Lately I have been part of numerous discussions about the impact of COVID-19 on urban slums in the developing world. According to the UN-Habitat 2016 report:
In our world, one in eight people live in slums. In total, around a billion people live in slum conditions today. This does not only amounts to a rather unacceptable contemporary reality but to one whose numbers are continuously swelling. In spite of great progress in improving slums and preventing their formation– represented by a decrease from 39 percent to 30 percent of urban population living in slums in developing countries between 2000 and 2014 – absolute numbers continue to grow and the slum challenge remains a critical factor for the persistence of poverty in the world, excluding fellow humans and citizens from the benefits of urbanisation and from fair and equal opportunities to attain individual and collective progress and prosperity.
This has only been exacerbated by the spread of the coronavirus and the economic impact of draconian lockdown conditions particularly in India, Pakistan, Uganda, Kenya and the Philippines (at the time of writing). One prominent Christian leader has estimated that up to 50 million people could perish of starvation alone due to forced poverty from the global lockdowns.
These are the main concerns for large slums during the pandemic:
- High rates of infection due to the lack of or even the possibility of social-distancing.
- High mortality rate due to limited medical resources in urban slums.
- Unemployment of day workers leading to malnutrition and starvation.
- Collapse of informal economic and social systems especially those based around churches that meet in slums, which might be on lockdown.
- The loss of the ability to send goods, medicine or food due to lockdown and even the inability to send money to those without bank accounts e.g. via transfer services such as Western Union.
- Social inequality and human rights issues involving further discrimination against the poor.
A Christian worker, engineer and human rights lawyer in Delhi wrote to me saying that the needs in the slums were:
- Corona Virus Test kits
- Groceries / rations – many slum people are dying of hunger.
- The poor and the labor class have got stuck in places far from their homes, they don’t have money left or means to travel home. All transport is closed countrywide.
- Financial assistance to start small enterprises for the slums so that they can get back on their feet and put food on the table.
- Some communal fanatics are making the most of this full lockdown situation and creating a nuisance in the areas where minority people group are living in the slums, and are trying to ravage their houses.
- Legal aid support for these slum-dwellers who have been looted by these fanatics.
- Trauma healing sessions for the slums.
- Financial help to support the house rent for the slums and poor.
- As a new school session started in April, the slum kids need books, bags, stationaries etc.
There have been many good articles on these medical, economic and justice issues involved. So, in this article I will take another perspective, that of how to pray with spiritual authority during such a crisis.
Prayer, in the Bible, always involves asking for something. Even the Lord’s Prayer is a list of things that the petitioner is asking from the Heavenly Throne. Prayer is firstly a legal act. It is asking the Throne of Grace for help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Here are some of the things we should be praying for:
- Repentance and revival in the slums and in nations as a whole,
- Miraculous healing for the sick, and also for medical solutions to rapidly emerge,
- Economic provision as many day workers in the slums lose their jobs and cannot afford food, water, medications or travel to hospital,
- That God will take away the fear and panic in people’s hearts and minds,
- Wisdom for governments and for those dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic,
- Wisdom for the local leaders in the slums, local governments, mayors, churches, social and community workers, NGOs’ etc.,
- Personal protection from the plague,
- Protection of health workers and other frontline personnel,
- Justice, civil rights, land rights, rebuking opportunism, hoarding, greed and exploitation,
- Social order, that both formal and informal social systems will remain relatively intact,
- Casting down demonic powers and principalities that might be exploiting the virus,
- A rapid return to employment and that churches may remain economically sustainable.
This is an extreme crisis and extreme prayer is called for. Many churches are fasting, others are having 24-hour prayer vigils. The missions community is uniquely positioned to help because of our close contact with the suffering and its access to Western assets including networks for prayer and intercession.
ORGANIZING INTERCESSORY PRAYER THROUGH CHURCH AND MISSIONS NETWORKS
Most denominations and missions organizations are praying about the corona virus, but not so much about its impact on the slums. We need to get existing prayer networks aware of the social justice and economic justice aspects. Also, we need to enable pastors to pray for the poor, for the slums, and for justice in the midst of injustice.
We need to paint a clear picture and the problem and the twelve prayer points listed above. Some short testimonies and statistics, supplied by credible sources such as the missions directors of large denominations, will help both as “prayer fuel” and as motivation to give to this pressing need.
PRAYING FOR SOLUTIONS TO BE RELEASED
Biblical prayers tend to be solution-focused, especially in the New Testament. That is instead of lamenting the problem, Jesus and the apostles press on quickly asking for God’s specific supernatural intervention. There is a great example of how the persecuted church prayed in Acts chapter four:
GETHSEMANE – Praying During A Spiritual Crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a massive spiritual crisis for the Church globally. This is not a moment for ordinary prayer. It is time for travail, anguish and spiritual warfare.
Fortunately, when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane He left us a pattern for how to pray during an extreme spiritual crisis.
There were plenty of loud cries and tears in that Garden. Jesus let the emotion out. Weeping before the Lord and crying out is part of the heritage of the saints and prophets such as Hannah, David, Ezra and Jeremiah. The apostle James says that the fervent prayer of a righteous Christian is highly effective (James 5:16). During a time like this, we should pray strongly and powerfully, with our whole being.
Our Savior went to a private place where He could engage in the loud crying with tears and sweating drops of blood (Hebrews 5:7, Matthew 26:36-46, Luke 22:39-46). We need to create prayer spaces where we can enter into travail for the lost and for the slums.
Pray as if your life depended on it. Do not give up. Give it all you have got. Do not be sleepy or lazy. Be persistent. Jesus prayed the same thing over and over – which is acceptable in times of spiritual travail. Jesus also prayed for at least an hour.
Jesus got others to pray with Him. At this time, we should form prayer groups, even on WhatsApp or Zoom. We should lift up the slums to God in groups of two or three or more.
Jesus told God precisely what He desired. State clearly what you want, the outcome that you desire from your Heavenly Father. Be confident that you can come to the throne of Grace in time of need because of Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16) and do not feel guilty or unworthy. The blood of Christ has cleansed you and given you access (Romans 5:1,2).
Finally, leave the final outcome to God’s will. Jesus placed total trust in His Father in Heaven. Jesus did not take any ethical shortcuts. He was totally submissive to the will of God.
(Acts 4:24-31) And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
The early church did not fall into a victim mentality, instead they asked for “more solutions” that is: more miracles, more works of grace, more boldness and more preaching of the Word!
Therefore, being people of faith and of solutions, we need to pray for more: medical cures, PPE, masks, wisdom, solutions, inventions, healing miracles, more proclamation of the gospel, and more revival! More of the supernatural, more wisdom and more medical help, all at the same time!
Instead of bemoaning church closures we can pray that churches learn how to do both online and mobile outreach and livestreaming. Instead of wailing about lost offering money, pray that churches are provided for in new and creative ways.
There is a suggestion in Daniel 10:1-14 that powers and principalities oppose the release of God’s wisdom, especially prophetic wisdom. So pray that angels get through with solutions for the corona virus!
THE SPIRITUAL WARFARE ASPECT
There is a demonic exploitation of the corona virus (I am not saying that the virus is a demon) that is using the virus and the fear of the virus to diminish good and promote evil as follows:
- Shutting down churches
- Stopping worship gatherings, bible studies and Christian schools and colleges
- Stopping essential missionary conferences, slowing mission outreach
- The loss of many good doctors, nurses and key medical personnel
- Spreading fear and panic
- Amplifying greed, hoarding and exploitation
- Making democratic governments seem weak and foolish
- Making dictatorships look strong and competent.
- Making the aged and disabled a lower priority, or in some nations, totally disposable
- Starvation of the poor during lockdown (Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy)
- Loss of civil rights, powerful groups seizing control of society
- People reverting to superstition, amulets, magic and idolatry out of fear
Therefore I choose to pray the following warfare prayer:
I call on the Throne of God to rebuke, bind and judge, all powers, principalities, thrones, dominions and demons behind COVID-19 and its spread.
I call on God, in the name of Jesus, to shut down this virus, to disable and forbid all its evil effects, and to cast out all spirits of fear, panic, greed, anger, infirmity, murder, and control.
I call on God to protect the weak, the elderly, the infirm, the homeless, the poor and the vulnerable from COVID-19
In the name of Jesus, I ask God to remove the control of human hearts and minds that these spirits have and declare that creative solutions will be found and will be implemented and will not be hindered in any way. There will be no more mistakes, no more confusion, and no more errors in the way the outbreak is managed.
Wisdom, love, reason and kindness shall prevail. Governments, doctors, nurses, scientists and researches shall be given the wisdom of God in abundance, freely and without rebuke. Churches will be given the courage of God. The Holy Spirit will show us how to pray and the Throne of Grace and Mercy shall be opened to us at this time for a world that is in need of the Lord! Amen.
SOCIAL JUSTICE AND THE GLORY OF THE NAME OF GOD
God is not unjust. If COVID-19 was to wipe out the poor of the earth while the rich stayed safe and sheltered, that would be terribly unjust and against the honor of God. This must not happen. If God is not to be defamed then solutions for the spread of corona virus in the slums must be found right now.
We cannot just shrug our suburban shoulders and let people perish in body, mind, soul and spirit. You cannot preach John 3:16 to a dead body. This must agonize us. We must grieve over what will happen to the billion people in the world’s slums unless a solution is found for the virus and the lockdowns.
The Devil comes to steal, kill and destroy. The Devil wants the slum-dwellers dead and they will die in huge numbers while Satan laughs and mocks God. We must see this in our spirits. We must see this on our knees. We must pray for a global response, for a global cure to be released from Heaven.
We must also pray against opportunism, black markets, price gouging, totalitarianism, racism, discrimination, riots and all the forms of injustice against the poor that the virus is facilitating.
We can get inspiration for this kind of prayer from the Psalms and the Prophets where the schemes of the wicked are brought to God for resolution and claims are made on heaven for justice, deliverance of the poor and needy, divine retribution for the proud and protection of the righteous from the schemes, plots and plans of those who oppose God.
David lived in a violent political world where he was confronting the wicked on a daily basis:
(Psalms 28:1-5) To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary. Do not drag me off with the wicked, with the workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors while evil is in their hearts. Give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds; give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward. Because they do not regard the works of the LORD or the work of his hands, he will tear them down and build them up no more.
There are two Psalms in particular that deal with David’s anguish at the prosperity of the wicked and they are Psalm 37 and Psalm 73. In Psalm 37 David declares the justice of God in advance and consoles himself:
(Psalms 37:12-20) The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, (13) but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming. (14) The wicked draws the sword and bend their bows to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose way is upright; (15) their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken. (16) Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked. (17) For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous. (18) The LORD knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever; (19) they are not put to shame in evil times; in the days of famine they have abundance. (20) But the wicked will perish; the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.
And of course plain speaking Amos thunders forth for the need for justice during a time of national crisis:
(Amos 5:7-15,24) O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth! (8) He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the LORD is his name; (9) who makes destruction flash forth against the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress. (10) They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth. (11) Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. (12) For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate. (13) Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time. (14) Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. (15) Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. ….But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
God will not be glorified by the senseless death of the poor and needy, by communal violence, by starvation, or by the crushing of the afflicted in the slums. Our prayers need to be filled with the compassion of Christ, the travail and groanings of the Spirit (Romans 8:26) and with the pertinent moral perspectives of the Psalms and the Prophets.
SPIRITUAL IDENTIFICATION WITH THE AFFLICTED
Prayer is not all we need to do for the slums in the time of COVID-19, however prayer is something rather vital that we can do. Prayer will prepare the way for action. Prayer will release divine wisdom and divine solutions. Prayer will work miracles. Prayer will rebuke the wicked. Prayer will save souls. Prayer will help make the impossible, possible.
The corona virus crisis can lead to the complete death of God’s church in the slums, or a great revival among them. The slum pastors can starve to death in pain, or the pastors in the slums can have miraculous provision that they will testify to for years.
This requires spiritual identification with the afflicted. When one part of the Body suffers, the other members suffer together with it:
(1 Corinthians 12:26-27) If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Paul did not just preach this, he also practiced it with his collection for the suffering saints in Jerusalem.
(1 Corinthians 16:1-4) Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.
(2 Corinthians 8:13-15) For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
Our hearts, prayers and finances are to go out to the saints in the slums. We are to do unto them, as we would want done unto us, if we were in their exact same situation. Numerous organizations are available to help you get money to the suffering saints in the slums and one with a highly effective network is the Urban Leadership Foundation (https://urbanleaders.org ).
Spiritual identification pulls us deeply into intercession so that we can “put a claim on faith” and be very bold in our requests for God. We can remind God of His promises and His acts of old, and boldly insist on His deliverance for the poor and afflicted. We see this all throughout the Psalms where the first part of a Psalm will recount the faithfulness of God, then the claim is put upon the Lord with a phrase such as, “Why then have you cast off your inheritance” and the claim on God is then laid out in detail. Finally, the Psalms will finish on a positive note such as “I will yet praise God”.
This is very evident in Psalm 9 where the first eleven verses are adoration of God, almost to the point of flattery, then verse 12 starts a passionate petition for the Lord to deliver the poor and afflicted (which include the Psalmist) and this continues until verse 18, then in verses 19 and 20 the praise of God is resumed. A similar pattern is also used in Psalm 82 to request that God deliver the poor and afflicted from the hand of the wicked. Psalm 89 is worth studying in this regard as well.
We can go deep in prayer, identifying with a sinful nation as Daniel does (Daniel chapter 9) and we can place ourselves “in the place” of locked down believers, struggling for daily bread. From this posture of agony we can cry out “give us this day our daily bread” and make a claim upon God for His promised provision (Matthew 6:33).
This will also help us to put aside our own “Savior complex” in which think of ourselves as the “strong” helping the “weak”. Rather, we are just a part of the body of Christ and we weep with those who weep!
If we do this, if we weep for those who weep, if we suffer in prayer for the church in the slums now, then later, when all this is over, and the victory of the Lord is won, we shall rejoice with those who rejoice also!
The Church is unique in the hope that she offers. Firstly we offer the hope of the gospel and the hope of the resurrection. However, we also offer the hope of prayer to a just and holy God. We offer the hope that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and the Christ is not ashamed to address our most immediate needs in real time, as He did when He fed the four thousand and the five thousand or changed water into wine.
Most of us cannot arrive in the slums with twenty truckloads full of food and a million dollars (which has problems of its own). However, we can pray to a God, who can move heaven and earth and make those 20 trucks appear from another source
To quote Edward Everett Hale: I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
And the “something” that all believers can do, is intercession!
John Edmiston is an Australian missionary who has been in full-time Christian ministry since 1981 and who has served in Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, mainly in student ministry, urban ministry and Internet ministry as well as being a Bible college lecturer. He is currently the Chairman/CEO of the Antioch Internet Bible International and its partner organizations