International Ministries

Is the Swine Flu affecting IM Missionaries in Mexico

April 30, 2009 Article

Raymond Schellinger


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Mercy Gonzalez-Barnes


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Patti and Tim Long


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Six IM missionaries weigh in…

The swine flu is making news in the U.S., and has already claimed lives in Mexico. See how the flu is affecting six IM missionaries serving in Mexico right now:

Rick Barnes: “[The flu] is affecting my ministry minimally right now.” (scroll down for more)

Patti Long: “The fear of this new disease on top of the daily fear of violence…is very unsettling for the children.” (scroll down for more)

Adalia Schellinger-Guitérrez: I worry about “losing the spiritual side of things as we become overwhelmed looking for ‘survival’.” (scroll down for more)

David and Joyce Reed: This is “an opportunity for Christians to band together to speak boldly, to pray boldly, about the PEACE that only Jesus can give, to bathe Mexico in the light and love of God.”  (scroll down for more)

Chuck Shawver: “A group of folks from Rocky Mountain Region…postpone[d] their visit until June.” (scroll down for more)

Rick Barnes, Baja, Mexico:
As I think about the swine flu, I honestly get more concerned about this than I do with the violence of the drug trade. With the violence, you basically can avoid certain areas and be reasonably well assured that you can be safe. The face of the swine flu is the 23-month-old toddler and the 70-year-old grandmother and the 25-year-old college student. Since we know so little about source and transmission issues, this great void of knowledge leaves us vulnerable. We don’t know who has it or not. We don’t know where it will go. And we don’t know whether this is the tip of an iceberg, or a flash in the pan.

This is affecting my ministry minimally right now, other than just being concerned. The Mexican government closed all public schools in Mexico this week. I wonder if this is an overreaction, or legitimate concern. The problem with diseases like this is that by the time you realize there is a problem, many people have already been infected. But to shut everything down and have something minimal happen is like crying wolf. Our seminary functions normally. I am sure that the church activities will continue normally short of a documented outbreak in our region.

I think this demonstrates how interconnected we are in this world. I know there are those who would want to close the border and all would be fine, but things just don’t work that way. And this nonsense of certain commentators saying that infected illegals are responsible for the infections in the U.S. is simply xenophobic.  I do wonder why those in Mexico are more adversely affected than in other parts of the world. Maybe these are the consequences of poverty and unhealthy living conditions. Maybe there are many more factors than we know.

And I don’t have any theological understanding of this, other than that God grieves with those who grieve a loss, and God is very present with us during times like these.

Patti Long, Mexico and the U.S.
Since my ministry is teaching special education in Tijuana, on Monday morning I went to school as usual. We spoke with the children about the flu, being more careful about hygiene, etc., yet were faced with the problem that there is seldom running water at the school and dust is continually flying everywhere.  Some children came to school wearing masks and I took an extra supply of antibacterial wet wipes.   At about 10:30 the school received notice that all schools were to close immediately and not to reopen until May 6.  We stopped our classes and brought the children into the chapel to explain the situation and to pray.  Different from what one might expect, the children were not happy about this.  For one, Thursday April 30 is Dia Del Niño (Children’s Day) which they all look forward to and now will miss.  Also, the fear of this new disease on top of the daily fear of violence in which all of Tijuana lives, is very unsettling for the children, and school is generally a place where they feel and are safe.  I am very sad for all that is happening in Mexico and I miss my students very much.

 I worry about the health and emotional impact of this fear in the lives of my children. Many come from the poorest and most vulnerable areas of the city. If there is an outbreak of the flu in Tijuana, many of these children and their families very likely will be affected.

There is still so much that isn't known about the disease, but the Mexican government is taking it very seriously and making every effort to educate and provide necessary resources to even the most marginalized communities.  But living in dire poverty, often without water and with many people living very close together, it is very hard to contain illnesses.  So far, thankfully, we have not heard of any confirmed cases of the flu in Tijuana, but with the constant influx of people from all over Mexico, it will most likely become a serious problem.  Please pray for people to be able to fight off the disease and for it to fizzle out in all parts of the world!

Adalia Schellinger Gutierrez, Tijuana, Mexico:
As a medical doctor, I have had many medical consultations/check-ups from people with regular colds and/or laryngitis to make sure they are out of danger.  My regular advice is to rest, drink lots of fluids, take precautions so they don't infect anybody near them, work on building their immunity.    

What worries me the most about it as it relates to my ministry is losing the human/spiritual side of things as we become overwhelmed looking for "survival,” and we stop caring for other people.

We ask people in the U.S. to keep praying so that people who already have the disease might build enough body defenses to fight the illness; keep praying that the flu stops spreading worldwide; be precautious but never panic, nor lose hope: we are in God's hands.

Joyce and David Reed, La Paz, Mexico
People are scared, and the media is throwing people into a panic.  As far as we know, there are no reported cases in La Paz, or Southern Baja, yet. But public places are deserted.  Tourists are canceling trips.  This is having a dramatic impact on our already weak and tenuous economy.  A friend of ours who runs a fishing tour company had three groups cancel today.  Restaurants are deserted.  People are taking extreme measures instead of just precautionary measures.  At a pastor's meeting today, David heard a conversation concerning Sunday's worship.  Should they cancel church on Sunday to protect people's health?  No consensus was reached.  We have found ourselves doing a lot of listening, trying to sift through the fact vs. fiction to calm people's fears, and helping people make accurate risk-assessment based decisions.  We are reminding people that God is sovereign, even over flus, and that panic-striken thinking will lead none of us to healthy, holistic lives.

What worries us the most is that Satan is gaining control as people give into fear and panic.  In a country already ruled by idols and syncretic beliefs, Mexico's part in this flu epidemic is feeding a frenzy that Satan thrives on.  However, it can also be an opportunity for Christians to band together to speak boldly, to pray boldly about the PEACE that only Jesus can give, to bathe Mexico in the light and love of God.

The most important thing that our friends in the U.S. can do is maintain a godly perspective on this pandemic.  Bathe Mexico and our world in prayer.  Pray that God will work through our Christian communities to bring healing and peace to a world already shaken by economic turmoil.

Chuck Shawver, central and southern Mexico
So far, other than concern for colleagues in Mexico City where the problems are most prominent, we have not been directly impacted.  Schools are closed but we do not have school-aged children.  Lots of folks walking around in blue surgical masks.  I just got off the phone with a group of folks from Rocky Mountain Region who had planned to come to Mexico next week on an exploratory visit.  They made the decision last night to postpone their visit until June.  I have several other groups with summer plans but I suspect that they, too, may be reluctant to spend money on airline tickets until things seem safe.  So far, there have been no confirmed cases in Chiapas that I know of, so we are not dealing with families who have been sickened by the swine flu.  Our colleagues in Mexico City are all safe, but the city is certainly a different place and all church and school activities have been suspended until May 6 as a precaution.  Folks are worried and the mood there is somber.

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