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The pandemic does not abate in Brazil, evangelicals pray for “renewal amid fatigue and chaos”

With around 420,000 deaths and rocketing unemployment, pastors hope churches can be “a refuge” in the midst of a severe crisis. “It is the biggest challenge of my professional life”, says an evangelical doctor.

FUENTES Protestante Digital AUTOR 45/Jonatan_Soriano,5/Evangelical_Focus BRASILIA 07 DE MAYO DE 2021 09:40 h
A health worker takes people's temperature at a field hospital. Brazil has experienced around 420,000 deaths. / Wikimedia Commons

With over 14.8 million Covid-19 infections and 420,000 deaths from the virus since the start of the pandemic, Brazil is among the three countries most affected by the coronavirus epidemic, only behind the United States and India.



On 4 May, the Brazilian Ministry of Health recorded 77,359 infections and 2,966 deaths due to the coronavirus.



But not everyone agrees with official data. For Josanias Junior, pastor of the Betel church in São Paulo, “the figures are not true, only a third of these numbers are real”.



Eloisa Figur, head of the Friends of God ministry in Brasilia, also thinks the figures “are only numbers attributed to the pandemic, not to the real causes of death”. “Everything from traffic accidents and heart problems to cases of malaria and dengue fever have been counted as coronavirus cases”, she says, “in order to cause national and international commotion”.



However, the figures presented by the government do correspond to the reality experienced in hospitals and health centres, says Jequélie Duarte, an evangelical doctor who is working on the frontline with Covid-19 patients.



“This has been the biggest challenge of my professional life. Dealing with a new disease, with a high number of patients in need and a daily and close contact with death after a great emotional exhaustion. Everything is intensified; the sadness is exponential, but the joy of seeing a recovered patient has also been enhanced”, she says.



According to Duarte, “hospitals are going through a critical moment now. It was very difficult at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, we learned from that and organised ourselves throughout the year”. But the new surge in 2021 “has been even more challenging, coming at a time when health workers are already tired, and with more severe cases”.



 



Unity in disagreement



These discrepancies among Brazilian evangelicals have been addressed by the Evangelical Christian Alliance of Brazil in a statement. Pointing to the Matthew 12:25, they say “it is sad to see the Brazilian people so divided over how to address the pandemic”. The entity considers that “this division has been fuelled by political and partisan interests and the spread of false information”.



“A house divided will not stand. Unity can come from the Christian people as a demonstration of love and care for one another. Even if other legitimate but secondary issues divide us, let us remain united in the defence of life at this critical moment in history”, stresses the Alliance.



 



Politics and restrictions



Since the beginning of the pandemic, Brazil has had four health ministers, including the one in charge now, Marcelo Queiroga. Two were dismissed by President Jair Bolsonaro, and the other resigned only a month after being appointed.



The internal discrepancies within the Brazilian executive have also been reflected in the general population and, in particular, among evangelicals.



“In general, churches have complied with all the rules imposed by local governments, obeying the health protocols. They are one of the places open to the public with the strictest controls, becoming safe environments with the use of masks and hydro-alcoholic gel, guaranteeing social distance within the premises, controlling attendance, restricting access to people over 60 and under 13 and measuring the temperature of the attendees”, explains the pastor and national leader of the Brazilian True Love Waits ministry, Nelson Junior.



[destacate]“Churches have complied with all the rules imposed by local governments, obeying the health protocols”[/destacate]


Eloisa Figur agrees that “security measures have affected churches very much” and “most churches are willing to comply with them”, but she also sees that “people are scared and don not attend worship places”.



Josanias Junior believes that the problem is the “many leaders who are also irresponsible and have allowed unsupervised agglomerations”. They are not ready “to worship without their membership” and therefore “they only give the corrupt politicians a free pass and bring shame on Christianity with their bad testimony”.



 



Frustration among health professionals



However, the changes in the health ministry and the government’s decisions have mainly affected Brazil’s health workers. “It has not been easy to deal with the feeling of devaluation of our work and knowledge because of the lack of government support”, underlines Duarte.



“We have a tradition of very successful immunisation campaigns and one of the best public health systems in the world, as well as a large number of professionals and scientists trained and experienced in communicable disease control”, explains the doctor.



But “none of this has been appreciated or used well by the government”, she denounces, since “decisions have been made based on political and ideological disputes and with a high dose of denial”.



Another factor is worrying, she says, namely the “reduction in the respect for guidelines and safety measures” among the population.





[photo_footer] The high death rate in the country has forced temporary extensions of cemeteries and night burials. / Screenshot RTVE[/photo_footer] 



 



Unemployment and increasing poverty



According to the platform Our World in Data, as of 3 May 2021, Brazil had vaccinated 14% of its population. Meanwhile, the Brazilian GDP dropped -4.1 points in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund.



“Many in Brazil have unstable jobs, and they are experiencing great economic hardship. In all segments of the economy there has been a drastic reduction of income”, explains Figur. “Businesses cannot cope without selling, and for many the solution is closure. As employment opportunities disappear, poverty increases and the emergency assistance provided by the government must be seen for what it is, an aid, not a source of income”.



Doctor Duarte agrees that “the pandemic has increased structural problems such as unemployment, hunger and difficulty in accessing health care”. She believes “extreme poverty will deepen if we continue without public policies to combat inequalities”.



 



Churches in action



In the midst of this, “many evangelical churches have strengthened their social action and those that had not done so until now have learned from this scenario”, says Josanias Junior.



“Many communities are helping those who have no food or medicine. They have understood that their call and mission is to be a response to the world on behalf of God, but Brazil is a country of continental proportions”, stresses Figur.



According to Duarte, the Christian testimony has been “the joy of being able to care for human lives at all levels”. “I wish for renewal in the midst of tiredness and health and social chaos”.



[destacate]“The call and mission of churches is to be a response to the world on behalf of God”[/destacate]


Evangelical communities also “suffer the consequences of the lack of resources, because without salaries there is no financial support for the churches”. “Despite the difficulties faced by all Brazilian people, there is an awareness of the importance of keeping churches open as a last refuge in the midst of so much pain and suffering”, underlines Figur.



This has been especially difficult for churches in rural communities, where congregations cannot use digital tools. In the cases of more urban churches that had previously adapted to the digital environment, “the finances have not been shaken as much”, explains Nelson Junior.



 



“Pray that this pandemic will pass as soon as possible”



Brazilian evangelicals ask to pray that this pandemic will pass as soon as possible and there will be more wisdom in the hearts of those who govern”, because, as Nelson Junior underlines, “Brazil suffers from a devastating wave of corruption in a large part of the public sector”.



Duarte also believes that it is necessary to “maintain the hope of believing that, in a short time, another scenario will be possible”.



Figur asks for prayers that the pandemic will also serve as “a spiritual awakening” and “that people will rise up with the courage to react to this traumatic situation and build a new Brazil”.


 

 


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