The world has never seen anything like this craziness, at least not in living memory.
The coronavirus has ushered in unprecedented changes, albeit temporary ones, in people’s lifestyles. We are already experiencing a partial lockdown in this country—no weddings, no school, no gatherings of people greater than 100 in strength.
Elsewhere people are on total lockdown. They are literally confined to their homes with the police or the military on a constant look out to enforce the rule.
Somehow life must go on. My son is into software development and currently lives in Kigali, Rwanda.
President Paul Kagame has declared a total shut down there. For the past two or so weeks, he has hardly left his home but continues to work, and in collaboration with other software developers although they do not meet physically. They meet virtually and are able to share some aspects of their work. Life goes on for them.
That kind of interaction, or some version of it, must permeate other spheres of life in these difficult times, not least in education and, I would hasten to add, in religion.
Many schools and colleges are already going into e-learning. Teachers and tutors can meet their students virtually, and the teaching/learning can go on.
Google classroom is one of the facilities that make this possible. A tutor or teacher can upload lessons in textual, audio or video format, can post assignments and stipulate the deadlines. Students can consume the lessons at their own time, do the assignments and submit them, then wait for feedback from tutors.
All this can happen without any physical meeting and will be perfectly in line with the requirements of a shutdown, partial or total. Of course all this is possible on the assumption that the teachers on the one hand, and the students on the other hand, have access to the Internet.
What is perhaps more problematic is church services. Can worshippers meet virtually? Attempts are being made to abide by the 100-member rule by conducting a head count of those entering a church building and directing the overflow to other meeting facilities.
When I went to church last week, I had to sit in a tent accommodating about 20 worshippers. God forbid, but our situation may escalate into a total shut down here sooner or later.
When that happens, if it does happen, there will be no physical church services at all. Worship organisers would be well advised to think of ways in which they still can reach out to their faithful without having to meet them. We need to start thinking about inventing something like Google Church, or any digital platform to which worshippers can log in and fellowship with fellow worshippers virtually. It is not beyond us.
The only foreseeable challenge will be in ensuring the flow of offerings to finance church activities. Perhaps people must also learn how to transact digitally to give to the church. A smart application can be developed that will allow worshippers to electronically channel their monies to the church and get a digital receipt for the transaction.
They say necessity is the mother of invention. The necessity here is keeping the levels of giving to the church almost the same in these troubled times as in good times.
Coronavirus is a threat to many businesses, particularly those that deal with transportation, but it also brings opportunities to other businesses. Those that sell sanitisers or masks, for example, see many opportunities in this crisis.
It can also be a huge opportunity to tech savvy young people who can develop applications described above to enable urban worshipers to meet virtually and collect the offering without a hassle.
Such an application does not have to come from the West. We have by far more worshippers in Africa than in the West. I, therefore, put it as a challenge to the African young people to rise to the occasion and come up with something African for use originally in Africa and eventually to other parts of the world.
For once, we can show the world how certain things can be done. Politicians too need to come up with innovative ways of relaying their messages to the masses without meeting them physically.
Virtual meetings may not work because a large proportion of Malawians are rural-based and, therefore, have little or no Internet access. The same can be said of rural worshippers. They may have to rely on community radios for this, at least initially, then develop more innovative methods.
We need to search within our communities for potential solutions to the challenges we are all facing.