“You are the salt of the earth. … You are the light of the world. … let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
(Matthew 5:13, 14, 16 NIV)
It’s easy these days to gloss over or ignore any news reports you read about Covid-related crises, especially as the entire world has been dealing with the pandemic for almost two years now. However, in Vietnam, a real and urgent Covid-19 crisis has been unfolding in the last few months, triggered by the highly contagious Delta variant that has hit the country particularly hard.
This recent Covid crisis has come as a surprise and caught people off-guard in a country that was applauded and admired last year for its success in keeping the virus under control through aggressive contact tracing and quarantine measures. Average daily cases of Covid-19 hovered around 200 at the start of June but surged to more than 12,000 a day last month. As of mid-October, daily cases are almost at 4,000. In total, there have been almost 850,000 infections and more than 20,000 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.
In May, the Revival Ekklesia Mission house church in Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) was publicly singled out by authorities and blamed for an outbreak in June. They were threatened with criminal investigation and permanent closure despite numerous other outbreak sources left unmentioned by the government or reported in the media.
The government has since made a desperate bid to stem the sharp surge and spread of Covid-19. In the outbreak epicentre of Ho Chi Minh City and 18 other provinces, the government imposed a strict lockdown that prevented citizens from leaving their homes, not even to buy food. Soldiers were deployed to enforce the restrictions by patrolling the streets. These lockdown restrictions were eased in early October.
The government has now abandoned the “Zero Covid” strategy that had been so successful before the Delta variant, but the impact of the lockdown has been widespread, with many of the poorest and those who have lost jobs going hungry without access to daily food and basic necessities.
There have been multiple examples of local churches going above and beyond to respond to this desperate need, even amidst the persecution and threats of prosecution after churches and Christians began to be blamed for spreading Covid due to two house churches that were traced as sources of two early outbreaks in March and April this year.
Church leaders have been delivering hundreds of food packages to the neediest members of their congregation as well as the poorest in their communities, despite the risk of exposure to Covid. One leader shared how there has been an opportunity to show compassion to the soldiers patrolling the streets in the heat and humidity without sufficient hydration, by loading his car with bottles of water and handing them out to the grateful soldiers.
In this dire situation, there have also been opportunities to share the gospel message. One example was a pastor including details of his online church service with food packet deliveries to those in need, many of whom are unchurched. He reported that average Facebook visits for his church exploded from a few hundred to 15,000, prompting him to make his services evangelistic.
While the Covid situation is starting to improve and the authorities are reopening the country, let’s press in to pray for Vietnam, specifically that:
- the spread of Covid-19 and the Delta variant in particular ceases and cases drop significantly to safer and more manageable levels across the country.
- the government secures more supplies of official vaccines, so they can boost the overall vaccination rate across the country which remains low (less than 10 percent of the population were fully vaccinated by the end of September).
- aid, food, necessities and medical supplies reach those most in need, including the poor, unemployed and those suffering from Covid-19 infection.
- those who have lost family members and loved ones during the pandemic have an opportunity to grieve properly, as many of those who died in this latest outbreak were buried industrially and family members were not permitted to hold funerals.
- the local church and Christians in Vietnam are able to take advantage of this unique time and opportunity to share the redemptive message of the gospel to counter the despair and hopelessness during the pandemic and for persecution of the church by the authorities to stop.