Church support from over the Pacific

Deb Savage and Benjamin Chan are holding signs "Add oil Wuhan" in front of boxes of supplies

Due to the coronavirus crisis, China and Amity's relief work are facing tremendous challenges. On the other hand, we are receiving enormous support from partners and friends all over the world. In this interview, Benjamin Chan, Area Director of East and South Asia of American Baptist International Ministries, explains about his work coordinating relief supplies from North-American donors.

1. How do you feel when you read the news about the coronavirus outbreak?

When I heard of the coronavirus outbreak in China, I was extremely worried, probably due to the very sad memory of the impact of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003. I am also very concerned about how the outbreak will affect China, my home country, when China just settled with the US the first phrase of the trade war. I am very worried about how common people of China are going to handle the impact of the affected economy and now the virus crisis. I immediately shared the concern with families and friends, and my international networks.

2. How did you get in touch with Amity about Amity's relief work regarding the coronavirus outbreak?

Hongyu She called me on Chinese New Year Day asking if I can serve as the coordinator of North America helping to look for medical supplies to help the hospitals in Wuhan. Hongyu and I are long-time co-workers and friends, and I have had a close relationship with Amity for 20 years. Most importantly there is no higher priority to reduce the spread of the virus and to save lives, I accepted the invitation in no time.

3. Could you list the organizations that you have been working with since the outbreak?

The first two networks I shared the news are the Asia Pacific Forum (APF) and the International Ministries (IM) of American Baptist Churches in the USA (ABCUSA). APF is a workgroup of the Asia secretaries of mainline denominations of North America (mainly Canada and USA). We meet in person as well as stay in touch via email to share updates of Asia and work on common agenda of the political, social and religious issues facing churches and societies in Asia. We pay special attention to help the poor and the under-served and promote peace and justice. We agreed that APF members may send their support through Amity or their channels. Both APF and IM are partners of Amity, and the China Christian Council and National TSPM. We support the service and projects of Amity and promote the exchange of China and the US with mutual respect and mutual learning.

I have also been working with my network of Asian Americans in the US, and IM global personnel and through them, we get help from churches, NGOs and relief organizations. We have posted an appeal for supporting the China Coronavirus Relief on the IM website. Click to read from https://www.internationalministries.org/im-responds-with-relief-for-outbreak-of-coronavirus/.

Boxes of masks and coveralls were purchased by North American partners and shipped to Amity Foundation

Some major donors so far include:

- American Baptist Churches USA/ IM

- Chinese Christian Church and Center in Philadelphia

- Episcopal Church USA

- F/2 International Foundation

- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

- Life Transformation Foundation, International

- United Church of Canada

- Global Ministries, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

5. You did immediately used your network and started looking for support and supplies. Can you tell us more about your assessment of the situation?

There are phases of relief we can help. The most urgent one is to provide protection masks and coveralls to the hospitals (priority) and communities of the closed cities especially Wuhan. We are talking about a situation that the medical personnel of all the hospitals is exhausted by panic crowd of people, and they are exposing themselves to high risk of virus infection with inadequate protection.

We are competing with time. The faster and more masks and coveralls we can provide the better we can help control the spread of the virus to other parts of China and even other countries. As the number of cases and death escalates, the people (including those who are infected) will become even more panic and begin (has begun) to find ways to leave the cities and hide in other cities and countries which bring further spread of the virus.

6. There's already a worldwide run on protective masks, both at local stores and pharmacies and online. Some are still available at some locations and online but at elevated prices. Is the purchase of masks the best use of donated funds? The same goes for the other supplies such as coveralls etc.

We are checking the masks and coveralls from an NGO and two wholesale suppliers in the US. We have not seen the rise of the price (yet.) The ideal is they can ship the order directly to the Headquarters of Amity Foundation which serves as a clearinghouse to collect medial suppliers from different avenues. Amity has permission and assistance from the Chinese Government to bring the supply to the needed places.

7. Were you and donors in North America concerned about supplies getting resold on the black market at elevated prices for profit?

Amity is the largest and most recognized Christian initiated NGO in China. They are known for their professional and efficient service of high transparency and accountability. I have worked with them for more than 20 years, and their partner and supporting organizations are all over the world including mainline churches and mission organizations in North America and Europe. Their annual budget is more than US$40 million and we have not heard any query of their use of funds. I would say the possibility of “get resold on the black market at elevated prices for-profit” is zero.

8. Do you have an estimate of what percentage goes to the purchase of supplies, and how much goes to delivery cost?

The entire amount of money goes to the provision of the masks and coveralls, plus the reasonable shipment by air, which we can check and compare with major postal services in the US.

9. What are the twists and turns during this aid action for you? And what are the best things?

In the whole process of fund-raising and looking for medical standard medical supply, I came to a deep appreciation of friends, my colleagues and many volunteers, who sacrificially offered their time, skills and experience to turn an impossible situation into reality. I must say that there is frustration and confusion due to the urgent situation, and the lack of supply. All these friends and colleagues are so patient and understanding and just focus on getting the medical supply to China because this is a matter of life and death. It is my blessings to see the beauty of human compassion and relation, and God’s grace in times of struggle.

10. Do you have any words to say to Amity?

I have worked with Hongyu, and other Amity staffs days and nights these two weeks. I have a deep appreciation of Mr. Zhonghui Qiu and his team since I was involved in the work of Amity 20 years ago. I have high respect and regard for Amity friends, and these two weeks' experience once again affirms my appreciation and trust in Amity. The battle is far beyond over. I pray for every Amity friend, especially those who work in the frontline in a risky situation. I pray for your safety and your families, and please stay alert and stay safe! It is an uphill battle, but every effort counts to reduce suffering and save lives. My heart also go to the victims of the infection and the thousands of people who live in a panic situation. May God protect you, and may God have mercy on China!

The Amity Foundation wants to express our deep appreciation and gratitude to Benjamin Chan, Area Director of East and South Asia of American Baptist International Ministries, his colleagues Deb Savage, Administrative Assistant of Africa, and Southeast Asia and Japan, and Eric Martin, IT Support and Logistic Specialist, and the rest of Ben's team and supporters, who are working tirelessly to support Amity's work! (She Hongyu, Associate General Secretary, Amity Foundation)