It was thought the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had finally beaten Ebola. The last person to have had it was being discharged from hospital and the outbreak was due to be declared officially over on 12 April.
But just days before, a new case of it was confirmed. A devastating blow as it had already killed more than 2,000 people in the country.
Now there’s a new threat: coronavirus. There have been more than 350 confirmed cases in the DRC.
Adding coronavirus to the challenges facing people in DRC will test this central African country to the limit. But its people are strong in character and the church is getting on its knees in prayer and reaching out practically to the most vulnerable.
Despite its extremely rich natural resources, the DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world. And fighting in parts of the country, makes it harder for humanitarian groups such as Tearfund to work.
Today the price of food is rising dramatically. This is due to coronavirus-related restrictions putting pressure on the economy and because the country relies on imports for essential supplies. Meanwhile, the health system is not strong enough to deal with the new coronavirus pandemic.
The church steps up
Faith is an important part of life in the DRC – more than 90 per cent of people in the country are Christians. Faith leaders are trusted and respected in their communities and at the national level, so they are very influential.
Faith groups also manage 75 per cent of health facilities, schools and social services in the country, so engaging with them is very important in the fight against coronavirus.
There have been more than 350 confirmed cases in the DRC.
Since Easter Monday, the eastern city of Goma – along with Kinshasa and a number of other cities – have been under partial lockdown. For pastors like Reverend Muhogera Ngaboyeka Marcel, it’s important to still connect with his congregation.
He’s a chaplain for Tearfund partner ECC, the umbrella organisation for all evangelical churches in the DRC.
‘It’s the first time in my life that all churches are closed on Sunday, and no choirs, no more prayers sessions, no gathering activities… And, for us pastors, this is the time to be close to our fellow believers,’ says Rev’d Muhogera.
‘I call them to stay in touch, find out how they are doing and pray for them. Even though we depend on the church offerings to live and take care of our families, with no offerings we have to keep the church going.’
Earlier this month, Tearfund organised a workshop to support churches and faith organisations. The aim was to help them find ways to engage with their communities during lockdown and be able to communicate information about preventing the spread of coronavirus, including good hygiene practices.
Rev’d Muhogera took part in the workshop and sums up what he learned: ‘With better knowledge of coronavirus, I will be able to tell my fellow believers through text messages and WhatsApp about the disease and improve their knowledge. This will stop the spread of rumors, because they will have a trusted source of information.’
As well as the workshops, Tearfund is contributing to radio shows – sharing songs and Facebook posts to spread important messages about preventing coronavirus. The expertise and lessons learned in the response to Ebola is forming the basis of our approach.
'Our best chance is to work together'
‘Our best chance is to work together with local authorities, faith leaders and healthcare providers to educate the community, and also to do whatever we can to ensure people have clean water and soap for handwashing so that they have the means to follow guidance issued,’ says Hebdavi Muhindo, Tearfund’s Country Director in the DRC.
Tearfund is preparing to distribute hand washing kits and digital thermometers to its partner organisations. Hand-washing kits will be distributed to public places such as schools, markets, health posts, and churches, and rainwater tanks will be installed to make sure there is enough water.
Pastor Muhogera believes that although the need is great, it is hope that is sustaining families and communities. His message is simple and biblical: ‘You know, “all things work together for the good of those who love God”.’ (Romans 8:28)
• Pray for people in the DRC who are facing poverty, conflict, Ebola and now coronavirus – may they be protected from infection and continue to hold onto the hope that is found in our God.
• Thank God for the lessons Tearfund, faith leaders and local churches have learned during the Ebola outbreak. Pray that they will be effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus.
• Pray that the distribution of vital hand washing kits and digital thermometers will be possible, despite the restrictions of lockdown.
Tearfund works in more than 50 countries and we are doing all we can to stand with the most vulnerable people at this time. If you feel led to support this vital work, please click here to give.