A lot has been said about the struggle of healthcare workers during the pandemic, but little attention has been given to the role of faith leaders who minister to the sick and console the grieving.
With hospitals overflowing and mortuaries filled with the victims of the coronavirus pandemic, the clergy have had their hands full. Funerals, traditionally reserved for weekends, have become a daily undertaking.
Cumulative Covid-19 confirmed cases in the country have passed the 100 000 mark, while 1 812 people have succumbed to the pandemic thus far.
New Era this week caught up with three faith leaders with different missions and experiences to share their thoughts and feelings about their work during the pandemic, and the burdens they bear.
Reverend Paul Isaak, who served as professor of ecumenical missiology from 2007 to 2012 at the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches (WCC), attached to the University of Geneva, said “the reality of Covid-19 that brings death upon death, day after day and night after night, is upon us”. He added that as religious leaders, their work is no longer inside the safety of a roof or a building by merely preaching or singing.
“Differently expressed, to administer the ministries of pastoral care, counselling and caring ministries to the bereaved families on a daily basis is upon us today. We are called to become the shepherds, and our role is to care for the sheep “in the open air” (Luke 2:8) and not inside the safety of a roof,” he stressed.
“Now is the time to help grieving families ensure that their departed loved ones receive respectful, appropriate pastoral care so that no one is feeling as if left in the coldness of death. Knowing how to safely plan and perform funeral rituals and worship services becomes the main task of the pastors, while protecting and comforting mourners and showing respect for those who have died without causing any infectious risk to the mourners.”
Narrating his experience with Covid, Isaak said for more than 15 days, he was fighting, struggling and praying against the virus in a hospital. “On the other side, Covid-19 was aggressively becoming my enemy or the devil itself who prowled around like a roaring lion to devour my body, mind and soul. But I remained alert and of sober mind,” he added.
“Based upon what I shall call three pillars, namely Faith in God, using medicine that was provided and accepting medical care and by self-determination, I completely overcame Covid-19.”
Redemption Gospel Family Church’s apostle Goody Nwagboso said these times are very challenging ones to every sector of the nation.
“The burden of sickness and death has reached an unprecedented level in the country. Despite the great efforts of the government and the wealth of information available from relevant authorities, we are still being hit hard by this pandemic,” stated Nwagboso.
He said as a pastor, it has been difficult to reach out to all their members, especially with the public health restrictions.
Emotionally, Nwagboso said they depend upon the Lord to receive strength to counsel, pray and encourage members who have lost loved ones.
Spiritual Healing Church Reverend Johannes Tjitjo said his emotional wellbeing is touched to the limit.
“As a pastor and priest, it is not easy to be in the kind of situation that we find ourselves in, especially with regards to the Covid-19 pandemic that has shattered many lives. As I am speaking, I am in Omaheke. In Aminius in general, people are dying every day. I am talking about people whom I knew, people whom I worked with. People are dying. It is just unbelievable,” Tjitjo lamented.
“Yes, emotionally, we get strength because I believe in the word of God that itself brings spiritual relief to myself as I go through all these challenging times. As a pastor and as priest, one has to look back into the word of God, especially when one has to handle all the sadness that surrounds our people.”
He said sooner rather than later, there will be no one in churches because people will all be gone, including pastors.
Message of hope
Nwagboso advises citizens to have faith and trust in God, while encouraging people to adhere to all the preventive protocols, and to avoid living with rumours and being overwhelmed by all the theories circulating on social media.
“I share with our people to hold on to their faith, and to understand that this pandemic will be defeated by our faith in God and the right actions taken by us all. For my wellbeing, I depend on God’s grace. I also share and pray with our pastoral fraternity to encourage one another during this period. It is appropriate for those pastors who may not be coping well to seek both spiritual counselling and psychological support,” he urged.
Tjitjo also advised bereaved families to accept the will of God.
“Some people have turned to many things. Some are taking animal medicines, some are turning to drinking urine, but my advice to them is to believe in God,” he emphasised.
“Although we all claim to be Christians, actually we are not. We have steered away from the Commandments that we were given by the almighty God, and this is the reason why we find ourselves in the situation we are in. Yes, families should not give up. They should live in the hope that God will one day restore peace and happiness in their midst. He has never in history wiped out all his people; some will go, some will remain, and those who remain should learn a lesson from what has been happening.”