My father, Gerry, is a veteran missionary for a small local Christian congregation in the Philippines that has held Sunday service at a hospital for the last fourteen years. Assisted by my mother Beth, he has done missionary work in various workplaces since the 1980s. His current post in the Palliative Care Unit, an office specializing in care to the chronically and terminally ill of the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) in Metro Manila, puts him in proximity with frontline workers and patients during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
When President Duterte issued a lockdown of Metro Manila on March 16, 2020, all religious activities were prohibited. Although regular Sunday services were interrupted, my father’s ministry to the patients continued.
During this period of lockdown, public transportation was suspended and only essential workers, which excluded religious workers, were permitted to use the roads. In order to continue with his visits to patients, he would need my sister, a medical doctor, to sit next to him in the car and show her professional license to policemen stationed at checkpoints.
Reading the story of a priest facing similar circumstances while ministering to the poor neighborhoods in Manila in the New York Times last month, I thought about how my father, an Evangelical pastor, has been doing similar work, but without the institutional support of a Church establishment. His experience at the NKTI is reflective of “microchurches” that have responded to the gaps in religious services to people who are either non-Catholic or too poor to affiliate with any religion. Based entirely on faith-based arrangements of mutual reciprocity, these microchurches rely on the private initiative of ministers like my father, who increasingly take on roles as social workers for the faithful. COVID-19 has revealed the institutional failures of many states in providing basic healthcare, let alone palliative care, which has become especially important in the current global pandemic.
Read the full post at the CORONASUR blog at Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore.