired, discouraged, and scared. Several have contracted COVID themselves.

“What’s difficult here in Cambodia is that if you have COVID you have to go to a government hospital,” Mark explained. “They don’t trust anyone to quarantine, so you cannot treat it a home. So people are scared to get tested, because if they test positive they wind up going to the hospital, and the hospitals here are unfortunately not very safe and not very clean.”

If a child gets COVID, they are forced to go to the hospital by themselves, without a parent. Mark knows of several small children, only 5 or 6 years old, who have packed their bags and been picked up by hospital officials to stay in the hospital alone in quarantine for a month. To manage quarantining the rising cases, the government has commandeered banquet and wedding halls all across the city, turning them into makeshift COVID treatment facilities and packing them with thousands of COVID patients.

While life and ministry have been extremely tough for MTW’s missionaries and partners in Cambodia, there is one bright side. According to Mark, Phnom Penh’s Karaoke TV bars—from which Phnom Penh’s notorious human trafficking and prostitution rings are often staged—have been forced to shut down as well. Still, even as the pandemic has struck a significant blow against the city’s trafficking industry, traffickers are turning to the internet to find new avenues to traffic women and young girls.

“Pray that God would be merciful to this country,” said Mark. “Pray for the leaders—for the ministry of health, for the prime minister—that they would have the wisdom to knock this out. And pray for the people of Cambodia. They’re very tired. And pray that God would provide for churches and encourage our pastors.”

Billions of people around the world are still reeling under the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the middle of this ongoing crisis, the global Church is suffering and striving alongside the rest, and MTW’s missionaries are in the thick of it: ministering to frightened and hopeless souls amidst the chaos and death, feeding hungry neighbors who struggle without work or resources, offering the peace and hope of Christ to the tired and sick. Even as we thank God for His mercies here in the United States, pray with us for safety, strength, and courage for our missionaries, partners, and church plants across the globe.

Want to help? The Compassion Fund helps meet emergency needs like those impacted the COVID-19 pandemic around the world.

*Name changed for security reasons.

Andrew Shaughnessy, Kampala Phnom Penh Cambodia Uganda Aug 3, 2021
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Pray for the South Sudanese church that has formed in Uganda from refugees who have fled their homeland.

Pray for national believers taking on growing leadership roles in Uganda. 

Pray for the Church in Africa to deepen and for African believers to live holy lives in accordance with God's Word.  

Give thanks for the new growth in Kampala as a Bible study multiplies and the church grows. 

Pray for our ministries in Africa, where many have come to expect broken systems and corruption. Pray that God would intervene and change hearts that would change communities.

Give thanks for the work God is doing in South Asia in the wake of COVID lockdown relief. Ask God to grow the new believers who came to faith in Christ as a result.

Join us in praying for our efforts to plant 36 churches in South Asia by 2030. Pray for the national pastors leading churches in Muslim-majority regions. 

Pray for ongoing ministry in the Suki community during COVID-19. Many day workers cannot work, and the church is having to find creative ways to minister. 

Pray for the church-planting team in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, (comprised of five Ethiopian nationals and an MTW missionary) as they work together to wholistically share Christ and serve the local community. 

Pray for the students from Ank'jeay, Cambodia, who are going to college in Phnom Penh, to stay connected to the Church there and make an impact for Christ. 

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