Living and learning through the pandemic

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley…” In BUILD Module Six we see the shape of the Psalter as a whole as it leads down into darkness and up through renewal into the light of mature faith. How are those involved with BUILD responding to the current COVID-19 crisis in the light of that teaching?

The growing death toll for the pandemic reveals an uneven spread of infection. Wealthier countries appear to bear the brunt of the disease while lower income ones are spared. However, this masks the wide ranging secondary impacts on lower-income countries such as those within BUILD’s footprint of East Africa, including the effect on livelihoods, on local economies, on education, on the political landscape, and on the vast volume of remittances normally received from the East African diaspora. And particularly, it seems, on the urban poor who are several steps removed from rural subsistence economies and are acutely vulnerable to widespread economic turmoil.

How can our blog begin to engage with the scope and scale of the pandemic and its fallout? Rather than attempt the analysis that is being done elsewhere, we will simply see how trainees respond to the crisis as they experience it and in the light of BUILD teaching – as they connect their learning with lived realities, and inform us of both along the way.

Returning to the Book of Psalms, early on in Module Six we trace the stages of the Psalter and its five books through five words: covenant, kingship, crisis, renewal, and maturity. Book I is grounded in the covenant and relying on the Lord who leads his people; Book II highlights kingship and obedience to the King who rules his people; Book III turns to crisis and reflection on God’s covenant in our suffering; Book IV looks to renewal, not least of our lives of worship; and finally, Book V heads to maturity and our growing faith as God’s people. The crisis in the middle is that of the exile, which we label ‘the darkest valley’ as we reflect on suffering and injustice through select Book III psalms. And we teach that Psalm 23 itself follows that pattern: it moves from trust in the Shepherd and obedience to him; into that ‘darkest valley’; and on to renewal and the celebration and stability of covenant love, where we “dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

There were simply too many responses to this question: how does that learning speaks into your lives? Taking one person’s response by way of introduction, Joseph Adida, Christian Education Coordinator for the Anglican Church of Tanzania shared: “There is nothing people fear like death. People in Tanzania are devastated and disoriented as corona is hitting us. Among the people [around Lake Victoria], it is regarded as an evil spirit (Masamvwa in Sukuma), which is against the lives of people. Many Christians regard Covid-19 as the punishment from God because of sin: people are worshipping idols and power. Others see it as an effect of natural evil.”

But the Psalm assures us that, “He is the God who cares and protect his people against evil and death. Fear not. Psalm 23 is a very well-known psalm to most believers. People sing it when they are facing troubles that are beyond their control and beyond their understanding of power, politics, reason and thought. When President Magufuli of Tanzania first spoke about COVID-19 he was courageous about God’s power which is in control. He supported his talk by using Psalm 23 to encourage people to have faith in God alone who can control and finish COVID-19.”

“Psalm 23 shows how God cares and protect his people against evil. It is in this regard that people in Tanzania see it as the Psalm that speaks to the current situation of COVID-19. The people read it in connection with Psalm 121 and Colossians 1:15-20: through the Cross of Christ on Calvary God has conquered and controls all through his Son Jesus Christ, the image bearer of God who has become the agent of God’s grace. Therefore we should not fear, he alone can provide abundantly and protect his people by his power.”

As we continue to walk through “the darkest valley” with different people we will see what it means for them in practice to “fear no evil” in their various contexts.