BWA President Expresses Concerns, Prayers Amid Coronavirus

Speaking from self-quarantine because of recent travel, Baptist World Alliance President Paul Msiza expressed concerns about the potential impact of coronavirus on his home country of South Africa as well as Baptist communities across the globe. The BWA also announced today (March 25) an international prayer effort to start March 30.

As of March 25, more than 462,000 people globally have been infected with the COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, and more than 20,00 have died. South Africa, which has the 39th-highest number of infected persons and the highest number in Africa, has more than 700 people who have tested positive but no deaths so far. Although the first several cases in early March involved individuals who had returned home from Italy — the country with the second-most cases — by mid-March cases of local transmission started emerging. The number of infected persons in the country jumped more than 500 percent over the past week.

Just now moving from summer to fall, countries like South Africa show coronavirus can survive and spread even in warmer climates. In fact, at least 43 of Africa’s 54 countries have cases, with more than 1,800 across the continent.

2015 BWA Congress.
South African flags light up the screens as Baptists from across the wolrd attend the opening session of the 2015 Baptist World Congress in Durban, South Africa. (Brian Kaylor/Word&Way)

In hopes of preventing the outbreak from spreading as dramatically as in other nations, South Africa’s government already announced on Monday (March 23) a lockdown to start three days later and last for at least three weeks. Other African nations, like Rwanda and Tunisia, also issued lockdown orders like those across the globe. Under the order, South Africans are to stay home unless getting food, medical supplies, or working in an essential job. Already in a recession and facing political turmoil, the lockdown is expected to add to the nation’s woes.

Msiza, who is still in a 14-day self-quarantine with his wife after returning from BWA events in the United States, told Word&Way “the situation in South Africa is very challenging.” Not only are the cases increasing, he said, but the coming lockdown will impact the nation. But he supports the lockdown measures.

“The proposal for a total shutdown came from the South Africa Council of Churches. Our concern and the prayer is,” he added, “the infections not reach the informal settlements. If that can happen, then South Africa will be in a very dangerous situation with a risk of the infection escalating to hundreds of thousand within a short period. We are praying and doing everything possible to cooperate with the country to bring the spreading of the infections under control.”

Looking beyond South Africa, Msiza noted the pandemic’s spread should remind us all that we are living in a “global village.”

“What is happening in one corner of the world takes a few days to reach the world,” he added.

Paul Msiza
Paul Msiza speaks at an executive committee meeting of the Baptist World Alliance on March 2 in Falls Church, Virginia. (Brian Kaylor/Word&Way)

Msiza said that in this global village, Baptists in numerous countries are impacted. He mentioned he had several trips planned to visit Baptists across the globe, but those have been canceled at least through June.

“This current situation has affected the BWA and its members all around the world,” he added. “Many gatherings that were planned to take places in the months of April, May, and June have been canceled, postponed, or will take place via electronic media.”

On March 25, the BWA announced a special prayer focus to start on March 30. First, the BWA will host a prayer conference call that day to lift up requests from Baptists across the globe. Second, that call will launch a 24-hour time of prayer, for which individuals can sign up to pray during a 30-minute slot.

Msiza told Word&Way he is encouraged and “so thankful to God for all the prayers and support from all around the world” he has received. And he urged Baptists to remain hopeful and keep praying.

“We all know that this, too, will pass. In the meantime, I am calling upon fellow believers to use this time of lockdown to pray. The world needs our prayers, our governments need our prayers. Those who have contracted this virus need our prayers, the elderly people who are locked in places of safety need our prayers,” he added. “We know that even in times like these Christ is with us. May his peace and grace be with us all.”

WRITTEN BY: Bernard Adu-Gyamfi