Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been given a unique perspective on the global impact of this pandemic through calls with various church leaders around the world. Through my church’s partnerships with some of the world’s largest missions organizations, I was given the opportunity to hear about the effects of COVID-19 and the widespread shutdown of society as we know it from the front lines in both Africa and India.
For these leaders, living in developing and/or third-world contexts, COVID-19 massive global shutdown comes with a steep price that many of us here in America, who are spending the time watching Netflix and hanging with the family, do not see directly.
On one call, a CEO of an international mission organization told the pastors listening, “there is a tsunami of humanitarian needs coming to the 3rd world the likes of which we have not seen”. On a different call, another leader serving in the thrid-world told me, “based on current projections, the economic catastrophe globally could lead to half a BILLION people dying over the next 2 years…not from COVID-19…from starvation and famine.” The leadership challenge put before the global church is a complex one. Leadership never happens in a vacuum and the decisions that must be made are never easy ones, especially when we consider the unique challenges Christians are facing around the world that we are detached from.
Hearing a set of concerns related to this pandemic so different from the ones I am facing here as a pastor in a wealthy, western context was sobering It reminded me that this world-changing pandemic is just that: “world” changing. And those changes have created an unsustainable reality in the developing world where, unlike most westerners, “staying home” is not an option from a social standpoint. In impoverished parts of the world, the fallout will be felt, long after a vaccine or therapeutic for this terrible virus is found. Hearing from these fellow followers of Jesus reminded me, that this issue is never as simple as “health vs economy”. Globally, those two things go hand in hand in a complex, interconnected way. We may not see it that way since Americans do not generally make the connection between economic activity and survival, but the rest of the world does not have that privilege. To be clear, I believe that social distancing and “flattening the curve” to protect our health care system from overload and the vulnerable from infection. It was the right thing to do. But pretending there is no human-suffering cost to lengthy economic shutdowns shows a lack of global perspective on a complex issue that is already affecting billions in places we don’t think about.