|Distribution of food.|
“Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place, the Most High, who is my refuge, no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. for He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” Psalm 91:9-11
Psalm 91 is the basis for the Introit on the first Sunday of Lent. Although the psalm promises the Lord’s protection and care for the faithful in every trial, sickness and danger, this passage from the psalm seems particularly pertinent now. The Old Testament lesson appointed for the second Sunday in Lent, Exodus 8:16-24, dealt with the 10 plagues of Egypt, and I preached on that text. Although the purpose of the 10 plagues of Egypt has been revealed to us, tooday we may not sure of the purpose of this plague. However, we trust that everything is under God's control.
Since our last newsletter, the coronavirus arrived in Venezuela. There have been 77 confirmed cases in 14 states. However, no cases have been documented in Barinas, the state where we live. So far, the only Venezuelan to die from COVID-19 was a 90-year-old man who had been living in Madrid, Spain.
|Distribution of food.|
The Venezuelan government has declared a “national quarantine”. No one is supposed to leave home without a respiratory mask and only to perform essential tasks. International flights have been suspended and the borders with neighboring countries closed. Traffic in and out of the areas where the virus has appeared, including the capital city of Caracas, is being monitored and restricted. Teams of government workers are fumigating public spaces in the urban centers (these spaces are nearly empty, anyway). Nationwide testing for COVID-19 has been promised.
It remains to be seen how effective this program will be. One problem is many, if not most, Venezuelan households are not like middle-class homes in the USA where there are many comforts like wide-screen television, continuous high-speed Internet service and well-stocked freezers and refrigerators. Many Venezuelan homes now have no running water, fuel for cooking and are without electricity for several hours per day. The people have to get up before sunrise to fill up jugs of water for daily use, purchase firewood or LP gas if available and stand in line for food distribution. Actually, all of these things require standing in line for hours. In addition, gasoline sales have been all but halted in petroleum-rich Venezuela.
No doubt all of you have seen the infographic which shows the two bell curves. One, in which no preventive measures are taken, predicts COVID-19 infections taking off like a rocket and overwhelming the capacity of healthcare facilities. The other curve indicates that, with preventive measures, the spread of the virus may be kept within the capacity of exisitng healthcare facilities, although extended over a longer period of time. Of course, this graph does not calculate the social and economic costs of maintaining strict “social distancing” measures across entire countries. The world already is feeling the impact of these costs, which will only increase exponentially over time. There also are not completely satisfactory explanations as to why the virus is spreading more rapidly and with greater impact in some regions of the globe compared to others.
Again, the situation is particularly critical in Venezuela, which, with the crippling of its once-proud agricultural sector, has become heavily dependent on imported food. Medicine and medical supplies also are in short supply. We will have to wait and see to what extent “humanitarian aid” will be allowed to pass the imposed barriers.
Our preschool classes have been suspended, but last week our teachers distributed food and homework plans for the children and their families. Up to now, at least, Luz Maria has continued her afterschool tutoring and we have kept the doors of the church open on Sundays.
I think that this is a decision that every pastor and congregation must make based on the circumstances in which God has placed them. We interact with our neighbors in the surrounding community on a daily basis, as they come to the mission in search of food, water or other assistance. Indeed, “social distancing” is not very practical for us, because we cannot avoid contact even if we wanted to. Our Sunday morning attendance is small, usually not more than 20 people, and we do not expect many visitors for at least a month or two. But every one of these people are in need of Word and sacrament ministry, which really is what we are about.
The public preaching of the Word is proclamation, or quite literally a broadcast of the Gospel for all who have ears to hear. It make sense, then, to make this proclamation over radio, televison and theInternet. But the sacraments cannot be received through electronic media, because in the visible elements the grace of God is made real for each one of us personally and in a way we can perceive with all of our senses. For that reason, as the Apology of the Augsburg Confession says, “For among us masses are celebrated every Lord's Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved.”
Faced with the threat of death, it is important that the consolation of personal confession and absolution, and the body and blood of the Lord be available to every believer. God forbid that any of our flock might look to receive the sacrament on their very deathbed, but God willing, I would be availble to offer it to them under such circumstances, as I have in the past.
O God, You desire not the death of sinners, but rather that we turn from our wickedness and live. Graciously behold Your people who plead to You and spare us. Withdraw the scourge of Your wrath and be moved in mercy to turn away this pestilence from us; for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.