The Senegalese government has been tremendously proactive in their approach towards the coronavirus pandemic. Schools, the airport, and all international borders were quickly closed in March. Since the first case was detected, whenever a patient tests positive for the virus, government health workers attempt to immediately trace and quarantine all of the patient’s possible contacts. Travel between regions inside the country is now banned and masks are required in public spaces and in places of business. A curfew is in place from 8 pm until 6 am daily. Although Senegal is roughly equivalent in both area and population to the six states of New England in the US, to date there have only been 1,433 cases in Senegal and 12 deaths. The Ministry of Health has been educating the population about hygiene measures to take to prevent the spread and they also communicate daily the numbers of those tested, infected, released, the neighborhoods involved, etc. However, there are still new cases being reported daily with no known contact traced.
Nationwide, the bulk of the economic impact of the government restrictions is still to come. Those in certain sectors, notably restaurant/hotel/tourist and travel-related jobs, have undoubtedly been hardest hit. Ten percent of Senegal’s GDP is attributed to travel/tourism so this shutdown will certainly have a large negative impact across the country.
Our region, Kaffrine, has not yet recorded any cases of the virus and is primarily a farming region so the economic consequences are less obvious here at this point. People are still able to buy and sell in shops and in the open-air market here in town. This is the lean time for subsistence farmers anyway. Next month, people will need to prepare the fields and find money for seed and fertilizer as the rainy season begins in late June. But right now teachers and taxi drivers are sitting idle at home, many receiving little or no income. Each family will certainly experience the impact of the restrictions differently.
For our family, school and church activities came to a screeching halt overnight and suddenly we had our girls home from boarding school (yay!). With no travel or meetings allowed, all seven of us are now basically home together all day every day. In that way, these seven weeks have been quite precious! The girls are doing their school online and I am doing kindergarten homeschool in English with our boys. We continue to see our neighbors and to welcome a few other people and occasional visitors to our house each day.
But we have had to pause several of our principle ministries, specifically: village visits, the new chicken project, church involvement, and English classes. The chicken project has not yet gotten off the ground and is currently on hold until the government lifts the restrictions on group gatherings. This means Corey is not working with the young Wolof believer he wanted to mentor and partner with in the village work. Missing out on this and on my Tuesday and Friday afternoon English classes with Senegalese students is disappointing.
On the other hand, these imposed limits have given us more time to pursue other ministries that had long been on our to-do list. Last month Corey was able to try something new: advertising the Wolof chronological Bible story app on Facebook. This app shows the biblical text in either Arabic- or Roman-script Wolof on your phone while playing an audio file of the excerpt being read by a Wolof speaker and highlighting each phrase in yellow as it is read. Corey ran two ads for one month, spending a total of US$100. We were pleased that during that month 240,000 Senegalese people saw the ads, and 9,000 people clicked on one! Before we ran the ads, only about 100 people had the app on their device; during the month of ads more than 750 people installed the app. Many uninstalled it before the month was up, but still there are almost 500 people now walking around with the Bible stories in their pocket! And we can see that the average user is looking at the app for about 15 minutes per day, which is about how long it takes to read/listen to one Bible story. So while we are not able to get out much and talk to people face to face, God’s Word is getting out! We plan to do another series of ads during Ramadan as soon as the iOS version of the app is ready.
- Pray for God to touch the hearts of those who are reading/listening to His Word and to draw them to Jesus!
- Pray too for God’s wisdom and enabling as Corey continues to work on the different Wolof Bible apps; he hopes to transcribe and release some more books of the Bible and some new versions soon.
- Also, please do pray for an end to the coronavirus and for wisdom to know how to respond to the economic hardships that we imagine are around the corner because of the current restrictions.
- All our Muslim friends and neighbors are fasting for Ramadan right now. Pray that it will be a time of increased spiritual interest.
- It is the hottest time of the year here now, with daily temperatures reaching over 110 degrees F in the shade; pray for health and stamina. Skin infections are common during these hot, humid months, especially for kids – pray for our boys, who love to play in the dirt and always seem sweaty even with three showers per day! They both have a (heat?) rash already…