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Brethren Weather the Pandemic

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Brethren Weather the Pandemic

In an effort to connect brethren as we all experience the world changing due to the effects of COVID-19, we’ve compiled in this issue reports from 18 different areas and over eight languages, representing thousands of people who keep the Sabbath and the Holy Days, and hold onto the teachings of Jesus Christ. Thanks to Matt Hernandez for his graphic design work on the countries represented.

By reading about the state of others around the world, perhaps we can better pray for each other and have a broadened perspective of the lives of our brethren in different areas.

Africa

Angola: The COVID-19 pandemic in Angola, specifically in the city of Luanda, has caused misery to the population. All of the brethren are affected. About 90 percent of the Angolan population are poor and living hand-to-mouth, buying from informal food markets on side-streets. The Angolan government has isolated the capital (Luanda) from the rest of the country to prevent the spread of the virus to other cities, and has imposed other limitations in these markets. General poverty and hunger have increased as no one can work. The Church has encouraged all to obey the civil authorities and has established a way to communicate with each other, providing support to those in need when possible. The distribution of the hardcopy Boa Nova (Portuguese Beyond Today) magazine has been held back in some areas of Angola due to the government-imposed isolation of Luanda. We sent the latest issues to the brethren via Whatsapp from cellphones.

All religious gatherings were prohibited until June 24. The brethren in Angola have been congregating in small home gatherings on the Sabbath, trying to include all so that no one is left out. Notwithstanding the difficulties, the brethren are continuously grateful for all the prayers around the world for them.

- Jorge de Campos

Malawi: In an effort to avoid a potential COVID-19 outbreak, the government of Malawi declared a state of emergency and the indefinite closure of schools.

Several members are affected by this development—teachers and students whose futures are uncertain as long as this school closure remains in effect. The impact of school cancellations is greater here without widespread access to Internet.

We request prayers on behalf of the Malawian brethren that God might remove the uncertainty of the schooling situation in our country, and that the schools may be reopened soon.

- Cephas Chapamba

Zambia: We have to wear face masks in public; church services are restricted to 50 people and can last no longer than an hour. A health official inspected our hall to see that we could socially distance. Rodrick Epomba, a deacon in Solwezi, conducts a successful weekly radio broadcast and holds a Bible study at the local prison. When his visits were temporarily suspended due to COVID-19, he bought six small radios at his own expense so the inmates can listen to his radio broadcasts.

- Derrick and Cherry Pringle

South Africa: Things are getting tough for most people economically. Here in the Western Cape Province we have the highest number of infections and the highest number of deaths, but our government acted swiftly and decisively early on, which has helped slow the rate down. On Monday June 1, some of the restrictions were eased—including the 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. daily curfew. In an unexpected address last night, the President also announced that churches may resume meeting with a maximum of 50 attendees.

- Barbara Botha

Asia

Hong Kong/Asia: Together, the Good Works program, LifeNets, Legacy Institute and the Boise congregation have helped the brethren in Asia greatly, coordinated by David Bensinger, who has served there in the past along with Earl Roemer. Mr. Roemer works mostly with Hong Kong but also serves the few other members in scattered Asian countries. The brethren and prospective members and their families would be starving without their support.

It was difficult to help, as most banks were closed. Most members could not go anyway, for fear of arrest for violating curfew. We sent money through cellphone service and bought bags of rice for the families. We will deliver another set of rice bags in June until they can return to work.

- Aaron Dean

India: Most of India went into a severely restrictive nationwide lockdown early on. With a population of 1.4 billion people living in a country one third the size of the United States, there was much concern that if the virus was allowed to spread, the inadequate hospital systems would not be able to handle the sick.

Lockdowns, which began in late March, were strictly enforced and if one was caught outside their homes during the hours of the lockdown, they could be beaten, fined or thrown into jail. Most lockdowns ended May 31.

Travel was prohibited. Initially, thousands of migrant workers were stranded in cities without a way to reach their home villages. Some started 100-mile journeys on foot; many died along the way from dehydration, hunger or mishaps on the road. With supply chain disruptions across the country, others have relied on the government for food handouts.

As the lockdown restrictions began to be slowly lifted, people were allowed out of their homes for short periods of the day to buy food and essentials.

Brethren in Minnesota sent funds to UCG members and other Sabbath-keeping families who did not have food. The brethren in India bought large bags of rice and divided it into smaller bags to help fellow church members and the poor in their village.

One Sabbath-keeping pastor said, “The situation in our area is very severe. Myself, family, pastors, orphan children and all of our Church people are suffering a lot for food. Your prayers for us are highly necessary.”

As COVID-19 spread, so did other disasters in India. A major gas leak occurred in the city of Visakhapatnam (where two UCG families live), and killed 12 people—350 were hospitalized and thousands near the chemical plants evacuated. The Hindutva rage is also at its peak. The killing of minorities is on the rise in India, with primary targets being Muslims and Christians.

Another member reported that they were dealing with the aftermath of a cyclone that hit near Pune leaving two dead, several injured and damage to nearly 140 homes. Super-cyclone Amphan, the most powerful storm in the Bay of Bengal in over a decade, ripped through eastern India and Bangladesh on May 20, killing at least 86 people in West Bengal, destroying thousands of homes and uprooting innumerable trees. Prospective members in Bangladesh attended the Feast with us in Sri Lanka last year. We also have Beyond Today readers in Pakistan who have written and asked for our prayers and support.

In Agra, where we have several brethren, severe storms recently hit Uttar Pradesh, killing 43 people and damaging the Taj Mahal.

The country also now has 100 million people unemployed, as well as a seething border dispute with China. In the northwestern part of the country, a locust invasion is reported to be the worst in more than two decades. Our brethren and the Sabbath-keeping groups in India who read Beyond Today have endured quite a lot over the last three months. They are in need of prayers and support. Financial gifts to assist can be given to Life Nets/India and Sri Lanka. We’ll ensure it gets to those in need.

- David Schreiber

Myanmar: In Myanmar, the condition is currently not grave. Members who were unable to work or eat received assistance during the lockdown. The lockdown measure has been removed and most businesses have reopened. Members in Yangon and nearby have resumed work. Schools, colleges, universities and social gatherings are to reopen in early July. Travel within Myanmar can restart but international airlines are still closed—only domestic airlines have opened. People still have to wear masks in public.

Due to coronavirus lockdown and social distancing, members have not met together for Sabbath services since early March. While the UK has a Zoom meeting for Sabbath services and Bible study, it was impossible to connect to some parts of Myanmar where there is no power, Internet connection or computer to tune into live services. In May, we created a group of people from parts of Myanmar, Singapore and the UK. We put together Sabbath services in advance, then I post the program of Sabbath services two days prior to each weekly Sabbath day.

Last week Austin Jennings was a guest speaker from Brisbane, Australia. Having attended the Feast in Myanmar in 2019, he was familiar with Church members in Myanmar. Members were excited to meet him again and were strengthened by his sermonette. On the Sabbath of June 27, we will be receiving the message from David Bensinger. I will be translating. Due to the time difference, he will be giving the message at 12:30 a.m. in his time zone. In all things we are thankful to God for wonderful technology which He has allowed us.

- Davidson Lay Beh

Philippines

Mindanao: There are 66 families—over 200 people—scattered across this island. At the beginning of government lockdown, we were mostly unaware of the threat this virus posed to our health and economy. It happened so quickly that most brethren were caught unprepared. The government imposed travel restrictions and limited businesses, which has affected the livelihoods of some brethren. To go out and purchase food and medicine, we must carry a quarantine pass issued by the local governments. One person per family is allowed to go out twice a week to buy food and medicine. Senior citizens 60 years old and above, and children 16 years old and below, are not allowed to go outside.

Thankfully, the government acted quickly to distribute relief goods to people who are living below the poverty level, many of whom are already receiving financial aid. Government cash assistance was also provided for the first month. A second payment will be given to those still under quarantine next month. Local governments also provided rice and canned goods.

Thanks to the financial assistance of the Church, all the brethren in dire need have been assisted. The Church also provides monthly assistance to members who are widows and elderly. At this time, the brethren do have sufficient food. The traditional close-knit Filipino culture helps families cope and contributes toward the necessities of life. As of now we have not heard of any brethren in Mindanao or Sabah infected with the virus. We are very much thankful for our God’s divine protection and the prayers and support.

- Raul Villacote

Visayas: In addition to the impact of COVID-19, people in the Visayas region have recently experienced typhoons and earthquakes, which have caused devastation to homes and livelihoods. Our brethren have always remained resilient and steadfast despite their financial difficulties and challenges, but are also experiencing fear and anxiety. A number have lost their livelihood and even homes. Like others around the world, our brethren are strongly affected by the loneliness of missing Sabbath fellowship.

Our members are impacted by the current separation and social distancing. Many have expressed a longing to worship and fellowship together. We are all thankful that God never forsakes His people and we have learned to maximize the available technology to contact and check on the welfare of each other.

The elders are in regular contact with our brethren to find out who needs financial assistance. Our pastor has been able to visit members to distribute some root crops and vegetables. Grocery items have been provided to some senior members who are confined by quarantine laws. Cash assistance has also been provided to families who are severely impacted but not able to receive the government’s financial assistance, which is reserved for the poorest.

Above all, even with limited equipment and the sudden need to virtually conduct Sabbath services, we are thankful that God made a way for us to webcast our weekly Sabbath services live to our scattered brethren. We are also able to webcast weekly Bible studies from our senior pastor and provide other Bible study resources from the UCGIA website. Beyond Today is broadcast regularly every Sunday via our church Facebook pages. Although our brethren still long to go back to our usual gatherings, we are grateful to God for giving us the technology to virtually meet together.

We thank God that our brethren here are all accounted for and have not been harmed by the virus. We recognize all the more that we need to stay united and continue in prayer for God’s will and His guidance as we wait for His Kingdom to come. We will remain steadfast as we continue to look unto Jesus Christ as our Savior and the finisher of our faith.

- Noel Roy Gilos

Sri Lanka: As of this writing, a daily curfew of 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. is in place in Sri Lanka. Inter-district travel is not permitted for most brethren living in the Colombo district, as the highest number of cases is in the capital of Colombo. According to the media, almost all new COVID-19 cases detected during the last few weeks are from the navy camps and Sri Lankans returning from the Middle East mainly, but also from some other countries.

The government has not permitted any religious worship gatherings so far, not even in limited numbers. The building we hold services in has not been given approval to open up to the public yet. Work places have begun reopening with limited staffing. Essential services are continuing. There is also a general election on the horizon. It is expected that the government will open up the country gradually and church services will be permitted soon.

The brethren are in good health and their spirits are up overall. We are grateful to God that no one among the brethren or their extended families is infected. Technology has helped us to be spiritually fed very well from the home office as well as prerecorded messages from our senior pastor David Schreiber and me. Brethren keep in touch with each other by phone at regular intervals, encouraging each other. Three families who live in the same neighborhood meet regularly for services in the same home.

As expected, the cost of living is steadily increasing and effecting everyone. Food is available at a higher cost. Since the majority of the country’s workforce in Colombo are still working from home, there is not as much need for private and public transportation. This has resulted in three of our brethren who provide transportation for hire to face challenging times financially. They are now struggling to make their monthly lease rentals even though they have receivedagraceperiod.Anew member, a kind of “handy man,” is having difficulty finding work. Two members have taken a huge pay cut and are also struggling. One member is now unemployed. The rest of the earning youth are thankful they have not received a pay cut or a loss of job as of today. A few of the brethren are now engaging in various kinds of home enterprises to earn some revenue to get by. In all, God is seeing them through, one day at a time.

The needy brethren receive partial support from the Good Works program and generous brethren, which is much appreciated. We thank all those expressing and demonstrating love and concern, the ministry and the prayers of the brethren worldwide. We are looking forward to better times ahead with God’s grace.

- Frank Reckerman

Canada

Eastern Canada—Calgary, Alberta plans to begin meeting on July 4. People are anxious for services to resume, though they appreciate the webcast from Cincinnati. The province of Ontario is being very cautious so it may be awhile.

Richard Moulton is going through Scott Ashley’s Survey of the Gospels and uses that for family discussions on the Sabbath. Their hall may not be available for some time.

Plans for the Feast in Midland are still on. Several speakers are from the U.S., so coordinator Pat Read made an alternate speaking schedule in case they are unable to cross the border. He and Jorge de Campos conduct a Zoom service every Sabbath with New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Windsor and Lexington.

Québec will have a satellite Feast site with about 40 people. Members who speak French now tune into a video conference for services each week that serves people from French-speaking areas. Those who speak English tune into the Cincinnati webcast. The Hamilton and Toronto congregations have a Friday night Bible study and fellowship after services on Sabbath using Zoom. Several are having health challenges. One member had COVID-19. She recovered but lost a lot of weight and muscle tone.

A hall has been booked for the Feast in Newfoundland—a bigger one to allow for distancing. The members there now tune into two services each week.

While the church office is closed officially, staff still answer phones, collect and process mail and fulfill booklet requests. Holy Day offerings were down somewhat, partly because some sent their offering to the U.S.

- Linda Wasilkoff and Rainer Salomaa

Western Canada—The Victoria, British Columbia congregations plan to begin services on Pentecost. Both Southern Alberta and South-Central Saskatchewan hold Friday evening interactive Bible studies over Google Hangout to stay connected, and connect to Edmonton and Cincinnati on the Sabbath. Some listen to four services each week.

Mike Erickson hoped to have a few people over at a member’s farm for services near Edmonton, keeping the group under 15. Prince George currently allows two families to meet together.

The Abbotsford building will hold their own services for a month and see how it goes before letting the UCG congregation back, likely in July. Their biggest issue is a lack of manpower since many of the speakers live in the U.S. and won’t be available until the border opens.

The Vancouver and Okanagan congregations can meet, but Okanagan has no resident elder or speakers. John Elliott cannot cross the border to hold a live service, so they are continuing to webcast services on the Sabbath along with a webcast Wednesday night Bible study. Paul Wasilkoff has been having Zoom Bible studies in Hamilton. Some are going back to work, but others are still very isolated so they have been reaching out to them. Brethren are excited to be together again, although they are limited to a group of five. They contacted both halls they were renting and gave them donations because they were hurting financially.

In the three congregations Sheldon Sitter serves, they have an evening coffee time over Google Hangout. People can drop in to chat, and Larry DeLong announces next week’s Bible study topic so people can begin studying it in preparation.

- Rainer Salomaa and Linda Wasilkoff

Central/South America

Bolivia: Members in La Paz and Santa Cruz are doing well. There is a strict quarantine in these cities. Sabbath services are done through the webcast and YouTube. Despite being confined to their homes, brethren communicate via WhatsApp and study the Bible together during Zoom calls. We also have bi-monthly Bible studies through Wirecast. There is concern in Lima, Peru, because of the high incidence of COVID-19. We have three members there.

- Raul Machicao

Brazil: In the tribal village of Maloca de Moscou, some 50 miles east from the city of Boa Vista, there have been a few cases of coronavirus.

Among other scattered members in Brazil, there are also some affected by loss of jobs. A number are trying to seek new employment. Some prospective members are suffering from anxiety, have had the virus and/or have witnessed close friends dying.

In Brazil the distribution of Boa Nova has also been delayed, but we have recently been able to ship them. Booklets from the home office have been held back for about two months due to lack of international cargo flights to send them. We pray these temporary setbacks may be overcome soon.

- Jorge de Campos

Chile: A number of members have been affected by COVID-19 in the Santiago area. Lately they have had an upsurge of cases.

Pastor Jaime Gallardo mentioned he tested positive of COVID-19 about a month ago. A few days later, his wife Maria came down with the basic symptoms of this virus, although she was not tested. They both have recovered, which was not pleasant at all, but at least they did not have to be hospitalized. They believe their young son Isaac probably had COVID-19 as well but had few symptoms.

There are other members in Santiago, Chile who suffered the virus. German Alarcon tested positive. His wife Clara and their older son Anibal had similar symptoms but were not tested. They also did not have to be hospitalized and have now almost totally recovered.

- Mario Seiglie

Colombia: Of the five congregations in Colombia, no one has contracted the virus, although Jaime Salek, the resident minister there, is concerned because few precautions have been taken by the government authorities in most cities.

- Mario Seiglie

Guatemala: Although there are a high number of cases in Guatemala, no members have contracted it. Pastor Israel Robledo believes that God has protected the brethren since some around them do have it. The national lockdown has left some stranded, jobless and unable to access their money to pay rent and buy food. Some could not access their bank or could not go outside to shop and began to run out of food. Brethren from the U.S. have collected funds to help some of the brethren in Guatemala who were hit suddenly and harshly with the economic impact of the lockdown.

- Israel Robledo and Mario Seiglie

Mexico: Mexico has a high incidence of COVID-19 cases and the testing is very deficient—less than two persons per thousand, so there is concern. A number of members are doctors or nurses in Veracruz and Matamoros and are in a high-risk group. Although some relatives of members in Mexico have COVID-19, no Church members have contracted the disease. They still need our prayers because of the latent danger of getting this virus.

- Mario Seiglie

Europe/British Isles

Germany: Here in Germany, the government mandates the requirements to have services rather than pastors of individual congregations deciding when to open. Like other places, we’ve had online services over audio and Zoom. We have some members who have indicated that they will not attend right away as our services recommence, since they are older and have to use public transportation to get to services, and they don’t want to have the risk of being exposed.

- Paul Keiffer

United Kingdom: Our Sabbath services continue to be held online using Zoom with links staying open after services conclude for one-two hours of fellowship. Zoom’s “meeting rooms” tool is used for small-group fellowship after services. It remains uncertain as to when in-person meetings in the regular congregational venues might resume.

Experience gained with Sabbath services by Zoom has led to other meetings: weekly mid-week Bible studies have become a regular feature in several congregations. A women’s discussion group has begun and other activities are being considered. The need for occasional training sessions for those who speak in Church has also been identified for action.

Currently, these mid-week activities are specific to individual congregations, although they may be extended to include members across congregational boundaries. We are looking at how details of mid-week activities might be shared within our Church community without becoming unwieldy or over-burdening the meeting hosts.

- David Fenney