Dear brothers and sisters,
In this apocalyptic summer, we have moved from fire and flood to plague – (although there are still serious fires here in Australia – not least around the coast of NSW and Canberra). The plague is of course the coronavirus which although originating in China is having a worldwide impact. So far 14,000 people have been infected and over 300 have died. This virus originated in Wuhan, China and so far all the victims have been Chinese. Here in Australia we have ten confirmed cases and several others being tested.
Because the virus originated in China and is spreading there rapidly (far more than the Sars virus in 2003) Australia and the US have banned travel from and through China – other countries are considering the same. Here in Sydney there is an understandable concern – with more people than usual walking round with face masks, which are apparently not much help in prevention, but can actually help you from spreading the virus if you have it.
We have had a virus for the past week – it is not pleasant but we have no reason or symptoms to think it is Corona. But the thought does go through your mind! Another thought that goes through your mind is to associate the virus with Chinese people. This is not necessarily irrational, given that the virus originated in China, is spreading from China and, at the moment, it appears to be only Chinese people who have so far been affected (the one man who has died outside of China, in the Phillipines, was a Chinese citizen from Wuhan). But nonetheless it can result in irrational behaviour.
AS I look out of my study window I see the high rise buildings of Chatswood. Chatswood has a significant number of Chinese people. My fact of the week is that 15% of all Chinese visitors to Australia visit Chatswood – it has a massive shopping centre. Why is that relevant? Yesterday a friend told me about how they visited a recyling centre in the city only to be told that the centre were no longer accepting bottles – in case they came from Chatswood. I suspect that Chatswood – like other areas with large Chinese populations, will have experienced a drop in custom.
One are that will certainly be hit is tourism. Chinese tourists and students bring in billions of dollars to Australia. If this ban remains in force then many businesses, some of them already hit by the bushfires, will be badly hit. Last weekend we had a wee break in Katoomba, up in the Blue Mountains. This is a place that has been badly hit by people staying away because of the fires – it was heartbreaking listening to business owners talking about the possibility of having to close due to the lack of custom. One group of tourists who did not appear to be staying away were the Chinese. The local people are very thankful for them.
Of course there are many ABCs – Australian Born Chinese- about 4% of the population. The Chinese have been a part of Australia almost as long as the Brits and other Europeans. Sometimes they have experienced dreadful racism. I have just finished reading Piggin and Linder’s The Fountain of Public Prosperity – a book on the early history of evangelicalism in Australia which is a mine of information. When the Australian Federation was established at the beginning of the 20th Century , a ‘White Australia’ policy was introduced and the Chinese were no longer permitted to come to Australia. From then until 1947 the percentage of Chinese in Australia sank to 0.12% of the population). This had devastating consequences for the growing Chinese church – especially the Presbyterians.
I hope that the ABC’s and visiting Chinese will not experience any backlash and discrimination because of this virus. Yes – there need to be sensible precautions – but fear can far too easily fuel prejudice. It is entirely wrong to view the Coronavirus as ‘the Chinese’ virus (hence the question mark in the title) – as though it were something to do with being Chinese – rather than just the place where it originated – in the most populous nation in the world. Australia would be a much poorer place without the Chinese. And the Church would be much worse off. Meanwhile we need to pray for and support our Chinese brothers and sisters – especially the Church in Wuhan and Hong Kong – as well as throughout the world.
Speaking of the virus – there is of course another virus that is far more serious, far more universal and far harder to cure – that is the virus of sin – which ever since the Fall has infected the world. We rejoice that the Lord has provided the anti-virus to heal and cure mankind from its greatest disease. Those of us who are Christians need to show love and mercy to our fellow human beings by informing them of that cure. How evil it would be if someone had an antidote to Coronavirus but kept it to themselves and let people die! How much more evil is it for those who have the riches of the Gospel, not to share them with the perishing!
I leave you with another Tozer quote:
“No matter what the circumstances, we Christians should keep our heads. God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind”