As coronavirus continues to dominate global news, Baptists in Asia struggle to minister and even worship in the epicenter of the outbreak. In addition to changing or canceling Sunday services and conferences, Baptists in the region also seek to love their neighbors in the midst of virus.
The global outbreak started in China, and more than half of the known cases and deaths are in that country. But neighboring countries are also struggling, with South Korea and Japan both in the top ten countries with the most cases. Nearby Singapore and Hong Kong also have high rates of infection, and there are many cases in Malaysia and Australia.
As of March 11, more than 124,000 have been infected and more than 4,500 killed by coronavirus in more than 110 countries. The World Health Organization officially classified the outbreak as a pandemic on March 11.
Vesekhoyi Tetseo, general secretary of the Asia Pacific Baptist Federation that brings together 62 Baptist conventions in 22 countries in the region, told Word&Way the coronavirus “has been pretty detrimental for many of us here in Asia.” He noted that it’s problematic not only for those infected but also for many others as conferences are canceled and daily schedules impacted.
Tetseo, who is based in Japan, said APBF postponed its leaders summit scheduled for Bangkok, Thailand, moving it from mid-May until late August.
“This was a necessary step to help cast away concerns for those traveling and those hosting as well,” Tetseo explained. “Postponement was also based on the concerns that there could be some with health issues. Therefore, for their sake we decided to move to another date.”
Churches have also been impacted, with some in the region canceling or changing services or moving to online services until the outbreak subsides.
“I understand some churches have moved their worship services online. Some churches have spread their worship services into 3-4 services so that church will not be jam-packed,” Tetseo said about churches in Japan, where the country has canceled schools for the month of March.
Such cancellation of services has also occurred in other countries in the region. Many churches in Hong Kong have canceled services since the start of March. Schools there are closed until late April, and some business owners report they’ve seen few sales for months — adding economic pressures to the social isolation expressed by church members there.
Harry Lucenay, former pastor of Kowloon International Baptist Church in Hong Kong, told Word&Way that the church has not held services in person for a few weeks.
“Most of the churches in Hong Kong are not open,” he said. “They’re worshiping on air, by video — because the people are afraid to come together. The city has canceled many different aspects of gathering crowds in the city.”
Lucenay added that many restaurants, businesses, and public transportation options are closed or only open for limited hours. And he noted this adds to problems already experienced from “about six months of heavy protests that have been in the streets” last year that impacted businesses, transportation, and churches.
Even as churches and businesses close out of precaution, Tetseo urges Christians not to panic and to keep ministering.
“While there is no way to predict what can happen to the situation worldwide, one does not have to worry much and panic by bringing fear to the public,” he said. “If only we will be vigilant and stay healthy, take precautionary measures such as washing your hands with soap, use hand sanitizers, avoiding crowds, etc., we should be fine.”
“It is also very important to understand that we are all facing the same battle whereever we are, and as believers this is a time to truly ‘Love your neighbor’ and not panic,” he added. “As Christians, this is our fight against an adversary that could turn out ugly if we do not exercise wisdom, patience, and faith. And therefore, with God’s help, let us battle together in love, respect, and in faith that God will bring an end to this soon; let us respond to the situation with much prayer and compassion.”