Choosing Between Death and Death: A COVID-19 Reflection
By Rev Sindiso Jele, United Congregational Church of Southern Africa minister
2 Kings 7:3-4 Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die?” If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’–the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.”
The story is about four Samaritan lepers. During that time; they were considered to be outcasts and were asked to live in the outskirts of the village, in the peripheral of the mainstream life. There is an unverified narrative that links this with Gehazi (2 Kings 5:27) and his sons, I will not do that verification, less I offend the biblical scholars and it is not the objective of this reflection. Verse 4 shows very logical thinking and also links to the topic ‘choosing between death and death’. The lepers argued: whichever way we go we will die. In the case of COVID-19 and subsequently the lockdown, if you remain in the house you will die of hunger, if you go out the virus will kill you, this is the situation in South Africa as the context of this reflection.
As mentioned above, I am using South Africa as the context of my reflection since that is where I am working and resident. I can as well use the whole of Africa or whole world, but the reflection would lose particularity and focus. Out of my reading and reflection on the situation I have the following to share:
- One of the ways suggested as a non-pharmaceutical intervention in the spread of the COVID-19 is social distancing and washing of hands with clean water and soap. The suggestion is very effective considering how it has slowed down the spread of the virus and flattened the infection curve. However, it seems to be designed with certain people in mind. For the people in informal settlements it does not make sense. See the picture below. Also, the grammar of social distancing, needs a multidisciplinary interrogation, the social workers, and language experts need to come on board. The loose application of the concept of ‘Social distancing’ may lead to social isolation that can manifest itself in terms of cabin fever, depression and mental anxiety.
- In settlements like these, it is very difficult to talk of social distancing. The people in these areas don’t have the drinking water and talking about washing hands with clean water becomes a luxury. The shelters are tiny and there’s hardly any space for a small family to stay together comfortably; bathing, cooking and even sleeping is problematic. There is no garden space to go. There is the sharing of ablution facilities as well.
- The other thing in my reflection that comes out of my experience of the COVID 19 and the reading of the text is the militarization of intervention and conflict resolution in Africa in general. When the lockdown was introduced, 2,280 soldiers were deployed to help the police to enforce the lockdown regulations. The initial lockdown ended on the 30th of April 2020. A new phase comes into effect and more than 70,000 soldiers will be deployed to enforce the curfew which would be part of the new phase. This is the biggest deployment since the dawn of democracy. This seems to be the problem in Africa where every intervention is militarized.
- There is some sense of colonial hangover especially on the use of Africa as the testing laboratory. The former colonizers of Africa still consider themselves as superior and in control of Africa, her people and her resources. As much as a cure or vaccine is a matter of urgency; the colonialist and racist undertones contained in turning Africa into a testing laboratory cannot go unnoticed; this qualifies as a crime against humanity.
- There is a growing anxiety among the immigrant workers, they are not feeling safe. The economy will be affected and the foreigners would be affected. The question of social security comes in.
- The country has seen a spike in domestic violence and child abuse since the beginning of the lockdown. Some cases are a result of abusive partners who have always abused the survivors or victims without being reported while some of it is violence triggered by frustration and stress due to other factors that have risen up as a result of the lockdown. Either way, there is no justification for being violent towards another human being. Children are locked in with their abusers; there is no school to take refuge in or a library to go hide among characters of a book. Men and women are stuck with their partners who are sexually, verbally, emotionally, economically or physically abusive. Hope is there for the physically abused as their scars are proof for a case but the economically, emotionally and verbally abused cannot present their scars to open a case and they have nowhere to run to as they are expected to stay home during the lockdown. This has taught me that a victim’s worst nightmare is to be trapped with your abuser under one roof during lockdown. The choice in between death and death, if the you remain in the house there is an abuser; if you go out, the situation is militarized and there is a virus.
Life after the COVID-19
There is an emerging normal that would be defined by screens becoming pulpits. Therefore, these platforms i.e. new pulpits, must be kept sacred as the places where the healing and transformative Word is pronounced. What is said through these platforms must be life-affirming as opposed to promoting extra-large egos, creating celebrity out of the pandemic.
Linked to the above, is the digital way of doing ‘church’ which has become the alternative to physical fellowshipping. However it is leaving out some people through the use of the social media platform. The over-digitalization of preaching and pastoral work will leave other sheep not attended to. The poor are also members of the church and may not be able to afford these gadgets, hence would be left out. Beyond the COVID 19 especially in the period of lockdown, the church must come up with ways to minister to everyone.
There would be a new call for the liberation theologies to relook at the colonial hangover that keeps on showing its face. The liberation theology must engage seriously the humanitarian activities in this wake. Humanitarian aid may be politicized, or worse off, used as the evangelising method where the food is given on the condition that you join our political ideology or our church.
There are number of lessons that can be drawn from this reflection of 2 Kings 7:3 in relation:
Lesson 1: The way forward must be a negotiated consultation involving all stakeholders 2 Kings 7:3 Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die?
Lesson 2: There is radical hope which says ‘yes’ when the situation says ‘no’…Such hope is built on the strong faith in God who never abandons his people. Such faith sees those that the society has pushed to outskirts of life to the centre as in the case with the Army camp. With that hope you can face the Syrian army.
Lesson 3: Being a church would need to be redefined and imaged especially how it approaches counselling with the people with anxiety. The people reach a stage where they have nothing to lose, at time they become dangerous and they are suicidal i.e. ‘If we stay will die, if we go we will still die’. Very difficult to deal with someone who has nothing to lose, choosing between death and death, how do we minister with them. The church must emerge after the COVID-19 with such a question.
Prayer from Genesis 18:22-24 (NIV)
Leader: The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.
All: Father help us to remain standing in the moments of anxiety
Leader: Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
All: Father we plead for your mercy and urgent intervention in cure of the COVID-19
Leader: What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?
All: You are a kind God, Lord hear our prayers, Amen