Current issue

June 2024

  • The Fathers of the Bible
  • The Railway Mission
  • Letter from the Holy Land
Home  >  Features  >  The Coronavirus Diaries: A New Dawn is Upon Us


Ecumenical Centre, Geneva
Ecumenical Centre, Geneva

The Coronavirus Diaries: A New Dawn is Upon Us

Wednesday August 26 2020

Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri is Deputy General Secretary responsible for Public Witness and Diakonia at the World Council of Churches and an Elder of the Church of Scotland in Geneva.  She comes from Malawi, where she is a member of Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP, Blantyre Synod). Zambia and South Africa are her second and third homes.

WHEN the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11 2020, no-one foresaw what changes the whole world would have to go through.

In Geneva, Switzerland we went on an immediate lockdown. Fortunately, the World Council of Churches (WCC) leadership had already decided to postpone the meeting of the central committee from March to August. However, by June when it was becoming clear that the pandemic was nowhere near an end, the WCC executive committee decided to shift the meeting again, from August 2020 to June 2021.

As the whole world is grappling with basic understanding of what is COVID-19, how long it will be with us and what is the most appropriate way to respond at personal, family, community, national and global levels, there are positives and negatives.

At the WCC we have seen some members of the fellowship struggling with theological interpretations of COVID-19. We have seen an increase in people visiting the WCC website looking for spiritual materials that would help them understand: how to be church without having a church service in a physical church building; how to celebrate Easter in their homes; how to bury loved ones who have died as a result of COVID-19 without following the usual cultural ways of mourning for someone; how to deal with an increase in mental health problems, sexual violence against women and children issues and how to relate COVID-19 shut down to issues of poverty, racism etc.

Therefore, WCC staff produced prayers and bible study materials, and organised webinars and virtual pilgrim team visits to assist the fellowship of churches, people of faith and goodwill to be in solidarity with one another and look for answers together. The WCC has accelerated consolidation and reform of its Health and Healing and its Overcoming Racism work to position itself to respond effectively to global health and racial justice issues.

The WCC holistic approach to any issue has also proved useful when dealing with COVID-19. It is not just a health issue. It has touched every aspect of our lives related to peace and justice. We are connected to each other.

At a personal level, I have been reflecting on the initial global, community, national and personal responses to HIV and AIDS four decades ago.  Misinformation, stigma and discrimination were the order of the day then. It is the same with COVID-19. Lessons learnt then should be used to help us deal with COVID-19 and any connected issues now.

As I write this diary now, I am in self-isolation in Stavanger, Norway. Geneva is experiencing a second wave of the COVID-19 infections. When my five-year-old granddaughter visited me in Geneva at the end of July, there was hope that at least people in Europe could visit each other again. Within a week, the numbers of new infections in Geneva began to go up again. Norway included Switzerland on the list of those countries that need to quarantine when they visit Norway. This to me is an example that uncertain times are with us for quite a while.

It is a hard time for those of us with close families in South Africa, Malawi and Zambia where borders are still closed and we do not know when we shall be together physically again. In the meantime, we are grateful to God that technology like Zoom and WhatsApp are keeping us connected as never before. Zoom has become a platform for Sunday family lunches, birthday celebrations, family prayers etc.

It has also become clear that not everyone has connection to these facilities. While the Church of Scotland in Geneva can have online church services, Scottsvile Presbyterian Church Pietermaritzburg South Africa and Zomba Zero CCAP in Malawi cannot have the same. COVID-19 has made global inequality very obvious.

In the meantime, we continue to pray that even this will come to an end. We cannot return to pre COVID-19 world. A new dawn is upon us.

The Coronavirus Diaries: Updates from Church of Scotland partners around the world

Hungary: Physically Distant but Close in Spirit
A German in Scotland: Something New Has Already Begun
Myanmar: We Will Overcome this Hardship
Ghana: This Too Shall Pass
Brazil: The Least We Can Do
Kenya: Caring for One Another in Christ
An Indian in Germany: A Time of Enrichment
Argentina: Time in Between
Malawi: 'My identity in Christ remains unchanged'
Jerusalem: Being Rather than Doing
Malawi: No Lockdown and an Election
Zambia: 'I will never leave you... or forsake you'
Czech Republic: The Covid Cover-up
Zambia: 'All Life is Sacred'
Israel/Palestine: 'The Air is Clear'
Nepal: 'Please Pray for Us'
Malawi: Tough Dilemmas
Italy: 'Together, We Will Get Through It'