I have posted some limited guidance on my personal Facebook profile page concerning the current serious situation that has developed due to the virus and the economic downtown. These are unprecedented times as compared to events since the Great Depression. While I am not suggesting that event will be repeated, the situation is as serious an event that has happened since then, outside of open warfare. We pray that it will be averted, that God will intervene and be merciful. However, the mixture of responses and attitudes among those who have never experienced serious calamity or depression tells me that many people are underestimating the effects. The following letter, with a few editorial changes, is what I sent to my local pastor and a couple other ministries. I hope you read it.
Faylene and I have had calamity or emergency experience (non-medical) in responding to Katrina, helping a Ugandan Christian school, and working under developing region conditions in Romania and now the Philippines. I am not going to assume you may have experienced the conditions that we have seen, so I respectfully submit to you the following comments, which you have permission to use or pass. Likewise, we have experienced several earlier 20th century disasters and heard the stories from our parents first hand concerning the downturn in the late 1920s (which continued until WWII).
It was my position with the government in my job 15 years ago that made me develop habits to discern truth from fiction or exaggeration. I made 30-year projections for things successfully because I knew how to do this. I am well aware that the current crises has both a mix of media that is true and untrue. My wife and I have had to warn extended family and friends to check their information. Most of them had not, and several had damaging false information that they held as true. I have checked information…the situation is that serious — not because of the virus alone, but because of the simultaneous downturn in the economy. If you have thought of the things we suggest, then you don’t need to be concerned.
The Medical Situation
Your doctors in the congregation know very well that we are on an exponential curve of sickness unless the Lord intervenes, which is what many groups (and we) are praying for. This means, as the CDC and NIH have said, that the situation is likely to get worse for two months minimum, and there are significant unknowns that cannot be answered at the present time. Take note, which helps the confidence level in people who read and check data, that both Vice President Pence and the NIH director are Christians. They are not given to exaggeration and take a biblical view (from what I can see) of the world around them. Why say this? Because I have friends and you have church members that still think this situation is either a hoax or short-lived.
The Economic Situation
I watch the stats and I am getting reports around the country from individual families, including the Philippines. Much of the economy is coming to a standstill. The major car manufacturers, aerospace giants, and the service industry (a major area big money maker) are shutting down or are severely curtailing orders/activities. It takes two weeks for that to happen. Then harsh conditions continue. Then it takes much longer for a spin-up to occur. Investments are down and will probably stay down for some time. We have reports from several states where lower income jobs and businesses have already shut down by necessity and have no idea how to survive. It will happen here very quickly. Why say it here? Because these conditions have not been matched for over 50 years, and we are only at the beginning.
The Church — What Can It Do
First, the leadership has to have a physical or phone call method of contacting each other in an orderly fashion. Not everyone has the internet. If infrastructure starts to quake, internet becomes less dependable. Communication lines via phone or physical visit/contact, however, are very likely to stay robust. So, have a way and begin exercising means of contacting people…all of your members…in some sort of systematic fashion as needed. Have it in place and practiced as soon as possible. Take special care to deal with the elderly and the poor — have a double-check way of making sure they are contacted. I strongly suggest every member be contacted at least once per week. It’s not hard with note pads and a general set of questions for information about needs to be funneled where it needs to.
Note: contacting people is not just for what they need. They have to talk. A critical part of addressing traumatized people in Katrina or the Mississippi floods was having people have a way to talk out their stories. Someone listening makes a big difference. If this gets very serious, this aspect of communication and regular contact with everyone becomes even more critical. God’s love can be expressed in these situations and on-the-spot prayer makes a difference.
Food issues or lack of availability of some commodities could become serious. For those who cannot get out (do you know who they are?), those who are sick or become sick (do you know who they are or how to find out?), then food delivery or help from other members or their neighbors will become a necessity. Someone has to keep a running count of who needs what, where they are getting it (might be neighbor or church), and when someone contacted them last.
Planting season. I know it seems far out, but it’s close. If anyone can, plant to eat and share. If you can encourage the gardeners to over-plant with the concept that it might be needed, the investment cost is low, and if it is needed in early summer (northern hemisphere), something extra might be a real help. If nothing else, it is an old fashioned way to contact neighbors and check on them, pray for them, and share your hope in Christ
Money. Hard cash will be needed in some cases. Do you have a fund and is it known? Who is checking or has a way to check if someone cannot by food or critical drugs as required? What criteria do you use to aid those who need help the most? In less than a month, this information must have a way to find its way leadership and a response mechanism needs to be in place. We have already had more than four reports from out of state from people in serious predicaments that need a response from their local contacts. Keep in mind: not all money services will stay open. In one state, in international money service already shut down. It is best to have some cash on hand for church member households, and leadership needs to know if something gets serious among its members. Not all problems are solved with money, but in a few cases, it can help. If money does not help, and someone needs basic necessities, are you ready to answer the call?
There are good ones and a host of bad ones. I put basic recommendations on facebook on May 11 and May 15. I have referenced CDC, NIH, and WHO information. Not everyone knows to do this or trusts anything. That is not good. You are welcome to look at my profile on FB and use whatever you wish. Newspaper headlines, by themselves, are often very misleading. Information has to be checked with local, state, or federal authorities.
We pray the Lord will divert the seriousness of what is unfolding. I pray that you and the leadership already know these things, but I have learned to err on the side of caution without assumption. I think this could get very serious. If it does, believers must do a ‘reset’ and be salt and light. This is not a short-lived disaster, in any case. The best estimates are a minimum of two months, then one must add two months for recovery. This does not include what businesses or jobs simply stop, or the effects of those who might get very sick or die.
You and the leadership are in our prayers. It is personal with us. We have a stranded mission team overseas and our Philippine base/compound with 60 staff and 40 orphans are in the balance. Many other friends are in precarious positions.