Dealing with the Coronavirus by Rev. Dr. Jack Sara
Early in March, just as the news about the Covid-19 virus was beginning to impact the world in a serious way, I was in Houston. I had traveled there for an event that the College had planned with a partner church (First Presbyterian Church of Houston) for some time. The event was scheduled for the 6th of March and I left home the day before.
As I landed at my first stop in the USA, I received news from Bethlehem that several cases of Covid-19 had been discovered in the Bethlehem area and as a result the Palestinian Authority had decided to lock down the whole Bethlehem municipality, stopping all public activity. I had two more flights to catch, but at this stage I already made new reservations to come after only two days in Houston.
Our event in Houston focused on friend- and fundraising in the area, and was a great success. About 140 people joined together for good food, music, and dance, and to hear more about what God is doing at Bethlehem Bible College. Following the event, I preached four times on Sunday and later that afternoon had a pleasant meal with the senior pastor and another friend before heading to the airport for the long flight home.
Two hours before my plane was due to arrive that evening, the President of Israel announced that everyone who was arriving from abroad should immediately go into quarantine for 14 days. I made arrangements with my wife, Madleine, to clean out one room for me to stay in. In order for me to keep my quarantine, Madleine moved into one of our daughter’s room.
As soon as I came home, I entered into the new arrangements, which included eating alone and staying away from my kids. It wasn’t an easy way to spend two weeks, but the days passed between reading and Zoom meetings.
While I was locked in my home, all of Bethlehem was also locked down between curfews and city closures. As everywhere else, Bethlehemites struggled not only with the fear of disease but even more with the unpredictable future that we are suddenly facing. Overnight, thousands of people lost their jobs and only sources of income. Whatever small savings that people had accrued will evaporate quickly. Our fear is that we will end up with another humanitarian crisis, similar to ones that we have experienced many times in the past.
While curfews and lockdowns and being forced to stay at home have always been the case living under the Israeli occupation, this situation is different because the internal lockdown was imposed by the Palestinian Authority. The concern is that if the virus spreads, Palestine simply does not have the means, infrastructure, or capability to deal with it. Thus, these tough measures are our only option for preventing a potential catastrophe.
The Palestinians never had a calm day. Regardless of its efficacy, the lockdown will add salt to the wound if it continues for a long time; especially in Bethlehem where most of the economy depends on tourism and visits from pilgrims. Even if we manage to open up soon, Bethlehem is still facing the bitter reality that tourism will be put on pause for an indefinite time. This will increase the financial need, and it is a bitter pill for those who had some hopes for the future. Let us pray that the situation will not take too long to resolve and that their hope will not be in vain.
I was able to finish my quarantine period, and eventually go out and buy food and run other errands in Jerusalem. But still I can’t go into Bethlehem. Even if I could, the College has been closed since the fifth of March and all the staff has been homebound.
The positive side is that our educational programs have continued to operate online. Thankfully, we have been using online platforms for the past four years and most of our full-time students have already taken some of our courses partially or totally online. This has added extra work for some of the teachers who were used to teaching at the campus, but they have adapted to the learning curve and are continuing to teach and deliver.
Speaking of our staff and faculty, the hardest part about this event is that early in March we received news that one of our own teachers had been infected by the virus, along with several of our graduates. This event has put an edge to our prayers, as we continue to intercede before the Lord for not only their healing but also protection over Bethlehem and all of our country as well.
We can’t lay aside faith in our good Lord. We trust that He will come through and give all of us strength during these hard times. He will continue to provide for our College and the needs of people around us. He is a good God and His mercies endure forever. This is our eternal hope.