When the World Health Organization declared on Jan. 30 a global health emergency in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, WHO’s “leaders urged countries not to restrict travel or trade to China, even as some have shut down borders and limited visas,” the website STAT reported. The epicenter for the disease is the Chinese city of Wuhan.
STAT, a health and medical news site, quoted WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as saying that “This is the time for solidarity, not stigma” in combating the disease.
“The only way we will defeat this outbreak is for all countries to work together in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation,” said Tedros, as he is known. “We are all in this together and we can only stop it together,” STAT reported.
Almost 500 years ago, a similar approach was encouraged when German Christians in Wittenberg – facing the re-emergence of black plague in 1527 – called on Protestant reformist Martin Luther for guidance on whether they should flee for their lives.
Writing for Christianity Today, medical student Emmy Yang, whose grandparents live in Wuhan, applies Luther’s guidance to today’s crisis, laying out “a practical guide for Christians confronting infectious disease outbreaks today.”
In his letter, Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague, Luther declared that those who have job responsibilities involving relevant service to others “must remain steadfast before the peril of death.” Yang writes that these service providers include health care professionals, as well as ministers and pastors, and also elected leaders, law enforcement and security personnel.
Luther even calls on civilian “Christians to see opportunities to tend to the sick as tending to Christ himself (Matt. 25:41–46). Out of love for God emerges the practice of love for neighbor,” Yang writes.
When deciding whether to leave or stay, she writes, Luther trusted that Christians “will arrive at a faithful decision through prayer and meditation on the Scriptures. Participation in aiding the sick arises out of grace, not obligation.”
On the Jan. 29 edition of the Christianity Today podcast Quick to Listen, host Morgan Lee discussed how concerned Christians can pray specifically about the coronavirus crisis. In the episode titled Prayer in the Time of Coronavirus, Lee interviewed Emory University School of Medicine microbiologist Elaine Burd about the measures being taking by the Chinese government to contain the virus.
Burd said that because the government has required citizens in Wuhan to use protective equipment, those who need it most might not be able to find any.
“The biggest problem is that health care workers, who are taking care of sick patients, don't have enough protective gear, and this puts them at greater risk of catching the virus while they're taking care of patients,” said Burd.
“That seems to have created some panic among the group we call the ‘worried well,’” she said. “These people without symptoms but now don't have access to the protective equipment that the local government and public health officials said they should have.” This can make people “feel vulnerable, maybe excessively vulnerable. So I think all of that really, it can create chaos.”
In her final comments, Burd shared how she prays for three elements of the crisis: “The government, the health care workers, and the population in China.
For the government of China,” she said, “that they make well-informed, evidence-based decisions for their population. I know in their heart of hearts they're trying to prevent the spread of this virus, but I'm not sure that the methods they're using are necessarily the best. That they continue to be or are transparent with people. That they react at an appropriate level.”
For the health-care workers, she said, “I pray really hard for the healthcare workers in China. I know they haven't been well-resourced.”
“And I pray for the general population in China. The mortality rate is low, which is good, but still, the speed at which people are getting sick is unsettling.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Omohiro Ohsumi/Stringer
Tim Tune is a freelance journalist based in Fort Worth, Texas. His work has been published by Baptist Press, as well as the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Business Press, Arlington Today magazine and other North Texas publications.