Peter Nathan, Regional Director for Europe and Africa: “Part of the problem in [so many] areas are the anomalies that no one has an answer to. For instance, on Wednesday afternoon, January 20, I was driven through Kiberia, the largest slum in Africa, home to some 800,000–1,000,000 people living on top of one another, located in Nairobi, Kenya. In the 25 minutes or so that I spent on the main street at rush hour, I saw fewer than ten people wearing masks, and most weren’t worn correctly. To our minds, such an environment would be a rampant festering place for COVID-19, but [that] is not the case. The same situation persists in South Africa’s shanty towns. Yet, elsewhere, COVID-19 is exacting its toll on human life without question.”
Charina Baterzal, Oslo, Norway: “The year 2020 has been an interesting and challenging year for me, especially being a newly baptized member. During these lockdowns, I was able to meet more brethren and even gain friends through online Sabbath services and virtual social meetings organized by the Church. I also discovered a new passion for hiking, camping in the wild, and spending more time with nature, and appreciated God’s beautiful works more. Trials and challenges were also present, from the sudden death of my eldest sister [to] the admission to the hospital of my mother in the Philippines. I learned how to let go of my fears and worries, to trust, and to ‘let God.’ I felt all the love and support of everyone through prayers and messages in these difficult times. I am never alone.”
Barry and Carolyn Laggar, Cape Town, South Africa: “Although we had heard of lockdowns occurring in China and Europe, it was still a surprise when South Africa was cast into a very hard lockdown in late March. We awoke on 27 March unable to leave our homes, except to shop for essentials. Even a walk around the block was prohibited. Online schooling and working from home became the new reality for many families. Although challenging at times, our children were always eager to log in to see their teachers and friends, which made the transition a lot easier. Knowing that all their friends were in the same situation made it a lot more fun. Throughout lockdown we kept in touch with a number of brethren and developed a deeper bond with some we had previously not known well. Everyone’s experience was different, from families losing their income to widows being on their own—even, in one case, losing a family member to COVID-19.
“Cape Town Sabbath services were conducted through webcast, with sermonettes pre-recorded and prayers done via Skype. We feel privileged to be part of a congregation that rallied around to help each other through a difficult experience, but even more privileged to be part of God’s firstfruits as we see prophetic events unfolding. Although lockdown was a very unpleasant experience for many, it has given us time to reflect and brought us closer together as a family—and, more importantly, closer to God.”
Hugh Stewart, Minister for London and Sevenoaks, England: “As a shepherd of God’s flock and minister of the Gospel, I, like everyone else, have had to make adjustments in the wake of the pandemic. Some of these adjustments created new ways to minister to the flock and preach the Gospel, but also added new limitations. The new ways involved a greater reliance on technology instead of the ‘old-fashioned’ way of personal contact. One immediate positive is that I can do more counselling—baptismal, Bible Studies, answering questions, etc.—in one week. In the past, driving to in-person meetings consumed my time. Another positive was flexibility to reschedule personal online meetings. As someone who is technologically challenged, another positive was that I was forced to engage the dreaded world of technology. I estimate that by 2025 I will have mastered Zoom and all things technological!
“The new limitations are not being able to meet in person, one-on-one or collectively, on the Sabbath and Holy Days. One adjustment I made was with the messages I prepared. Instead of messages more pertinent to the local congregation, I prepared messages for a wider audience, including new people who may not understand some of the basic doctrines of the Church.”
Cyril Morris, Sevenoaks, England: “This is my experience of COVID-19: It all started in March just after lockdown, with a cough every few minutes which increased rapidly as the days went by. At times I struggled to speak due to the constant coughing, which seemed to progress as the nights drew near, [along with] a hoarseness. I experienced severe headaches… pain in my ribcage, diarrhea, and [a] prickling sensation on my skin. After two weeks I lost my sense of taste and smell. I felt weak with no energy. In all this I never gave up on my faith. My wife and I were constant in prayer. I knew the Lord was with me—and still is. My pastor, the saints, [and various] families and friends were also praying for me. My prayers go out to all those who have lost loved ones. As for me, I continue to give God thanks for healing me and taking me through those difficult weeks.”
Agnes Acheampong, London, England: “It started with what I thought was a mild cold—sniffles here and there, a sore throat, and a cough every now and then. So, as instructed, I took time off work and returned a couple of weeks later feeling better. Then it returned, but this time felt different [from] any cold or flu I have had before. Again, sniffles and a sore throat, though what really struck me was the migraine—even opening my eyes was painful because any glimpse of light would feel as though someone was pressing against my temples. This continued all through the weekend and for months afterwards. A few days after experiencing this, I noticed I could not taste or smell anything! Days after testing positive, my symptoms worsened and the days felt longer and longer. The migraines strengthened in intensity and resulted in me constantly feeling nauseous and vomiting. I had a fever that I could not shake, and my breathing became so erratic that I could only sleep with pillows propped behind my back. ‘Little’ things we take for granted daily, such as being able to go for walks and breathing fresh air, seemed like a luxury.
“As I reflected in bed, I realised God was using this to draw me nearer to Him. It was God’s prerogative to heal me, but I needed to do my part, remain faithful, and pray that He would. It was then that I found relief and truly began to see God working to heal me. Although [at the time of writing] I do not have 100 percent of my sense of taste and smell back, I am extremely grateful for God’s healing and intervention, which allowed me to be able to return to work and resume my daily activities. Thank you to everyone who remembered me in their prayers—He truly is an amazing God!”
Nicolas Nosel, Deacon for Strasbourg, France (Translated from French): “From 21 March to 15 May, I experienced 56 days of hospitalisation with COVID-19. My symptoms started gradually with a cough, fever, and headache. My situation did not improve, so I asked for an anointed cloth. My doctor told me I had chronic bronchitis and he prescribed medication, but my health still did not improve [and soon] deteriorated…. As COVID-19 was already spreading in the East of France, the doctor came to see me right away. When she measured the level of oxygen in the blood, it was around 88 percent (normal is between 90–100 percent). I had to be hospitalised immediately…. the hospital’s emergency room was already very full. I remember entering through the door of the hospital, but after that, nothing.
“I spent more than two weeks in an artificial coma… which was followed by a few weeks of reanimation and five weeks of functional rehabilitation. After all this time in a coma [and experiencing] immobilisation, intubation, manipulation… my body had become very weak and bruised. For five weeks I had to repair all this, with the help of doctors, nurses, [and] physio and speech therapists, to whom I pay tribute for their work. At the rehabilitation centre, the government wanted to know the behaviour of caregivers and patients. We had a visit from the TV5 and FR3 Alsace [journalists], who interviewed me. I said to them, ‘Our President E. Macron said we are at war with an invisible and powerful enemy, but our Heavenly Father is all-powerful.’ On 21 March, I entered the hospital lying down, and on 15 May, I walked out. I give glory to the Eternal Father for putting me back on my feet, healed from COVID-19.”