During her four-and-a-half years in Madagascar, teacher Naomi Coleman has experienced surprise school closures, random food shortages, temporary ‘don’t go out’ rules, nearby epidemics and sudden relocations. But with the arrival of COVID-19, she feared what the implications would be for herself and her ministry.
Naomi, sent from Cambray Baptist Church in Cheltenham, teaches the children of the only family currently on the team – SIM UK doctors Ted and Rachel Watts, sent from Beeston Free Church, Nottingham, who both work at Mandritsara’s Good News Hospital.
The hospital does great work as a local church-run project that proclaims Jesus Christ, as well as providing excellent and compassionate medical care to some of the poorest people on the island, who travel for hours or even days, from surrounding villages where there is no Christian witness.
As in other countries, lockdown restrictions were put in place before the first coronavirus cases in Mandritsara were announced, but Naomi admits she regularly woke up during the night worried about what the implications of a mass coronavirus outbreak would mean.
“I wasn’t really worried about becoming unwell myself,” she explains, “but I hated the prospect of seeing our hospital overwhelmed as we only have a small number of doctors. Many people don’t have access to running water and they struggle to make ends meet ordinarily, so thinking about the impact of many people getting sick was quite frightening.”
Naomi made a number of significant changes, including teaching extra lessons to the Watts’ two young children to compensate for local school closures and moving house to be nearer her missionary colleagues and cutting down on non-essential journeys.
Talking through the ‘what-if’s with her team was vitally important, but not easy. However, as contingency plans were made and the ‘new normal’ became more familiar, Naomi put her trust in God to work out his purposes during the global pandemic.
“I tried to think much more about the eternal hope we have – not speculating about what the next few months may hold,” she says. “Usually, we’re looking ahead to the next visitor or short-term missionary coming to support the team, or a chance for a holiday or break. I really needed to adjust my mindset at a time when travel was so difficult. Using my time to pray, to worship through song and to study the Bible were really helpful in finding a good perspective and a sense of peace.”
When her local Malagasy church stopped gathering, Naomi tuned into to her sending church’s new online services. Friends in the UK soon became more used to communicating electronically and she was encouraged by supporters who were now more available to chat during lockdown.
By God’s grace, Naomi says it is a huge privilege to be part of a project that seeks to share the gospel, while meeting people’s health needs: “The Good News Hospital does not have the same kinds of resources and personnel as many British hospitals, but it does have the freedom to share the message of hope and life in Jesus Christ and be a beacon of light during a time of crisis.”
- Praise God for all the blessings he gave Naomi and more time during lockdown to reflect on his goodness.
- For more doctors and surgeons to serve at the Good News Hospital, even for a short time, and for the plans to establish the long-term sustainability of the hospital and its gospel witness.
- That the Good News Hospital will be a beacon of hope throughout the pandemic.
The Friends of Mandritsara Trust, which supports the work of the Good News Hospital, is building a new theatre complex to bring much-needed additional facilities and establish the long-term sustainability of the hospital and its gospel witness in Mandritsara. Read about these exciting new plans.