Missions Report April 1 2020 by Preacher James Tan

We are thankful for the time spent at the church camp, and with family and friends in December. We returned to Kenya on 28th December, spending a week to settle in before leaving for a two-week intensive course in BCEA Rwanda. We thank God for His grace, with 4-6 hours of lectures daily for our subjects (James: Galatians and Joshua; Shermaine: Through the Bible, Elementary Greek). We were thankful to be able to see and understand the needs of the brethren in Rwanda first-hand.

When we returned to Kenya, we had to begin teaching immediately (James with 11 credit hours: Hermeneutics, Research Writing, Galatians, Minor Prophets I, and Shermaine with 8 credit hours: Through the Bible I, Bible Geography, Elementary Greek I). This semester, we had a total of 34 new students, including 2 from our BCEA Tanzania, and one from South Sudan. The college enrolment stands at a total of a hundred to date. While the students are many, so are the issues, do pray that they are genuinely called of the Lord.

Locusts Before the onset of COVID-19, there were sweeping locust invasions across Northern and Eastern Africa due to the shift in climate, apparently it is the worst outbreak in the last 70 years. While the swarms did not sweep into Nairobi, some parts of Kenya were affected. This was worrying for us, as it would affect the economy, when vital crops and harvests were lost in a matter of days, with the possibility of a famine. We killed a few stray locusts in our compound, each being around the length of the palm of a hand. It would be frightening to be caught in a swarm of millions of them in some of the affected areas. The feeble efforts of the government and men, even with modern technology and chemicals were too little and too late.
The situation reminds us of the ten plagues in Exodus, and how such calamities are within control of the sovereign hand of God “He spake, and the locusts came, and caterpillers, and that without number” (Psalm 105:34).

Pestilence We would not have imagined how different life would be in a couple of months with the global outbreak of Covid-19. While its spread into Africa was seemingly much delayed and slow, the contrast of reactions amongst people have been rather alarming.
Before the first confirmed case in Kenya on 19th March, the government’s response towards it was little to none. The college managed to thankfully stock sufficient provisions, and sanitizing supplies for the student body before the panic buying started. Hand sanitizers, masks, thermometers doubled and tripled in price overnight, as people sought to profit from the looming crisis. Thankfully, the major supermarkets committed to maintaining the standard prices on all their goods.

Attitudes Towards Health We faced a huge problem amongst the students and church members. It is a social norm for everyone to shake hands, multiple times a day, even with the same person. On Sunday, the entire church does so, and likewise for the fellowship meetings. Even during our visitations to the sick and hospitalized, everyone shakes hands with the sick person.

Throughout the past month, we had to change all these attitudes towards hygiene by educating the church members and students very carefully. Before Covid-19, people are used to diseases such as Tuberculosis, Pneumonia and Cholera. Outbreaks are common. Other more serious diseases like yellow fever and Ebola are also well known amongst locals. Frequently, many are misdiagnosed with Malaria, which is not found in Nairobi, being in the highlands above 1600m. They are given injections and drugs which they have no understanding of, from uncertified local clinics. While they are familiar with such diseases, there is little awareness of how they are spread. Many cough and sneeze openly, and some students, church members are frequently ill. With the outbreak of COVID-19, it was seen as merely another form of flu, and pneumonia.

Sinophobia With the outbreak of COVID-19, the term “coronavirus” has become a racist term thrown at any Asian, especially as all Asians are regarded as “Chinese” to the locals. Ironically, even at the time of writing, almost all of the Covid-19 cases in Kenya are imported from Europe. The occasional harassment on the streets when we walk around has now become more dangerous, as Asians are being blamed for the outbreak.

Lockdown Upon the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Kenya, the government hastily announced on a Sunday evening (15th March), that all schools will shut immediately, except for Tertiary institutions, including BCEA, which had to close by the end of the week. We had five days to complete 2 weeks worth of classes, and the exams had to be postponed to the next term. On some days, we were running 8 hours of lectures in a day.
We had to step up measures, where any student who reported sick had to be sent home immediately. It was a difficult time, as some who were already ill tried to hide, or refused to go to the doctor, while some pretended to be ill to escape. We had to triage the daily cases and literally escort some to the gate.

On Thursday, just before the school closed, we spent nearly 6 hours continuously taking calls from concerned family members and brethren at home. We were warned both about the lockdown that would happen in both Kenya, Singapore, and all transiting centres for flights. In a matter of days, air travel would be difficult and nearly impossible. Our nearest high commission was in South Africa, half a continent away, as compared to our South Korean brethren who had an embassy, and an evacuation plan in place. We had a difficult choice to make, if we should return to Singapore or stay.

In the weeks before, the campus church had started to shut down all other ministries, the fellowships, Sunday School, except for the main service. All the major denominations had announced a suspension of services. The measures were indefinite, and until now we do not even know if the college could reopen on schedule in May. As we checked with the travel agent, there was only one last flight to Singapore through Doha, as all other transit centres have closed, just as we were warned.

After much prayer, tears and deliberation, we decided to heed the warnings and recommendation of the church, family, and brethren to return. We realised that we could not do much, if anything at all, with the indefinite measures. On the last Lord’s day, after the school closed, we had a small worship service with just a few of our families in the compound, which would be the last as all religious gatherings were shut down by the next week.

The past few months have felt very intense, culminating with the COVID-19 outbreak. Although it has been painful to leave the field, we are very much humbled to learn to follow the Lord’s leading, and not just our own. Our service is not just for the sake of ourselves, but others. We are reminded of the Apostle Paul’s Macedonian call in Acts 16:6-7, where the Spirit “suffered them not”, as they were not permitted by God to continue where they would wish to go. The sovereign hand of God works in a way beyond our understanding.

We are reminded that we are able to serve the Lord wherever we are, in whatever capacity, or situation we are found in. While awaiting for the Lord’s permission to return to Kenya, we are thankful for the time to focus on our further studies, preparations, and time to spend with family. It is also a good time of reflection for us on how easy it is to take things for granted, our physical fellowship and gatherings easily forsaken, our service to the Lord taken casually.

Let us continue to patiently wait upon the Lord, that things might be restored in His own time, and that the Lord will continue to show His mercy in such difficult times!
“My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” Psalm 84:2