March 30, 2020

Hard Decisions in Hard Times

On March 23 I received an emergency alert on my phone saying the governor of Michigan had issued a shelter-in-place order effective at midnight. After the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Michigan the week before, schools and churches closed. Spring break trips were canceled. Restaurants closed and, one by one, other non-essential services were discontinued. In spite of our efforts, COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in our state and is now in the small community where I live. 

Wilson and Danika Thomas in Malawi, Africa.As president of our local hospital, my husband has been working with local and state agencies as well as community leaders to avert, as much as possible, the impending crisis. At the same time, he and other hospital presidents across our state are preparing for the influx of patients that will soon be in need of care. 

My husband is well acquainted with the other hospital presidents in our state, the hospitals they run, and their capacity to meet this crisis. As both a physician and hospital administrator, he has a very realistic perspective of the magnitude of the challenge ahead of us. Never before have he or they faced such a crisis. 

Danika and Wilson Thomas are serving as medical missionaries in Malawi. Wilson Thomas is the medical director of Malamulo Adventist Hospital in Malawi, the oldest Adventist hospital on the continent of Africa. I recently received the following message from Danika: 

“This past week our family has suffered through so much uncertainty.Malawi currently has zero registered cases of COVID-19. As testing becomes more available, these numbers will change. I have watched by the hour as countries around us have sealed their borders. Flights have been cancelled. International travel has ceased to exist. Every moment that we hesitated to ask ourselves, ‘What should we do?’ our options were taken from us. I am the mother of two small children. I am the wife of a medical doctor. I am a teacher and mother hen to my neighbors. Do we stay or do we go?”

Dr. Thomas works with a patient at Malamulo Hospital in Malawi, Africa.We are all faced with difficult choices right now. For some, the choice may be whether or not to venture out to the grocery store to get a fresh loaf of bread. For others it is whether to risk your own health and perhaps your life as well as that of your family in order to care for the sick. Doctors and nurses have always given of themselves to care for the sick, but rarely has the risk to themselves been as great as it is at this time. How do we, individually and collectively, face this crisis? How can we be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem? 

Danika continued: “Wilson and I have been called to medical missions. In spite of the risks in staying, we can’t leave now. This is our time to fight. I am so proud of the other doctors and medical workers on our team who are also choosing to stay. We are blessed to have Dr. Gillian Seton here with us at this time. She served in Liberia during the Ebola crisis and chose to stay rather than leave. She has become a beacon of light to all of us as we come together now to make plans for what is to come.

“Malamulo is preparing their quarantine, providing handwashing stations, and working on protocol for all departments. I am preparing as best I can for my students to continue their schoolwork from home. And I will stay at home with my children while my husband goes to work with a team that has also answered this call to fight.

“Am I afraid? Absolutely … but nothing is under my control. Am I stretched too thin? Probably. But maybe that is my calling? I have to trust that God will provide the way forward through these uncertain times.”

Yes, we live in a fragile world. A novel virus that first emerged only a short time ago is now spreading across the planet. As a global community we are working together to face the crisis. 

Wilson Thomas and his team are preparing to save as many lives as they can with the limited resources they have available to them. I was in Malawi in October and had the privilege of getting to know not only the missionaries serving in that hospital but also the local staff. They are a dedicated and committed group of Christian men and women who stand ready to take up the fight against this deadly virus. God has called them, and in His name and by His grace, they are going to save lives. 

Dr. Gillian Seton washes her hands at one of the hand-washing stations at Malamulo Hospital. While many in various places around the world are already fully engaged in the fight against this deadly disease, my husband and his team are preparing for the inevitable battle. Dr. Thomas and his team in Malawi are preparing for the battle. Paul states in his letter to the Ephesians, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age” (6:12). Like the evil that Paul warns us of, the coronavirus is an invisible force that lingers for hours, days, and sometimes weeks with its poison. It can infect without our awareness. Paul instructs us, however, “to take up the whole armor of God,” that we “may be able to withstand in that evil day” (6:13). As followers of Jesus, we must take this fully to heart. The same commitment to service that compelled Danika and Wilson to stay faithful at their post should compel each of us to do our part. Like them, we are to put our trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

Will there be losses? Without doubt. Will there be mistakes? For sure. But lives will be saved. This battle with the coronavirus is just a minor skirmish in the great battle between good and evil that has been raging for millennia. And in that battle, the victory has already been secured. 

Ann Hamel is a psychologist with the International Service Employee Support Team of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. She lives in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.