Social distancing is tough. Just ask anyone in Bangladesh.
Sure, there are rural areas of Bangladesh, but overall, it’s one of the most crowded places on earth. (Think of the country’s population and geography this way: It is the equivalent of squeezing about 50% of the entire US population into a space the size of Iowa.) Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, has a population density of about 50,400 people per square mile!
In regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, a society like Bangladesh is particularly vulnerable to mass infection. As of April 21 (for all following figures), health care workers there had performed less than 27,000 COVID-19 diagnostic tests. (Fewer than 20 sites in the whole country can conduct these tests.) Of these, less than 3,000 cases tested positive and only 101 deaths had officially been tallied in the country. However, members of FMI-Bangladesh’s indigenous leadership team say the actual number of infections is likely significantly higher but unknown due to the minimal testing. Indeed, while rate of testing in the US is roughly 12,200 tests per million residents, in Bangladesh the rate is only about 160 tests conducted per million residents. Rizvan, a member of our FMI-Bangladesh leadership team who also happens to be a medical pathology professional explains that, like here in the US, there is a massive shortage of personal protective equipment like face masks and disposable gloves right now for health care workers, let alone for the rest of society. That’s where another FMI partner, Pastor Rajib, and members of his congregation are stepping in to help.
Rajib’s church members sacrificially purchased sanitizing items like soap, liquid disinfectant and other hygiene items to make gift packs and distribute them to other impoverished people of their community.
And in case the recipients could not read, the packs included illustrated instructions on how to use the items and reduce the risk of infection. Rajib’s wife Shathi taught and supervised women to make hundreds of reusable fabric face masks for the local hospital staff that are sterilized before use. This pastor and his wife are living patterns for their congregation to follow so that they can truly learn how to love others with actions and in truth (1 John 4:18).
Of course, this pandemic affects more than just our partners in Bangladesh. Our supported indigenous church planters and disciple-makers across the Indonesia, Pakistan, and Kenya are similarly impacted.
Food shortages and price hikes due to COVID-19 have hit our partners hard. In just a few weeks’ time, the cost of dietary staples (e.g., rice, cooking oil, lentils, vegetables) has risen 20-25%. With Ramadan (the Islamic month of fasting in which, ironically, more food is purchased and consumed by Muslims than at any other month on the calendar) beginning April 23 this year, Muslims have virtually emptied the shelves of most food markets in the Muslim-majority nations, leaving little left for impoverished Christians.
While some local food banks have food available to residents of their countries, in places like Pakistan, the operators of food banks are telling Christians that if they want any of the food, they must convert to Islam first. Typical lockdowns and self-isolation plans are in place through late May in these countries, although details vary from place to place.
FMI has established an emergency COVID-19 RELIEF FUND to help our partners, their churches, and communities. Your contributions to this fund will directly and immediately provide urgently needed food and personal sanitization/protection items.* Our various leadership teams have found reputable suppliers for items so that they can create the emergency gift packs of food and supplies for all our partners the people they serve. Pray for their wisdom, creativity, and perseverance in leading their congregations – like Rajib is doing – to continue thriving in ministry in the midst of chaos.
* Every gift of $60 provides one family with about 100 pounds of emergency food supplies such as rice (maize in Kenya), wheat flour, cooking oil, beans and lentils plus personal hygiene items such as soap, disinfectant liquid, face masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer.