My name is Aina Andosoa Rasendrason. I am a woman from Madagascar, married, with two children. I am participating in a Master’s program in Theology and Religious Studies in Norway, Stavanger, at VID Specialized University. Before being accepted for this program, I completed four years of study in theology at a Regional Lutheran Seminary in Madagascar, worked for one year with my husband to lead two parishes— Ranomainty and Soalazaina— in the Synod of Alaotra and continued three years at the Lutheran Graduate School of Theology of Fianarantsoa where I received my bachelor’s degree.
During my third year of study at Fianarantsoa, I began to study pastoral counseling. This is how I fell in love with the field. I hope to be more formally trained in Pastoral Counseling in the near future and do deeper research for my Malagasy congregation.
The Need for Compassion and Encouragement
The effects of COVID-19 are seen worldwide in many areas of human life. This virus troubles health, society, international interactions, and the global economy, as well as human relationships and mentality. How can one face the virus in a healthy way both for oneself and for one’s neighbors—the non-infected and the infected ones? In this brief article, I will try to give a simple answer to this question, starting from my own experience and then relating it to Jesus’s acts in the New Testament.
In April 2020, my family and I were put in quarantine at the hospital in Fianarantsoa, a province of Madagascar, under suspicion of having COVID-19. I had just arrived to Antananarivo from Norway two weeks earlier, at a time when passengers from abroad were not yet put in quarantine and wearing masks was not yet imperative both in the country and in international flights. Hence, from my entrance in the country until I arrived in Fianarantsoa, I met many people without taking any precautions. Consequently, the probability of me contracting COVID-19during the flight was quite high. A few weeks after my arrival, I began experiencing flu like symptoms, including shortness of breath. I wanted to be tested. However, while waiting for the results, my family and I were immediately sent into quarantine at the hospital.
Modern Day Lepers
There were no positive cases of the virus yet at that time in Fianarantsoa. Therefore, our relatives and the staff of the hospital were scared of us. They were afraid that we might be infected and that we might have transmitted COVID-19 to them. I felt the quarantine was indeed a sign that we were considered as dangers for others and for our surroundings. People started to call us not to encourage us, but to know if the result was positive or not, wanting to get rid of their worry. The words and gestures of the staff of the hospital were excruciating. They were rude, not understanding. Hence, the period spent at the hospital seemed to be an eternity during which peace, joy and courage were unattainable. Calls from relatives, combined with the behavior of the staff, gave us a sense of what it is like to be marginalized, much like the people in the New Testament in Jesus’ time. We discerned how they might have felt. We also began to understand the importance of Jesus’ welcoming acts to bring comfort and change so many hearts.
Jesus’ Call to Care
During Jesus’ time, the ruling religious leaders and devout followers were scrupulous about purity. They cared for their physical and spiritual well-being but were careful to avoid any form of impurity which they believed to be contagious, such as bleeding women, leprosy or forms of sins. However, their precautions easily led to the marginalization of many hurting people. Jesus was acutely aware of this reality and sought to change it. As with the woman who was bleeding for more than twelve years (Luke 8:43-48), Zacchaeus the tax collector (Luke 19:1-9), the lepers or the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), Jesus showed compassion and interest for their situation. He wanted to meet them, did not blame them and healed them both physically and spiritually. Jesus’ interest for these marginalized people made the difference.
Spiritual Care and COVID 19
In our situation, in order to face the virus in a healthy way, we need to take as many precautions as possible for our well-being and that of our surroundings. It is vital. Nevertheless, these precautions should not hinder other pertinent welcoming acts and words of encouragement to show our compassion and interest for our neighbors, especially the victims of COVID-19. During our sojourn at the hospital, there were people who showed compassion for us. Some gave encouragement through phone calls. Some offered time by visiting and bringing needed things for our kids, respecting the precautions of quarantine. Though these people were few, their acts gave encouragement for us. With physical and psychological struggles faced by the victims of COVID-19, such gestures from us could help them and make the difference. Let us not neglect them!