By Dr Shawn Vasoo
(15 July 2020)

I have three thoughts:-

First, I am reminded of the words in Lamentations 3:22-23, wherein amid evil, suffering, and God’s judgment, the writer declared, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness”.

I started my new position at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) in June 2019. My role included oversight of disease outbreak preparedness activities. Since the middle of 2019, we dealt with a few outbreaks- measles, which led to several mass vaccination operations, and an imported case of monkeypox. That kept us busy. NCID officially opened on 7 September 2019. It effectively replaced the old Communicable Disease Centre (CDC1) campus. NCID was designed to strengthen our nation’s capabilities in infectious disease outbreaks. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were planning for a major exercise in early 2020. It was not to be. I looked back with awe at God’s tender mercy over us. We felt stretched and challenged at work in 2019. He was quietly preparing us for what was to come.

We moved into the new premises of NCID, a 330-bedded facility (with expandable capacity) by the end of 2018. The official opening was in September 2019. This enabled us to prepare and handle the COVID-19 swiftly and enhanced public health safety. It is beyond imagination to have to deal with COVID-19 in the old CDC1 campus. Indeed, it is because of the Lord’s mercies that we were crisis ready. His mercies extended to us through the hands and feet of others. In this outbreak, friends and colleagues united together in a spirit of unity. They came from different healthcare institutions- NCID, TTSH, public and private hospitals. They rolled up their sleeves and worked together selflessly. During the pandemic, we witnessed isolation, sorrow, separation, and death – sometimes too much for the human spirit to bear. In an unprecedented period such as this, Lamentations 3:22-23 brought much comfort to His people.

Secondly, I am reminded that as individuals and a society, we need to love the foreigner (Deuteronomy 10:19). Repeatedly in Scripture, we are admonished against ignoring the foreigner and to love them as ourselves. Our community of migrant workers was disproportionately and severely hit by COVID-19. They were ‘strangers’ who left family and kin to come to Singapore to eke out a living, like many of our forefathers in the early days of our history. They contributed to our well-being, doing jobs which we may not want to do or know how to do. I have been involved in migrant health ministry with various NGOs since 2001. An uncomfortable, but legitimate question re-surfaced in the light of COVID-19. How are we, individuals, health care workers, and society, loving these strangers? COVID-19 galvanized many Singaporeans who rallied around the migrant community and showed care and offered practical help. What will we do after COVID-19? Is this outpouring of help a flash in the pan, or will we take concrete efforts to continue to show love to the strangers?

Lastly, as terrible as COVID-19 is, there is a plague far worse than COVID-19. In 1669, the English nonconformist preacher and puritan Ralph Venning wrote a book ‘The Plague of Plagues’ ( now retitled ‘The Sinfulness of Sin’ ) four years after the Great Plague of London. I remember reading this book in my early twenties. It made a great impression on me. Official city records indicate that over 68,000 people died in London due to the plague, which is caused by the bacterium, Yersinia pestis. The final toll was likely to be beyond 100,000. In his book, Venning drew attention to the fact that a deadly plague exists in human hearts – that is, the plague of sin. Throughout the first six months of the outbreak, I was forced to look honestly into my heart. There have been times (of which I am ashamed to speak of) that were extremely trying. Moments when I felt exhausted, exasperated, irritable, and have not treated others kindly as I ought to; when I took my eyes off the Lord Jesus and focused on the problems. I have relied on ‘broken cisterns’ of man-made philosophy, instead of the Lord, who is the source of living waters; I have leaned on my intelligence rather than God- given wisdom, and I have been ungrateful. We must continue to fight COVID-19 together, and indeed it is a terrible pandemic, but know there is a far greater plague – the one in human hearts (including mine) that only Jesus can cure.

The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:22,23 “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” The groaning we experience together with creation is not futile or despairing but looks with hope and expectancy toward the birth of a new world.

The Lord’s lovingkindness, great compassion, and complete faithfulness make Him the supremely worthy object of personal reliance. His daily supply of grace and forgiveness is unending. Let us be grateful for these gifts and learn to extend His grace to others. May we represent Him and reflect His kindness before a world that is in dire need of His mercy and grace. Shalom.