“Because of this virus, I cannot feed my family anymore,” Razak Abdoul Karim says. He’s a father and husband who makes a living washing clothes or running errands here in Niamey. Since COVID-19 is highly contagious, his family doesn’t want him to go out, and when he does, there’s no work. “People think I’ll contaminate others, so they refuse to hire me,” he says.
Razak Abdoul represents a vast majority of Nigeriens and the vast majority of our patients. In a country where people depend on informal work, feeding one’s family on Wednesday hinges on the opportunities one finds on Tuesday. But with the fear of COVID-19 in the air, along with curfews, restrictions on travel, closing of markets, and governmentally mandated social distancing, food prices are rising and work is quickly drying up.
And that’s not to mention the physical dangers of the virus itself. Every day there are more and more cases. “People are discouraged,” says a staff member at CURE Niger. “They cannot stay home,” he continues, shaking his head. “They must go out, or they will not eat – how will we survive this?” Given the realities of an already deeply insufficient healthcare system, along with the fact that about half of Nigeriens lack access to clean water, things do look pretty bleak. There are no easy answers, but we can offer prayer because nothing is impossible for God.
In order to continue our chapel meetings without gathering physically, our spiritual team has created a WhatsApp devotional group. One member sends out a passage, questions, and encouragement to the Christian hospital staff each day, and everyone in the group is free to discuss. One recent passage was Habakkuk 3:17-19, which seems particularly relevant this week:
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
Later that day, we went around to various staff throughout the hospital and asked them to recite parts of the passage in their native languages – the plan was to make a short video. One line, spoken boldly by Issoufou, still rings in our heads – “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.”
It strikes us that in the Bible, joy is often coupled with a trial. In James 1:2-3, the author urges the churches around the world to “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” In John 16:33, Jesus tells his disciples about the troubles they will face, but he goes on to say “Take heart; I have overcome the world.” And that’s exactly why we can be joyful even now – because God still reigns, and His promises and character still hold true. He is our comforter (2 Corinth 1:3), our healer (Exodus 15:26), and the protector of the needy (Psalm 12:5). It is now that food prices are rising, that work looks scarce, that borders are closed, that the economy is in peril, that COVID-19 cases are mounting, and that the future is uncertain – it is now that Christians in Niger can find their joy in our Lord.
We see glimmers of this here at CURE Niger. We see it in the way Issoufou takes time to orchestrate an April Fools joke for our long-term patients. We see it in the way Aichatou goes about her cleaning with diligence and lightness. We see it in the way Hippolyte works in the kitchen after biking across town in the April heat. We see glimmers of joy all around us still and are reminded that it is possible to yet rejoice in the Lord.
But fear is always at the door, ready to steal this joy. As more cases and new restrictions are reported daily and more sobering news streams from around the world, it is easy to become anxious and begin sinking into the sea. But, Jesus is always there to pull us up. Please pray for our hospital and especially for our staff – that we would take joy in the Lord.