When coronavirus was declared a global pandemic, myths, rumours, and misinformation spread as fast as the disease. Uncertainty and fear led people to desperately search for information. But the internet isn’t a filtered source of expertise – you can’t believe everything you read on social media. And that’s when the church stepped in.
For many people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), hospitals and clinics are often hard to access. And that makes it difficult to find reliable public health information, so people resort to social media and other online sources.
There has always been a link between conflicts, misinformation, and attacks towards health professionals and humanitarian workers. This can lead to more infections and stigmatisation towards victims and those responding to the outbreaks. Our staff and local partners have seen this already in their ongoing work tackling the Ebola epidemic in the country.
And the spread of ‘fake news’ is equally dangerous now that coronavirus is here.
That’s why Tearfund started a campaign using social media, text messages and radio broadcasts. It’s called Nakataa Coronavirus (which translates in English as ‘I refuse coronavirus’). The aim is to prevent the spread of the virus by sharing crucial public health information.
‘It isn’t easy to know what information is rumor and what is actually true,’ says Hebdavi Muhindo, Tearfund’s Country Director for the DRC. ‘So we have mobilised pastors to spread messages of coronavirus prevention and messages of hope and encouragement. People listen to their faith leaders.
‘They are now sharing the right information, like telling their church members that not going to church is not against the Bible. They are also finding alternative ways to hold services on the radio, through Whatsapp groups, and via Facebook and YouTube services. In fact, more people have been reached with the gospel.’
Getting the message out
So far, the Nakataa Coronavirus campaign has seen more than 200,000 people engaging with it on social media, the majority of which are aged 18-24. 65,000 have been reached on Whatsapp with prevention messages, and 75,000 people reached over the radio. The messages also include prayers.
In the busy urban city of Goma, many young people own phones and use Whatsapp and Facebook regularly, and so this campaign has been successful in reaching out to them through social media.
'It isn’t easy to know what information is rumor and what is actually true.'
Throughout the DRC, to contain the spread of coronavirus, all church activities have stopped: no choirs, no prayers meetings, no church services. These restrictions have hit church congregations hard, but many pastors are resolving to be positive and to get creative.
‘Just because we are isolated, we cannot say we will do nothing,’ says Reverend Marcel, a pastor at PEIGO church (the International Evangelical Parish of Goma). ‘God is revealing to us how we can reach out to those around us. Every Sunday, I call my church members, often praying for them over the phone.
‘Our church also has a Whatsapp group and we have realised that even those who couldn’t attend church services are now leading services and praying with their families at home.’
Prayer and praise
The country needs our prayers as it faces many challenges including extreme poverty and conflict. But with the right information, families can now take steps to protect themselves from coronavirus.
And among our prayers we can add praise. Yesterday (25 June), the Ebola outbreak in the eastern DRC – which has ravaged the region for two years – was declared over. We pray that the north-west of the country will see similar success, as it continues to tackle the disease.
In the face of so many challenges, we ask that you will be close to the people of the DRC. May they know your goodness and mercy at this time. Protect them from Ebola and the coronavirus, and bring peace to this nation. We thank you for the good work being done to combat misinformation around coronavirus, and ask that pastors will know your encouragement and grace in all they do.
In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
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