JERUSALEM, ISRAEL — September 24, 2022 — Until this month, I had never heard of dengue fever. In case you don’t have either, it’s a mosquito-borne virus that can lead to high fever, headaches, vomiting, muscle and joint pain, and skin rashes. In some cases, it can cause bleeding, low blood platelet count and plasma leakage, or dangerously low blood pressure. It’s not always deadly, but it can be. And it’s very contagious. I learned about dengue fever following the horrific floods that recently took place in Pakistan, killing thousands, at least hundreds of thousands homeless without belongings, vast infrastructure washed away and gone, almost half of the crops destroyed and a third of the country under water. Not since the biblical flood has there been a flood like this affecting so many people.
Even if the flood waters recede, there is still a calamity of millions of people with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. They have no food, and as the weather turns cold at the start of winter, in many cases many have no shelter. Even dry blankets for sleeping on the floor in the open air are a luxury.
Why is an Orthodox Jewish Israeli writing about this? Why should you care?
First of all, in the course of humanitarian crises, this is unprecedented. How not to worry about it, even coming from Israel which has no diplomatic relations with Pakistan, and of which there is a huge hatred towards Israel.
As I have spent most of my career building bridges between Jews and Christians, we must do so on a multitude of dimensions beyond the necessary and biblically sound mandate to bless Israel. Real and meaningful relationships should go both ways. That is why I had the pleasure, even the privilege, of undertaking an emergency relief campaign in Pakistan so that Jews and Christians could act together. It didn’t make the headlines and we kept much of our efforts under the radar for the safety and well-being of our Pakistani friends. But it is worthy of interest.
Our hearts go out to all the millions affected, but especially women and children, and Christians, who are treated as second class citizens in Pakistan’s Islamic society. Thanks to Christian friends, we had the privilege of providing resources for food, blankets, sanitary products, mosquito nets, medicines, etc.
Mosquito nets and medicine concern dengue fever, as well as an upsurge in malaria, another disease transmitted by mosquitoes that thrive in stagnant water. Mosquito-borne diseases aren’t the only problem. Because much of Pakistan’s water is now polluted and many do not have access to safe drinking water, people have no choice but to bathe in the dirty waters (often infested mosquitoes) and to use the same water for cooking and drinking. . Necessarily, this means that a variety of gastro-related illnesses are unavoidable, including diarrhea and other things that are not only unsanitary but deadly, especially if there is no clean water, food or medicine.
As winter approaches, the fear is that the disease that has just begun is only the beginning and that there won’t even be a place to bury the bodies of those who die from it.
Even a wealthy country with the best infrastructure would struggle to manage this vast humanitarian crisis. Pakistan is neither. It is a rigidly divided tribal society where non-Muslims are second-class citizens. This is due to Islamic theology which formally grants dhimi status to Jews and Christians. But being tribal, Christians are not part of the majority and are widely discriminated against. Sometimes discrimination leads to persecution, physical violence and murder. Logically, although there is no outright discrimination in relief efforts, non-Muslims will not be the first to receive help. This is why the Genesis 123 Foundation which has mobilized to bring relief, especially to Christians, Jews and Christians together, is so important.
In the wake of this humanitarian crisis, there are stories of open persecution and even of Christians being forced to renounce their faith in exchange for promises of food. In some cases, after having denied their faith due to hunger and loss of hope, the food never appears. Forcing someone to deny their faith is bad enough, but rather than embracing them as a new Muslim, they are mocked and discriminated against. Even if it is not generalized, it is troubling that in such a serious humanitarian crisis, people are so inhuman towards each other. Of course, Christians who experience or witness this cannot speak about it in public and there is no recourse.
This plays out in women and girls as well, in ways that are probably too graphic to describe here. But let’s just say there is a level of abuse that is a hybrid between sadness and evil. Doing so is always horrible, but in the context of a national humanitarian crisis is unthinkable.
There is so much to do that it seems like all that is done is just a drop in the bucket. But with every drop, lives can be saved and hope restored. It will take years for many to recover materially. Sorrow and fear will be with them forever. Anyone can join the only network of Jews and Christians working together to help those most in need, including women and children, and especially Christians.
Pray that just as I (and maybe you) have never heard of dengue fever until today, the next generation of Pakistanis will never experience this disease or any other like it either.
If only to be mindful for compassion, join the Inspiration from Zion podcast to learn about the catastrophic events happening on the ground, what the urgent needs are, and how the crisis may escalate,