Lorraine Charinda is celebrating her first American Thanksgiving.
And as she fills a plate on Thursday alongside the Rev. Barry Burns, who with his family is hosting her this week, it won’t be hard to think of at least one thing for which she’s grateful: A double-dose of a coronavirus vaccine — and a relationship that allowed her to travel 7,500 miles to get it.
“I couldn’t believe it until I got on the plane,” said Charinda, a missionary based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “I sent photos to my mother: ‘I’m really going!’”
“It’s something that not most are able to get in North Katanga,” she continued. “It’s been really great, and amazing, and each day I’m thankful for this opportunity.”
Charinda received her first shot in Columbus on Oct. 23, thanks to a long-standing partnership between the West Ohio Conference and the North Katanga Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church. The former raised around $10,000 to fly three missionaries to Columbus, so that they can receive a vaccination that’s tough to come by in the DRC.
Charinda is the first to board a plane.
She’s now traveling and visiting congregations throughout the West Ohio Conference, which stretches from Cincinnati to Toledo. She’s set to speak at worship services at Epworth United Methodist Church, 4855 Central Ave., Toledo, at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, and Maumee United Methodist Church, 405 Sackett St., Maumee, at 8:30, 10 and 11:15 a.m. Sunday.
Charinda has been serving as a missionary through the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries since 2017. She specifically serves as an agriculturalist and rural economic development specialist, putting into practice her undergraduate and graduate degrees in agriculture from Africa University, in her native Zimbabwe, and the University of Namibia.
That means a lot of time in the field, particularly the United Methodist-owned Kamisamba Farm in Kamina. There she cultivates crops and trains locals in the small-scale farming that the region depends on, she explained in a conversation this week at Maumee UMC. That’s in addition to a slew of related projects, including a recently launched initiative to develop and distribute seeds suited specifically to local growing conditions. It’s all intended to lift up her neighbors in her mission field, a rural area that she said ranks among the poorest in the country.
The coronavirus pandemic has added an additional complication to her work.
There’s essentially no testing available in the region, meaning that locals have no way of knowing if their symptoms reflect the coronavirus or one of the illnesses that were already of serious concern, like malaria, cholera, and typhoid. And if a person does become seriously ill with the virus, she continued, there are essentially no ventilators available, either.
And vaccines? There aren’t many, and they’re only in the major cities.
Less than 1 percent of the country’s population — just 0.13 percent — has been even partially vaccinated, according to statistics compiled by Our World in Data.
That compares to 69 percent of the U.S. population at least receiving partial vaccination.
The world as a whole is at 54 percent.
It’s a scary situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as Charinda knows first-hand: Her mother became seriously ill with the coronavirus this summer, after a shared visit in Zambia: When they went to leave the country, Charinda tested negative for the virus, her mother tested positive.
“She got really sick, to the point that she was coughing, she couldn’t breathe very well, her temperature was high,” Charinda recalled. “It was hard to see her like that.”
“I was just praying,” she continued. “We didn’t know if she was going to make it or not.”
Her mother recovered, thankfully, Charinda said.
The experience strengthened her resolve to get a vaccine against the virus.
“When you have that experience of someone close to you getting COVID, it’s a near-death experience that is really shocking. It motivates you to get vaccinated,” she said. “You want to protect yourself and your loved ones.”
Charinda heads back to the DRC on Nov. 30, fully vaccinated and secure in the steps she’s taken to protect herself and those around her as she continues her missionary work.
But first, there’s that turkey dinner with the Burnses.
“We’re just happy that we’re able to do this. It’s great being able to host her,” said Burns, the pastor at Maumee UMC. “To me, this is part of our call in the church. It’s not about us, individually. It’s about what we can do corporately.”