Countries throughout the Middle East are reeling from the novel coronavirus, with already suffering refugee populations especially vulnerable.
While Middle Eastern countries try to strike a balance between stopping the spread of the virus and keeping fragile economies afloat, for refugees and other displaced people there is little meaning to stay-at-home and social distancing orders. Cashless, ailing and hungry, those who have found work are hard-pressed to forego it.
If they don’t work, they risk starving, and if they do work, they risk bringing the novel coronavirus into their crowded tents and run-down apartments.
“Our fear is related to refugees living in difficult conditions – they have been unable to work, and they have no material to protect from the virus,” said the leader of a ministry based in one Middle Eastern country. “We urgently want to provide them with protective masks and hygiene kits with your help.”
Local missionaries feel burdened to ensure that they show they are disciples of Christ amid the crisis.
“We can’t leave them like this, because this test is too brutal, and that’s why your generosity is vital to them,” the leader wrote to Christian Aid Mission. “No one is talking to them right now, because everyone has their own troubles, and if we do not act, it can have dire consequences. We want to urgently distribute masks and hygiene kits with the food aid, and we will be very happy if you help us in this regard.”
Local missionaries are doing everything possible to protect themselves and others against the new coronavirus – disinfecting their facilities, staying home where mandated and taking special precautions with those who are medically vulnerable or older than 65, he said.
“But this does not work in camps, unfortunately, because the living conditions are already bad and unhygienic,” the leader said. “So we want to add more hygiene materials in the next aid. As the soldiers of Christ, we need to engage more and pray.”
Taking precautions, local missionaries are torn between their desire to serve and the risks to themselves and their families, said the leader of a ministry based in another Middle Eastern country with large refugee populations.
“Christians are divided – some are afraid, but in general the ministry team is very encouraged and sees a big chance to share the gospel with our people,” he said. “We trust in God and have great hope in Him. We believe that He is in control. Our people need us now.”
In the same country, a native ministry that provides theological education was compelled to send students living on campus back home before impending travel restrictions would have made it impossible, the ministry director said.
“Our students live in close proximity in our dorm building, and the healthcare system is under-prepared and over-stretched,” he said. “On the positive side, we are thankful that we had been developing our online platform. We now have the ability to switch from in-class to online instruction with reasonable effort and without compromising quality.”
As a result, the coronavirus is accelerating the ministry’s efforts to develop a complete theological degree online, he said.
“We continue to be committed to the formation of our students, leaders in the Arab church, and we will continue to support their living expenses at home as we had done during their time here, so that they can focus on their education and training under very challenging circumstances,” the director said. “We continue to trust God as we strive to be faithful to His calling, and we are grateful for the way He has been preparing us for a time like this.”
Thousands of cases of COVID-19 are taking lives in the region, with medical professionals reportedly stating the numbers are much higher than most official figures.
Turkey ordered quarantines in certain areas, and Iraq imposed a nationwide curfew that is widely violated. Jordan implemented a strict, nationwide lockdown on March 14 that checked the spread of the virus; fewer than 300 cases earlier this month, including five deaths.
The leader of a ministry in one Middle Eastern country said workers are working around the restrictions.
“It is no longer allowed for people to meet in large groups, so we are now going to their homes and helping with groceries,” he said. “We are also trying to help with those in the most need by assisting with their heating bills and prescription payments. We are able to do these things because of your generous help, and for that I am incredibly appreciative.”
In Iraq, local missionaries are providing aid to people displaced by violence as they are able.
“Only people who live close by are meeting for prayers, and of course those in the camps are because they are all in one place,” the leader of an Iraqi ministry said. “But there are shortages of food and supplies.”
There are fewer restrictions in villages and remote areas, he said, though economic paralysis in the rest of the country jeopardizes the livelihood of the poor in those areas.
“Pray that the Lord will fulfill all needs, as the demand for the Bible has gone up, and people are asking more about the Lord,” the leader said. “Last month we distributed all the Bibles available to us, and we are in the process of printing another large number.”
Such needs are felt throughout the region. Please consider a donation today to help local missionaries bring the love of Christ to people whose crises have been compounded by the COVID-19 crisis.