A Pastoral Message at the Start of Lent 2021
One of my spiritual practices is to do a slow read of the Bible each day. In January I started reading[...]
On February 10, the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam issued an updated COVID-19 Health Alert for Tanzania. While official reports from the Tanzanian government about case counts and deaths ceased in April 2020, the alert states that “there has been a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases reported by individuals to the U.S. Embassy since January 2021.” Over the past week international news reports from the Associated Press, BBC, and Deutsche Welle (among others) tell a similar story. Anecdotally, we are hearing concerns from our companions as well – not about COVID-19, per se, but the about need to be careful when it comes to the transmission of respiratory infections and an observable increase in funerals and burials.
Nationally, churches and other civil society organizations in Tanzania are beginning to raise their voices in the public square. As reported in The Citizen (one of Tanzania’s leading, English-language newspapers), the ELCT Head Office and Presiding Bishop, Rev. Dr. Frederick Shoo issued a statement on January 26 concerning the global pandemic. It was addressed to bishops and dioceses across the country and states that “being part of the world, Tanzania cannot exclude itself from the rest of the world.” Bishop Shoo’s letter continues, saying:
Therefore, those among us who have been given responsibilities to guide and lead the people of God, we are obliged to provide skills and correct information to our people… Through this letter, I would like to ask you, through our unity to continue urging worshippers and the general community that despite the prayers and dependence on God, we shouldn’t stop taking precautions as per health experts… It is our responsibility to take precaution. It doesn’t contravene our faith, neither is it a sin nor a criminal offense...
These positions from the ELCT’s national leadership are in line with similar statements that have been issued recently by the Catholic Church and other Protestant denominations too.
Behind the scenes, churches and other organizations are working together, mobilizing funds and resources to ensure that hospitals and health care centers have the supplies needed to manage and mitigate respiratory infections should they arise. In Tanzania and elsewhere in East Africa, much of this work is coordinated by the ACT Alliance, of which the ELCA and Lutheran Disaster Response are members.
Regionally, life for most of our companions in Iringa carries on as usual. Schools have reopened, students have returned, and the academic year is up and running. Last week the BKB-DIRA team made the annual round of visits and brought greetings on behalf of us Americans who were absent this time around. While some caution is exercised, churches are full and songs of praise ring out. Likewise, in the market, shops and stalls are open and the hustle and bustle of life rolls on – albeit with a few more masks and handwashing stations here and there.
With new variants of COVID-19 emerging in places like South Africa and spreading across the continent and around the world, it is hard to predict what the weeks and months ahead hold in store. By all accounts, our companions in Iringa weathered the first wave well – at least in terms of their health; economically, things have been more challenging. We will continue to hold them in prayer and be prepared to come alongside them should the need arise, just as they continue to do the same for us.
Tupo Pamoja. We are together.
The Rev. Peter Harrits, Director of Bega Kwa Bega & Assistant to the Bishop