Simon Loh, a pastor at Faith Assembly of God in Singapore, visited a hospital to pray with a church member who had contracted Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the pneumonia-like condition that has spread panic in much of Asia and other parts of the world. Soon thereafter, Loh discovered that he, too, had SARS.

On March 26, Loh, 39, died.

As news of his death spread, many people stayed away from church. Those who came wore surgical masks and declined to shake hands, fearing they would catch the sometimes fatal malady.

SARS first emerged in southern China in November and spread to Hong Kong in March. A mainland Chinese medical professor passed the illness to seven other people in a Kowloon hotel in March. Then air travelers carried it to Singapore, Vietnam, and Canada.

As health fears increased in early April, 50 Christians gathered in a Hong Kong park, displaying a banner reading, "Don't be afraid, just believe."

Many are finding that difficult, including those in the pews. Most pastors wear masks when they speak. Worship leaders use a sterile wipe to clean the microphone after each use. Many churches are replacing the traditional peace handshake or embrace with a bow or a smile.

Nan Pin, his wife, Eleanor Chee, and their son, Matthew, 15, contracted SARS at their Kowloon apartment complex in early April. The couple directs the work of wec International in Hong Kong. Just before Easter, doctors placed Nan Pin into intensive care after his lungs collapsed. With the help of a ventilator, his lungs have begun to reinflate, but he remains seriously ill.

Meanwhile, Norwegian Lutheran Mission (NLM) has recalled its eight workers. "Much of our work has come to a halt because of the epidemic," said NLM secretary Osvald Hindenes.

Most Christians are staying put. At the Kowloon City Vineyard church, worshipers are not wearing masks.

"We don't object if anyone wants to wear one, but we do not announce it," said Kathy Mo, a church member. "We take precautions with the sanitation of the toilets, but we do not let it interfere with any part of our worship or even our lives."

Dave Aufrance, a missionary with oms who has lived in the territory for more than 20 years, says the uncertainty is causing many people to come to Christ: "My prayers for this city are finally being answered."

Related Elsewhere

Yahoo full coverage has continuing updates on SARS. Recent articles on faith, church life, and SARS include:

SARS no threat to holy ritualThe Toronto Star (April 24, 2003)
Catholics alter Easter traditions to stop SARS—CBC News (April 16, 2003)
Hong Kongers turn to the heavens in fight against deadly virus—AFP (April 15, 2003)
Malaysian Catholics avoid kissing cross to prevent SARS—AFP (April 14, 2003)
SARS forces Singapore Catholics to halt confessions—Reuters (April 9, 2003)
SARS claims life of A/G pastor—Assemblies of God News Service (April 4, 2003)
Churches alter rituals over fears about virusThe Globe & Mail, Toronto (April 3, 2003)
Churches take measures to prevent SARS spread—Channel News Asia (March 13, 2003)

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.