The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
Last month we hosted a series of community meetings to share updates from Iringa, review best practices and tips for effective communication, and reviewed travel guidelines as we anticipate welcoming guests sometime in the not-too-distant future. Mungu akipenda/if God pleases, of course.
While many in the United States are describing a return to a new kind of normal, our companions in Tanzania are bracing for a third wave of COVID-19 infections.
According to international sources like the BBC and Voice of America, “for the first time in more than a year, Tanzania has released figures on coronavirus, confirming 100 cases since a third wave of infections began.” While the reporting of the data is new and marks the different stance President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s government is taking toward COVID-19, the presence of a third wave tracks with trends that the World Health Organization is observing across the continent of Africa. The New York Times, for example, reports that “Africa has ‘just had its worst pandemic week ever’… More than 251,000 new cases were reported in Africa in the week ending July 4, a 20% increase from the previous week… and new case counts are doubling every 18 days.” While vaccination campaigns are moving, “with just over 53 million doses administered, only about 1% of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated.”
In Tanzania, The Citizen documents the presence of COVID-19 in patients in major cities like Mwanza, Arusha, Dar es Salaam, and Dodoma. ‘Shocked’ by the sight of hundreds of maskless people at an event near Morogoro recently, President Samia called upon everyone “to take precautionary measures against COVID-19 as directed by health experts” – including masking, hand washing, and physical distancing measures. Under her direction, Tanzania has applied to join the global COVAX vaccine sharing program.
Anecdotal stories from Iringa indicate an awareness of the situation and document an increasing number of masks being worn in public places. We haven’t heard about congregations curtailing worship or schools pausing in-person learning as happened a year ago, but leaders are monitoring the situation as well with reports and directives that they are now receiving from the government and scientific community. Economically, businesses in the hospitality and tourism sectors continue to struggle as fewer guests leads to empty beds, restaurants and vehicles. At the same time, a sense of deep hope and confident trust in God’s goodness characterize the many messages we receive.
As discussed in the community meetings, for our Bega Kwa Bega partnership this means that group travel will continue to be on hold until advisories from the U.S. Department of State and the CDC are lowered. Intentional communication, both informal and formal, as well as Ambassador visits by Ryan and Astine (done with appropriate risk reduction measures) will continue to be the primary ways in which we maintain our presence and reconnect with one another. And, as always, we promise to hold our companions in prayer on a regular basis, even as they have done the same for us – a seemingly simple act made all the more profound during these days of being together and apart.
The Rev. Peter Harrits – Director of Bega Kwa Bega and Assistant to the Bishop