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by Phil Ware

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    While the US and much of Europe have been emotionally locked on the war in Iraq, a new terrorist attacking people and impacting evangelism has been raging in Asia. American news anchors have even admitted that without the war in Iraq, this terrorist would have been the front-page story everyday in our newspapers and the lead story every night on the major news broadcasts. This terrorist has caused great fear among health care workers and parents. It has also dramatically impacted air travel threatening many international airlines, hotels, restaurants and related workers with bankruptcy and unemployment. In addition, this terrorist has threatened to further damage evangelistic outreach in Asia and China because the deaths and fear he has caused among international travelers.

    Who is this terrorist? SARS — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, also called Atypical Pneumonia in Hong Kong and Asia. Listen to the concern in this note from one of our Heartlight family in Hong Kong named Glory:

    Here in Hong Kong, panic is spreading so much faster than the SARS (Serious Acute Respiratory Syndrome) itself. I have to call up friends and relatives who feel desperate about the situation again and again. None of them suffer from the disease so far, but every of them is feeling hopeless and hysterical about the fear and about the future of Hong Kong. Even Christian friends feel the same way. Our information channels are flooded with increasing case numbers, death tolls, threats & rumors. Nurses called radio stations in tears telling the public how they feared about catching the disease and how they withheld from going home to avoid spreading the virus to their loved ones. Suddenly the air seems to be filled with sadness and fear.

    While international concerns remain around the war, I wish that Heartlight can start the lead the pray for people suffering from the disease, medical professionals fighting the virus & all people suffering from the economic impacts of it. We need more people to pray for us. Apart from quarantine & restricted entries & visa bans, we need encouragement from outside.

    While SARS is still not making the top of the list on most US news headlines, two recent concerns did receive considerable amount of attention and discussion. The government of Communist China fired two high ranking officials and admitted that the number of cases of SARS and the number of deaths associated with it are much higher than previously admitted. They warned people against traveling during their normal holiday break during the week long Workers’ Day Holiday to prevent further infection. There are many indications that this disease that has been now identified in over 20 countries will become a major concern world-wide until proper treatment and/or an effective vaccine can be developed.

    What advice or encouragement can Heartlight offer? None based on our own medical expertise, but we do pray that a few insights will be a blessing to our worldwide Heartlight family. (Heartlight reaches over 500,000 different people per month. A significant number of our Heartlight family come from Singapore and Malaysia, with 15-20% of our family [75,000-100,000] outside the US and we have just launched our first non-English site, http://www.iluminalma.com.br)

    As Christians, our first line of defense and counter-attack needs to be prayer. This is not just a communicable disease and world health problem. Death and disease are part of Satan’s tool chest to produce fear and use death to damage God’s children and stifle the spread of the good news of Jesus. So prayer is a vital part of our spiritual warfare to fight back against this disease and it’s use by the evil one. But, what should be our prayer focus? Let’s list several prayer targets:

  • Researchers to find medicines and vaccines that are effective at controlling and eliminating SARS
  • Health care workers and families to be encouraged, strengthened, and protected as they work with SARS patients
  • An effective and widely accepted test to detect SARS in patients and an effective strategy to quarantine and control the disease once it has infected people without dehumanizing them and those who treat them
  • Pastoral care givers who seek to offer comfort and grace those infected with SARS
  • Missionaries and evangelist as they travel and share the Gospel with people in other nations
  • Churches and Christian groups, especially those in China and Asia, to be effective in ministry and comfort as they share the grace of Jesus with those who are fearful, infected, and worried about SARS
  • Our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Heartlight community to be protected from the disease and effective in offer support and comfort with their friends who are fearful and concerned
  • World evangelism efforts and missionary outreach not be hampered or hindered by SARS and the growing fear associated with it
  • Workers, investors, families, and businesses that have been severely impacted economically because of the SARS crisis

    A second area of focus needs to be securing good and reliable information. In any emerging health crisis, rumor and fear run rampant while accurate information gets left behind. In the Internet age, we have access to solid and trustworthy information as well as a flood of gossip, rumor, and fear-generating urban legends. Let’s never be guilty of passing on unverified rumors and gossip based on unsubstantiated forwards. While the mainstream media may offer stories of interest, let’s be careful not to let anything sensational they say push us to panic. Sensational headlines are often used to grab attention and sometimes facts get lost in the shuffle. SARS is a very real health threat that is beginning to snowball into a growing set of concerns. However, let’s be careful not to jump to conclusions in the early stage of identification, treatment, and containment of the disease. Instead, let’s make use of information from more reliable sources of information like the major health organizations. Here are some links we believe that will help you get the latest and most accurate information:

    A third strategy in dealing with SARS has to do with things our mothers taught us when we were little — practicing good hygiene. We should wash our hands frequently. We should cover our mouths when we sneeze or cough. We shouldn’t go out in public, and definitely shouldn’t travel and be with others, when we have any significant SARS related symptoms. We should keep our spaces clean and sanitized. A little prevention goes a long way. In addition, getting proper rest, exercise, and eating a healthy diet helps us maintain a healthier immune system. In addition, we need to take special precautions when we are going to be out among those who have infants, those who are older, those who are in chemotherapy or have immuno-deficiency for any reason, and those who have been recently ill. Our concern with this latter group is not for us, but for them; we don’t want to pass anything on to them unknowingly.

Prayer is a vital part of our spiritual warfare to fight back against this disease and it’s use by the evil one.
    In the early days of AIDS, one of our members took communion to those confined in hospitals and retirement centers. He came across a young man that was a Christian who was in the last stages of AIDS. Even though he had gotten his spiritual life straightened out several years earlier, the people in his small town along with the folks in his church, had all pretty abandoned him in fear. His cousin had remained loyal and she had contacted us to help as she tried to comfort him in his last days in an Austin hospital. After hearing about this young man, an elder and I went in to visit with him and pray with him.

    In these early days of the AIDS epidemic, we were required to wear protective gowns and gloves. Dying AIDS patients were kept together and isolated from others. The young man was draped in plastic. His only contact had been his cousin, our member James who took him weekly communion, and health care workers. I will never forget Wilburn, the elder accompanying me, had me unzip the plastic tent covering him and we both placed our hands on this dying young man. Wilburn told the young man that he was loved by God, a part of God’s family, and then prayed over him to be confident that he was the Lord’s child and would go to be with his Savior when the struggles of the last months were over. The impact on the young man and his nurses was powerful. The importance of a humanizing touch from a respected leader in God’s family was crucial to this young man’s confidence to face death with faith and know he was loved. Unfortunately, most of the AIDS ward health care workers had not seen many Christian folks at this stage of the journey of someone dying.

    The example that Jesus set, Wilburn’s example just mentioned, and the long witness of Christian health care workers are a reminder that in the worst of life’s nightmares, God’s people are called to set an example of grace as they offer comfort and support to those broken by life’s worst scourges. Let’s ask for God to show us how to proceed in a redemptive way as our world faces a new and dangerous health challenge. Let’s keep those who live in the epicenter of SARS to be protected and blessed. Most of all, let’s all remember that the Lord will never forsake us or leave us. Our Savior has given us the assurance that even though death will one day visit each of our homes, it cannot separate us from God’s love in Jesus and cannot prevent us from our reunion at the coming of Christ.

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      Title: ""
      Author: Phil Ware
      Publication Date: April 21, 2003

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