As we were returning to Brazil back in February, COVID-19 and Coronavirus were just words for something that was happening in other countries. When we arrived at the international airport in Manaus, a few staff were wearing masks, but everything was otherwise the same. We had no idea just how much life would change in the next few weeks.
We arrived in Itaituba, got the kids enrolled in school, and started preparing for Desperta, a large evangelism event, at the end of the month. As Desperta was ending, we started seeing reports of cases in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. But those are big cities with a lot of international travelers. Then we saw cases slowly making their way to our region. Before the end of March, schools in our city were closed and people were being asked to stay at home. Church services were prohibited, and businesses began to have restrictions placed on them. The DMV closed down as did the Federal Police immigration office. The former means we are still waiting for our new car registration documents, and the latter means we have not been able to deal with required immigration issues. I’ve talked with both the DMV and Federal Police and they have suspended deadlines for us. We had three cases in our city of 100,000 when the DMV shut down.
Today as I write this, we have more than 800 cases in our city and over 50,000 cases in our state. A beloved former mayor is in critical condition, and a beloved teacher instrumental in founding schools for an Indian reservation has died. Many are without jobs or an ability to feed their family. Lines at banks, always long, are now so long that the city has erected tents for those waiting. We had a friend recently wait more than nine hours at a bank only to learn the bank was out of money when she got to the front of the line. Anytime I have to go to a drugstore or to pay a bill I am asked, “Pastor, when will we be able to go back to church.” The answer is we just don’t know.
Social distancing is a difficult concept within Brazilian culture. We great one another with hugs. We share food with one another and often drink from shared cups. Trying to convince people to give this up is difficult. Masks are required, but it’s often not enforced. The mayor has kept 95% of all commerce open, but restricted their hours. That means stores are now much busier because there are only limited hours during which you can buy the things you need. Because COVID-19 is in all parts of Brazil, it has had an impact on transportation. When a store runs out of a product, they don’t know when they will receive more. There is not a shortage of most staples at the grocery store, but things like vaccines are in short supply.
We are safe, and we have all that we need. We are staying in the house as much as possible. When we need to run errands, only Beth or I go and we make the trip as short as possible. Miriam and Jonah have not left the house since March 23 except for a couple of trips to the doctor. Miriam misses her friends and teachers. We ask that you continue to pray for not only us but for Brazil as a whole during this time.