Pandemics, Plagues, and Promises

By Tony and Judy Nguyen on July 13, 2020

Is 2020 over yet?

Not even close, it seems. This year has brought more than its fair share of troubles, and like many of you, I’m ready to push the fast forward button.

Here’s a summary of what’s been happening on our side of the world…

Pandemic: COVID-19 Arrives in Kenya

The first case of coronavirus in Kenya was confirmed on March 12th. The government’s response, to their credit, was decisive and swift.

With already high rates of HIV, TB, and malnutrition, several models predicted that COVID-19 would quickly overwhelm fragile healthcare systems, leaving millions of deaths in its wake.

Thankfully this has not been the case (yet!).

The reasons for this are not clear: inadequate testing, favorable climate, a very youthful population, or perhaps aggressive mitigation measures by African nations?

Whatever the cause, we’ll happily take it. It gave our hospital and community time to prepare.

It was encouraging to see the whole community band together to make masks, face shields, and gowns for the hospital.

Friends of Kijabe, a nonprofit organization that supports the hospital, mobilized donors to generously give to an emergency response fund.

Then the waiting game started.

We were geared up and ready to go, but with each negative test result over the next 3 months, we wondered when the wave of COVID would come. At times, it seemed perhaps even more exhausting to maintain vigilance in the face of no cases than if the pandemic had arrived early.

That all changed a couple of weeks ago when we had our first confirmed COVID-19 case and death.

Because the patient presented atypically, about 20 staff workers were exposed without appropriate PPE and had to be quarantined.

This was a significant hit to our workforce and a tough lesson learned from our first case.

Everyone seemed to be a bit more on edge. Mask compliance abruptly improved. The COVID ward quickly filled up and many of these patients were quite ill.

With 9 mortalities in the past 2 weeks, this has quickly become our most challenging ward, and I honestly don’t look forward to my assigned weeks there.

 

“I never thought I would say it, but put me in the ICU instead.”

 

Judy in ICU

Me (Tony) suited up in a PPE

Judy in teaching rounds

Plagues: Locust, Floods, & Famine

Other major events this year included the worst desert locust invasion that Kenya has seen in 70 years.

It hasn’t been that bad in our area, but we’ve seen plenty of them in and around the hospital and even a few in our house.

Did you know that flying insects are one of Judy’s worst fears?

(This was clearly not on our missions application, otherwise she would not have signed up for this.)

A stowaway joining Dr. Patrick for morning report

 

Experts have attributed the plague to a perfect storm

Unusually high cyclone activity in 2018, creating a rich environment for locust breeding and civil war in Yemen that destabilized efforts to control the initial swarms.

The first massive swarms arrived in Kenya last January.

Farmers who witnessed the event described how the locusts darkened the sky.

And a second wave, possibly swelling by 400-fold, is expected to hit in July, which ominously coincides with the start of the harvest season.

The prolonged rainy season also caused severe flooding and landslides, especially in western Kenya, where 200 people died and 100,000 people were displaced.

But emergent calls for prayer were sent out, including on our Facebook page, and there were amazingly no deaths by morning.

The combined effects of the pandemic, locust invasion, and flooding could result in devastating famine for the region.

An estimated 20 million people in East African were already severely food insecure prior to these events. The World Food Programme estimates that hunger could double in the coming months.

Promises

With all that is going on in Kenya and the world, it’s easy for me to feel small and insignificant.

What can I possibly do to really make a difference?

My efforts seem like only a drop in a vast and stormy ocean. Some mornings, I’m tempted to just go back to bed.

However, I’m reminded of the verse we chose for our prayer card from Hebrews 10:23 that says,

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.”

God never promises us a life free from troubles, and in fact, He tells us to expect it (John 16:33).

He does promise that He will be with us through the troubles. He will help us and He will never leave us. He promises new life and restoration, not just for eternity, but for our lives now.

He is making all things new and invites us to be a part of that work.

We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, and this requires that we be physically present and sincerely engaged. We are to look them in the eyes, hear their stories with our ears, understand with our minds, and empathize with our hearts.

Posting on social media can educate and raise awareness, but it will not cause change without action. Donating money to a cause is a wonderful and much-needed thing…

But I don’t think God wants us to just stop there.

True love requires human interaction and the bearing of one another’s burdens.

Proximity and presence.

That is ultimately what Christ did for us.

 

A small sense of normalcy – making donuts on Father’s Day

 

I can’t stop millions of people from starving, but I am trying to meet the needs of local families as I become aware of them.

I can’t save everyone from dying of COVID-19, but I can treat the patient in front of me with compassion and dignity.

I can’t solve huge social issues like racial reconciliation, but I can listen and be an ally for justice.

As I place my hope in Christ, I can also hope that our collective efforts to care for each other will change the world.

So, that’s why I don’t give up on those tough mornings.

Instead, I take my shower, drink my coffee, and grab my stethoscope and mask on the way out the door.

 

 

With much appreciation and love,

Tony and Judy

 

 

Tony and Judy Nguyen

About Tony and Judy Nguyen

Tony and Judy have been Serge missionaries since 2018. They serve in a hospital in Kijabe, Kenya where they reside with their two children. give.serge.org/tony-and-judy