ABWE continues to monitor the outbreak and spread of COVID-19 (2019 coronavirus disease) around the globe, as well as plan for the potential impact to our ministries and missionaries.
ABWE is asking missionaries in affected countries to follow basic precautions issued by the World Health Organization and their country’s Ministry of Health.
Based on U.S. State Department recommendations, ABWE has evacuated a few missionaries from certain fields with high severity risks, but most teammates remain in their respective ministry locations. At this time, there are no known cases of coronavirus among the missionary family; however, several teammates are located in heavily impacted areas of the world, and have been limited in their ability to carry out their ministries.
Additionally, ABWE leadership met this week to review the organization’s evacuation and emergency preparedness policies and procedures and will have ongoing evaluations for how to advise missionaries and staff on future events and travel.
In Italy, missionary Melissa Baccarella reported, “[M]y small town of Caselle Torinese in the region of Piedmont was eerily quiet. The town government interpreted a nationally-issued decree by closing the schools, civic institutions, and places of worship for ten days, and many remained indoors. Most museums and cultural associations gave notice of a full month closure.”
Although Melissa hasn’t seen a case of the virus, she’s witnessing the impact and fear it is having on her community.
“A housewife from the neighboring town and a doctor from nearby entered a local hospital emergency room, manifesting flu symptoms. [Then,] a local mechanic joined them. All three tested negative for coronavirus, but the ensuing panic shut down the emergency room for two days,” she said.
“We have felt the impact as the spread of the virus and the mandatory closures have put a ‘panic’ in the air and put many on edge,” said Brad Howe, another ABWE missionary to Italy.
Howe views the crisis as an opportunity to turn a fearful time into a way to showcase faithfulness. “Our trust in God does not waver amid the changing world around us. We realize that the situation may get worse before it gets better, but by God’s grace we will remain calm and help comfort others whose lives have been turned upside down or who are frustrated by the restrictions that we are facing.”
ABWE Medical Director, Dr. Miriam Wheeler, is tasked with weighing the safety and effect on our teams serving around the world and advise them appropriately.
As a result of COVID-19, ABWE has canceled a team leader’s meeting in Europe because of current travel restrictions, and local ministry teams have opted to cancel church services based on government decrees.
Although leaving a region heavily affected by the virus might be the safest option for a missionary, it may mean missing out on an opportunity to witness to and care for frightened and afflicted people in a Christlike manner, Wheeler said in a special episode of The Missions Podcast focused on how the virus impacts missions.
She says that her goal is to look at reputable sources for information while balancing the protection of our missionaries with a desire to be faithful to the Great Commission.
In the episode, Wheeler and podcast co-hosts Scott Dunford and Alex Kocman point out that when faced with danger, sometimes Paul fled in a basket or faced the stoning—and that the plague in Europe drove away many Roman Catholic priests, setting the stage for the Protestant Reformation to transform Europe with the gospel.
“There are so many factors that go into such a huge decision,” Wheeler says. “We weigh how limited their ministry is if they stay, versus how much could they do if they go. We also look at access to flights and logistical factors if they do get sick and needed to get out and their access to good healthcare where they are serving.” Other factors, like having children or pre-existing conditions, also come into play.
“At the end of the day, every individual has a responsibility before God,” says Wheeler. “And we all need to remember that God is Immanuel—meaning ‘God with us.’ Every minute, through every day, no matter where you are.”
For more on ABWE’s ministry and response to the coronavirus, visit abwe.org/coronavirus.