It was one of those times when it all caught up to me.
Nicholas Kristof’s recent article, “This Pandemic Is Bringing Another With It” is a riveting litany of the potentially catastrophic impacts from COVID-19 on the poorest nations of our world. His is just one of the resources available on the topic (he cites several more), and I raised a related question this week on NPR’s National Conversation broadcast. (Apr 23, 15:40 into the recording). I’m glad NPR was willing to entertain a question that affects the world’s most vulnerable, as most news sources have become much more myopic during this crisis.
Kristof states he is “not as pessimistic about the [direct virus] impact on the developing world as some other commentators are.” Then he immediately adds, “But I greatly fear that the indirect impact will be devastating.”
Even though I was already aware of these issues and dangers, his condensed restating was a lot to take in all at once; I could only bow my head and pray when I finished. It was overwhelming, and there is so little any single person can do. I was reminded that some of the decisions I’ve personally supported for controlling the virus are devastating family incomes in places where there is little to no safety net, and for my global neighbors the knock-on effects of this could be as numerous as Legion’s many demons.
Yet there is encouraging news: according to a World Bank economist and researcher over 150 nations around the world have now implemented or at least announced some social protection plans. The latest announcements include Malawi and Chad, two of the world’s poorest countries. It is huge progress that even the poorest national governments are taking direct responsibility to support their citizens in this time of need. No doubt the measures are insufficient and often won’t reach the most remote, while others will not reach the majority whose earnings are not part of the “formal economy.” Still, this is very encouraging.
This crisis is testing every nation and every government and already revealing which ones were more prepared and are more competent. The political after-effects will be felt for decades around the globe, as this pandemic will be the defining litmus test and touchstone of the era.
These are monstrous issues, and it will require God and all my 8 billion fellow citizens of our planet to solve them over the coming years. So I ceased striving for a moment, bowed my head and turned to the Master Builder. It’s good to relinquish my false sense of responsibility and control from time to time and place it back in the proper Hands. I needed that.
Yet after a moment or two I remembered the oft-preached cautionary tale of the person who shakes a fist at heaven, saying “God, what are you going to do about all this overwhelming poverty and sickness in the world?!” To which God replies, “Don’t forget; I put you on earth for a reason. What are you going to do about it?”
I hated that reminder.
But I can’t escape it. There’s nothing to be done but search, with God’s guidance, for those areas where I can be part of a solution, and get busy doing my part. Not the whole, but the part. Only the Master Builder knows the whole; the workers do the part given them to do.
John Michael Talbot’s rendition of a favorite poem of St. Teresa of Avila is running through my head:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
So I lift up my head, looking to where my help comes from, and I get back to work.