Core Values in the Time of COVID
Mark Knowles and Danielle Murry-Knowles serve with the Lesotho Evangelical Church.
In January, a colleague in the States sent us a message after seeing an email reminder about this yearly newsletter: what do you write about when you’re not physically present and aren’t exactly sure when you’ll return? Or, maybe more accurately, how do you write about a place where you’re not physically present? Yes, thankfully, we have been able to continue much of our work remotely, which is good. Yes, we have been able to stay in contact with most people, which is personally meaningful. But it felt disingenuous to speak on behalf of Lesotho while living in Minnesota, and no one wants this correspondence to be about our life here. So, what could we say in a piece of communication like this?
Unfortunately, it has become painfully obvious: Lesotho is being hit hard by a second wave of Covid-19. Whatever the causes (speculation points to the heavy influx of people into Lesotho from South Africa for the holidays, coupled with a new strain(s) of the virus in the region), the effects are clearly being felt. All this when the impact of Covid was already felt economically, and where recent rainfall has resulted in widespread flooding.
In time, we will know more clearly and fully the impact of this moment. During all such moments, some of the information we have heard will prove inaccurate, while some won’t sufficiently portray the severity of the situation. But we can say that the country went back in lockdown earlier this year, and the border was closed again. At least two (of the 100 or so active) pastors in the Lesotho Evangelical Church in Southern Africa (LECSA) died this year, plus at least one retired pastor, with others hospitalized. At one of LECSA’s hospitals, two of the three doctors were out sick (including one who was critical), which also limited the services the hospital could provide. At another LECSA hospital, 23 staff tested positive. Health institutions have been overwhelmed and short on things like oxygen, available beds, and PPE. Official positivity rates (from the limited testing that can be done in-country) have ranged anywhere from 30 to 57 percent. Economic uncertainty goes hand-in-hand with this pandemic for a multitude of reasons. Message after message has conveyed the worry and sadness of people dealing with loss.
While we don’t know the long-term impact of this moment, and in the weeks and months ahead, hopefully, by the time you get this, some things will have changed. In the midst of it, we continue to see the importance of Global Ministries’ five Core Values of Community, Mutuality, Justice, Peace, and Presence.
In terms of Community, LECSA churches, in spite of being closed for in-person services, have been vital places of information, comfort, and organizing in communities throughout the country. On a large scale, LECSA still held (virtually) its annual service of prayer for the King and country of Lesotho. In terms of Mutuality, partners from all over—ranging from neighboring South Africa to far-off places such as New Zealand, Denmark, and the U.S.—have found ways to stay connected and offer support. In terms of Justice, LECSA’s health institutions continue to provide care and services to people in the rural areas they serve even while they are affected. Also, LECSA’s national-level communication services continue to provide needed information in a confusing time. In terms of Peace, the people of Lesotho, regardless of faith background, are finding ways to live through this moment together, and LECSA is coordinating with all social institutions.
And even at the level of Presence, we are learning that video calls, emails, and text messages are still meaningful ways to connect. Sometimes these communications are difficult moments of empathy. But, often, they are small, pleasant reminders of the deeper value of presence. For example, Danielle recently received two separate picture messages from office coworkers at home on lockdown. The pictures were of flowers blooming (after the rain) that had been reseeded from flowers Danielle shared with them last year. Or, another example was a message from a committee member asking for her gluten-free cinnamon cake recipe. Or, Mark exchanging messages with a pastor friend recovering in the hospital that in the end probably became more about the ups-and-downs of the soccer team they both support than how Covid felt. Or, a message from someone who works in one of the Morija stores who simply wanted to send an updated picture of his family with news that his son had made it into the National University. None of these things take away the difficulty of loss, or the fear of uncertainty, of course. But they do affirm, in some small way, the reason why we were in Lesotho in the first place. Presence comes in many forms, and that is worth sharing and reaffirming here. We trust that all of you have experienced something similar in recent months, too—because presence is about finding ways to live through such moments together.
Mark Knowles and Danielle Murry-Knowles serve with the Lesotho Evangelical Church. Their appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.