Covid-19 and the Latin Link community
The challenge, the response, and the future
In March 2020, it seemed that we could only watch and pray as the coronavirus spread across the Atlantic and took hold in Latin America. We knew of so many communities that were very vulnerable to a situation like this.
A year later, despite many countries’ attempts to enforce strict lockdowns, over a third of the world’s Covid-19 deaths have happened in Latin America and the Caribbean. Brazil and Mexico have the second and third highest death tolls in the world, and Peru has suffered a particularly high rate of deaths per capita*.
Outside of the shocking death toll, the pandemic has had huge impacts on people living in poverty.
Hunger is massively on the rise – the World Food Programme estimates that the number of people living with severe food insecurity in Latin American and the Caribbean rose from 3.4 million to a huge 13.7 million during 2020.
Education for this generation of children has been a big casualty too, with an estimated 100,000-300,000 children expected to leave school and start working instead**. As families teeter on the breadline, the costs of schooling become too high and every pair of hands is needed to help earn a living.
A community living out its calling
Of course, we felt the effects of travel bans as an international community in the business of sending and receiving people. Early on, we had no choice but to evacuate our 2020 Spring Step team from their placement with a church in Colombia. In the weeks that followed, nearly half of those on Stride placements made the difficult decision to come back prematurely. With some longer-term mission workers stuck in the wrong countries, and the inability to send new members out for the foreseeable future, we had our moments of sadness and disappointment.
But – we have been so encouraged by the way the whole Latin Link community has stepped up to help. Our supporters across Britain and Ireland (that’s you!) have pulled out all the stops. Your fundraising and giving has skyrocketed over the past year, enabling our members on the ground to organise emergency aid and respond to crises caused by the pandemic. There will be urgent needs for the rest of 2021, so we invite your continued support in this way.
Others of you have responded with a huge prayer effort. Hundreds of Latin Link supporters have joined in online gatherings – like Inspire! and Spanish Worship Nights – and prayed for the sick, the unemployed, the refugees and governments of Latin America.
Springing into action
For our Latin Link members still in situ, emergency needs and lockdown restrictions challenged them to completely rethink, reprioritise and restructure what they were doing.
Louis Woodley, Bolivia: Bolivia entered a strict lockdown in 2020 that completely disrupted Louis’ usual work. The church he taught at closed its doors, and his international teaching role with the Timothy Institute was largely put on hold – except for the occasional course via Zoom.
Louis was immediately concerned that many people in his community would suffer from a lack of regular discipleship and Bible teaching. He decided to take action. In March 2020, as lockdown began, he uploaded his first video to YouTube – a short devotional called ‘Tiempo en casa’ (Time at home).
“I intended it as a tool to encourage our local church in lockdown,” says Louis, “but then decided to share it on WhatsApp and Facebook to other friends and groups, and soon, due to the positive feedback, the distribution became wider!”
Responding to the demand, Louis wrote and uploaded more. Louis now has over 300 Bible reflections on a YouTube channel, encouraging many people in Bolivia and beyond each day. And now, even a local Christian TV station in Potosí has begun broadcasting the daily messages!
Brenda Darke, Costa Rica: In Costa Rica, Brenda Darke would usually meet and provide support for children with disabilities and their families through the Uno en Cristo ministry. With a lockdown in place, they could no longer meet up – especially since many of the children were deemed vulnerable to Covid-19 and advised to shield.
“Some of the mothers have lost work because of the pandemic,” says Brenda. “Others are always on the breadline, but their needs have increased now they have to shield their vulnerable child.”
Some of Brenda’s families were left high and dry without government support, so Brenda and the project team decided to start delivering food and hygiene packs to those most in need. Everybody who took part in last year’s Indoor Expeditions fundraiser helped to fund this work. In fact, your donations are still paying for this essential support now, with Uno en Cristo delivering family food packs as recently as Easter 2021.
What comes next?
For Latin America, the pandemic is far from over. Many countries are still experiencing a second wave of the virus and will live with the health, economic and social consequences for years to come. Hope is rising in the vaccination rollout, but it’s a slow process and governments face a huge challenge to get vaccines to every community – urban, rural, rich and poor.
Here in Britain and Ireland, our main office remains closed and our events are online for now, but there are probably more opportunities than ever for you to step into God’s mission through prayer and practical action.
Although we’re not sending Step teams this year, we’re still able to send Striders where it’s appropriate – like Anna-Claire and Stewart Cusick, who arrived in Ecuador in January to support a local hospital.
It’s been an unimaginable year. But we’ve never been more inspired by our big, international ‘community with a calling’.
* Figures from Statista, March 2021. **Figures from the International Labour Organisation and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, February 2021
This article was first published in Latinfile spring 2021. Read the full edition below.