Central American Churches Respond to the COVID – 19 Pandemic
By Stephen Deal, ELCA Missionary – San Jose, Costa Rica
Greetings from our dining room table which has doubled as my primary workspace since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
My previous missionary update provided an optimistic assessment of the effects of the pandemic in Costa Rica. In the initial weeks after the first case of COVID-19 was detected, public health authorities were successful in preventing exponential increases in the number of COVID-19 cases. The number of patients requiring hospitalization or intensive care was well within the capacity of Costa Rica’s health care system. Most importantly, there had only been a handful of deaths attributable to the virus.
The Pandemic in Costa Rica
The situation changed dramatically starting the last week of June. The total number of confirmed cases then was less than 3,000; today, the total has climbed to just under 80,000. September has been the worst month so far with an average of 1,149 new cases each day – a daily figure that exceeds the total number of confirmed cases during the first 3 months of the pandemic.
In relative terms, the hospitalization rate in Costa Rica is one of the lowest in Latin America. In absolute terms, however, the number of patients requiring intensive care is getting perilously close to the total number of available ICU’s in the country’s hospital system. The grimmest statistic of all is the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 which was less than 15 at the end of June; soon the total number of deaths will reach 1,000.
Why the dramatic difference in Costa Rica between the first three months of the pandemic and the last four? Part of the answer lies in the fact that the initial cases of COVID-19 were probably “imported” by foreign tourists or by Costa Rican travelers to other parts of the world. Eventually, the virus found its way into urban areas where the population density is higher, and into poorer neighborhoods where more people live under the same roof and where access to water and basic sanitation services is much more limited.
Elsewhere in Central America, the evolution of the pandemic has been similar. The first cases were detected in early March and infection rates began to accelerate in May/June. The principal difference has been that the health care systems of Costa Rica’s neighbors were quickly overwhelmed by the pandemic because of poorly funded and underequipped health care systems. The crisis has not yet reached that point in Costa Rica, although it could if the number of new infections continues at the current pace.
Responses of Our Companion Churches
Notwithstanding the worrisome news about the propagation of the virus, there are clear signs of hope from our companion churches. Lutheran churches in Central America are part of the global response to the pandemic, supported by your offerings to Lutheran Disaster Response (read more at)
Costa Rica: Amid the pandemic, the Iglesia Luterana Costarricense (ILCO) has been assisting individuals and families who previously received shelter and support services in ILCO’s center for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. ILCO has also provided humanitarian assistance to migrants who have been trapped while making their way from Costa Rican’s southern border with Panama to its northern border with Nicaragua, including many Nicaraguan migrant workers who lost their jobs because of the economic crisis in Pananma. Incredibly, they made it to the Costa Rica-Nicaraguan border only to be denied entry into Nicaragua by their own government. For days, they were stranded at the border. During that time, ILCO’s Migrant Ministry program was active in the ecumenical response organized by churches and other humanitarian organizations.
El Salvador: The spread of COVID-19 has caused not one, but several pandemics including a mental health crisis. Even those who are virus-free must cope with the stress and trauma caused by high infection rates in their communities and extended confinement at home. The Salvadoran Lutheran Synod (SLS), through its Center for Treatment of Trauma Victims, was well-positioned to respond to this crisis. A few years back, sixteen (16) of its pastors and lay leaders received specialized training in the care of trauma victims which has enabled them to provide psychological attention to church members and others in the larger community who are suffering mental health problems during the pandemic. The SLS has even received requests from some government agencies to provide trauma counseling and training to health care workers and others on the frontlines of the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Guatemala: The Iglesia Luterana Agustina de Guatemala (ILAG) was one of our first companion churches to organize the delivery of emergency food assistance to indigenous villages in rural areas where most ILAG faith communities are located.
Despite major logistical challenges and adverse weather conditions, ILAG church workers persisted and were able to deliver essential provisions to hundreds of families at a time when acute food shortages were occurring in rural Guatemala.
The longer the pandemic continues, the worse the food crisis will get in Guatemala. Emergency food aid is a short-term remedy, but longer-term responses will be needed to address the chronic food security problems which existed before the pandemic and have only gotten worse during the 7 months of the pandemic. ILAG leaders are already considering ways to deal proactively with this “hunger pandemic”. One response will be the SEED project (Sembrando Esperanza y Dignidad in Spanish) which will promote sustainable farming and gardening practices so that rural villagers grow more of their own food and reduce their vulnerability to events beyond their control such as the current pandemic and weather-related disasters related to climate change.
Honduras: The switch from classroom learning to on-line learning is threatening the educational progress of students around the world. The situation is especially worrisome for the children of poor Honduran families who neither have access to the needed technology nor can they depend on parents/older siblings to help them with the increased volume of school assignments that they’re supposed to do at home.
The Iglesia Cristiana Luterana de Honduras (ICLH) plans to respond with neighborhood tutoring programs and other remedial activities once it’s safe to bring children back into their church buildings at the beginning of the 2021 school year.
These brief snapshots of our Central American companions in action remind me of one of Luther’s sayings on grace and works: “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.” May you be inspired by the faithful
witness of our Central American brothers & sisters as they serve others amid the COVID-19 pandemic which has turned our world upside down.
Your companion in global mission,
ELCA Missionary – San José, Costa Rica
Lutheran World Relief Ingathering 2020
Thank you to everyone who donated toward Personal Care Kits. We received a $250 gift card from Thrivent Financial to buy bulk supplies and $300 from the grocery fund with Duane & Kitty Weiss in charge, as well as some donations from members. Thank you to Linda Fackler, Dianne Sherr, and Nancy Hill who made up our Project Action Team to put the kits together.
Along with these we had money donated to buy material and thread for five Fabric Kits. These are sent to vocational training programs to help people gain a skill (sewing) they can use to earn an income.
We have sent 73 kits at a cost of over $500. We are now taking donations for the Quilt and & Kit Shipping Fund. It takes $2.65 to send a Personal Care Kit (includes toothpaste which is added later) and $1.00 to send a Fabric Kit.
If you wish to donate to the Fund please earmark it “LWR Shipping Fund.”
In 2019 more than 16,600 fabric kits were shared with people in nine countries. We are no longer making blankets so with donated money will buy material for these kits to send next year. We hopefully will be back to doing School Kits next year and have enough funds on hand to buy the backpacks.
There is a quilt plaza at LWR headquarters in Baltimore which has many bricks representing $500 donations. Grace Church has well over 25 of these bricks engraved with names of our members who worked on quilts and kits for many years in the past up to the present.
Thank you. Barbara Slotter
Keys and Calendars are ready for pick up!
Please contact the church office to make arrangements to stop by.
October 18, 2020 (20th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24, Year A)
“I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.” – Isaiah 45:3
We share God’s abundance through our hands and work, but is still the abundance of God, who loves us and desires good for all creation. How might your hands sharing God’s abundance help point others to Jesus?