Committed to knowing nothing but Christ and him crucified for the forgiveness of sins.
Friends in Christ,
No more than 12 hours after my last newsletter was sent to you saying that there were no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Panamá, the first case was registered. In the last 10 days, 137 cases have been confirmed. Panamá has closed its borders to everyone except Panamanians and those with residency and last night the president signed an act suspending all international flights (departures and arrivals – beginning Sunday, March 22 at 11:59pm) for the next 30 days. Panamá has effectively closed itself off from the world. There is a country-wide curfew (9pm-5am), limits for how many people are allowed in grocery stores, schools have been “digital” since March 11, most gathering places have been closed, and beginning today there is a “sanitary fence” around the capital and surrounding provinces to prevent the further spread of the virus to the interior provinces as well as the mandatory closure of all business for the next 30 days (not including hospitals, supermarkets, and pharmacies). What many of you are beginning to see in your various corners of the United States is our reality.
That being said, we are healthy and are doing well. As far as I know, all of our church members are healthy and safe in their homes. I was at the supermarket yesterday and I am happy to report that there are no shortages of food (or toilet paper!). Many folks are heeding the government’s “Quédate en casa” (stay in your home) warning to prevent further infection. I am working with our pastors and church leaders to provide spiritual care “digitally”. While this is obviously not the ideal way to do ministry, it is our best option for the moment. We are recording sermons, devotions, and Bible studies. One of our pastors is playing and recording hymns to be shared by social media. So while we may be stuck in our homes, we have certainly not stopped working to share the Gospel of Jesus with the church and community.
I want to encourage you all in these uncertain times as well. Be informed, fact-check what you read before you share it, and listen to what your government and health officials advise. God gave us our governments for our care and protection. While we are to listen to them as the 4th commandment teaches us, we listen to them also for the love of our neighbor. Many have shared on the news that they did not know they had the virus but have tested positive (presumably having shared the infection unknowingly). Take care of yourselves and your families. Find joy in the opportunity to spend some time together, albeit necessitated by a crisis.
But above all, take heart and do not lose hope. Our Lord is still in control (Ps 24:1). He does not abandon us in times of trials and tribulations. I am comforted by the words of the author to the Hebrews: Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (4:14-16). Jesus came for you. Jesus suffered and died on the cross for you and to pay for your sin. Jesus forgives you. Jesus rose to new life for you. We do not need to live like Jesus is not in control. Even in these scary times, Jesus still abides with you, holds you in his hands, and sustains you with his mercy and grace.
From afar we will continue to hold you and your loved ones in our prayers. The Lord’s peace be with you and your families.
Brian, Amanda, Ezra, and Aviva