A Pastor’s Update from Italy on the Coronavirus
Since my report on March 10 (see below) concerning the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, the number of reported cases and deaths have sadly continued to soar. According to Italy’s department of health (il Ministero della Salute), as of March 15 at 6:00 p.m., there have been a total of 24,747 confirmed cases of the virus and 2,335 deaths. Of the number of people who have died, 1,218 (more than half) have been in one part of the country: Lombardy, the region in which my family and I live. This is due to the fact that the Italian authorities have done an excellent job of managing the spread of the virus to other parts of the country by putting everything on lockdown and requiring people to stay at home. We have not yet hit the peak number of cases, but we are hopeful that that time is coming soon.
Here in Milan, in the meantime, the hospitals are overcrowded, doctors and nurses are overworked, and people are dying alone and without the comfort of family by their bedside. It is truly a heartbreaking time for this city. The streets are eerily empty and quiet, disrupted only by the persistent sound of sirens from ambulances.
Although it is true that the majority of people who have died from the virus are over 70 years old and/or have had previous health problems, it is also true that the sick and the old are still people, created in the image of God. What concerns my wife and me is not that we may contract the virus ourselves, but rather that we may pass it on to others who might not survive. This is why compliance with the government’s ordinances to remain at home is so important right now. We are willing to be inconvenienced out of love for our neighbor and to protect those who are weak and vulnerable.
By God’s grace, my family and I remain healthy, as do all the precious members of Chiesa Riformata Filadelfia, the church I am privileged to serve. We stay in frequent contact with one another throughout the day and livestream our Sunday services as well as a short devotion every evening at 8:00 p.m. We are grateful for your prayers.
The number of people sick and dying in northern Italy is not good. But our God is good. And He has delivered us from far greater threats: the power of sin, the fear of death, and the judgment we deserve. We give Him praise that, by His grace, we belong to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, in body and in soul, in life and in death. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). During these dark and difficult days, our ultimate prayer is that many will look to Christ for the only remedy to a problem much more devastating than the pandemic of COVID-19. None who call upon the Lord in true faith will be refused.
For the gospel in Milan,
Rev. Michael Brown
Original Update (March 10)
I am a missionary of the United Reformed Churches in North America serving in northern Italy, where I pastor Chiesa Riformata Filadelfia, an Italian congregation in the suburbs of Milan. As you have probably seen in the news, we have experienced a devastating outbreak of the coronavirus. In the past ten days alone, we have seen the number of reported cases in Italy skyrocket from 888 to 7985, and deaths have climbed from 21 to 463. In the past 48 hours, Italy has experienced more than 100 deaths to coronavirus per day. Almost 90% of the cases of coronavirus in Italy are in Lombardy, the region where my family lives. The entire country, however, is on lockdown. This means that no one is permitted to travel and everyone is encouraged to remain at home unless absolutely necessary. All schools and churches in the entire country are under a strict mandate to remain closed until at least April 3. Out of love for our neighbors, we are complying with that ordinance.
For our church, this means that all worship services, classes, and meetings are canceled for the time being. I have been preaching sermons from home via the internet and staying in contact with everyone in the congregation. By God’s grace, all of us are still healthy and well supplied with food and water. The greater crisis at the moment, however, is the destructive toll that the panic is taking on the already fragile Italian economy. More than 30% of Italy’s GNP is dependent on tourism, which has come to a screeching halt during this health situation. In our congregation, several members are unable to work because of school and restaurant closures, and most are seeing a radical decline in business. It is a trying time, to say the least.
I have one encouraging piece of news, however. With the temporary closure of churches, our online sermons are receiving a significant spike in views. Each Sunday, we’re averaging between 600 and 900 views. These are excellent numbers for a Protestant congregation in staunchly Roman Catholic Italy. Some Italians who have listened to the preaching have reached out to us and expressed their gratitude for the gospel and asked for more information about our church. This is very hopeful. Even amid the spread of the coronavirus in northern Italy, God is causing His Word to spread. For that, we give Him praise and trust that He will use these difficult days for His glory.
As believers, we seek to be prudent and to use common sense. But there is never an appropriate time to panic or act as if God is not in control. He has given us “a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). Throughout the centuries, the Lord has brought His church through many periods of plagues, diseases, wars, and natural disasters—all of which are common to this fallen world. Our hope and confidence are not in our circumstances, but in Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead, reigns in heaven, and will return in glory. What a comfort to know that we belong to Him in body and in soul, in life and in death!
As you remember us in prayer, here are a few items you can bring before our Father’s throne of grace:
- Pray that the Lord will use the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy for His glory and for the spread of the gospel;
- Pray that God will mercifully bring the suffering and economic devastation in Italy to an end;
- Pray that the Lord will allow our family and congregation here in Milan to remain healthy;
- Pray that those in the congregation who are suffering financially as a result of the outbreak will find relief.
We thank you for standing with us in prayer.