Why Should A Church Care About Snakebite In Their Community?
Aren't snakes evil? How is addressing snakebite related to the teachings of the church?
One of the problems we face in Kenya with regard to addressing the problem of snakebite is the attitudes that Christians and churches have towards snakes. To many people, snakes are evil and the only good snake is a dead snake. If you have a snake in your house, it means you are cursed or involved in witchcraft.
Of course the origin of these attitudes is the passage in Genesis Chapter 3 where Satan, in the form of a serpent, deceived Adam and Eve and brought sin and death into the world. The serpent was cursed and God said there would be hatred between humans and "the serpent".
However this is not the only passage that talks about snakes, and in fact there are many positive messages about snakes in the scriptures. Perhaps the most important of these is from Genesis 1 where God said that everything he created is good, and that includes snakes. In fact, snakes serve a very important place in the ecosystems of God's creation, where they are key predators on rodents that get into our food and are also disease carriers. Snakes are also food for many other predators. Also, some of the ingredients of snake venoms have been used to create new medicines that help people with such diseases as cancer, hear disease, and diabetes.
To understand this issue, we want to provide you with some background to the problem. The World Health Organization has declared snakebite to be a neglected tropical disease and has set a goal of reducing snakebite by 50% by 2030. In Kenya, about 1000 people die each year from venomous snakebites, and another 4000 survive but suffer serious debilitating injuries. Then there is the mental trauma of the snakebite, and the stigma that comes from being bitten by a "cursed" animal, or being called a witch. Finally, there is the economic loss that is suffered from being unable to work and becoming a "burden" to your family who must take care of you - plus the cost of your hospital treatment.
Snakebite is generally treated with a medicine called antivenom. However, there is very little effective antivenom available in Kenya, and as mentioned, the cost of treatment is significant for the people living in poverty that suffer a snakebite. Therefore, people go to the local traditional healer who offers such treatments as paraffin wax, strange concoctions (that can be deadly themselves), black stones, charcoal, and other treatments, none of which can counteract the effects of the venom coursing through the victim's body.
So what can be done? Part of the answer - a big part - is in prevention of snakebite, and prevention requires education and awareness. People know very little about snakes and their behaviors, and even less about what to do if they are bitten by a snake, or how to avoid an encounter with a snake. Furthermore, there are changes to our own behaviors that can keep snakes out of our houses and away from our compounds. This kind of information can be conveyed to individuals, groups, congregations, and the community by peer trainers who have received proper training about snakes and snakebite.
But why should churches get involved in snakebite prevention? And how about caring for the snakebite survivors and their families? The Bible is clear that God cares about the sick, lame, disabled, brokenhearted, captive, and hopeless people in this world. And it is the church that is God's vehicle for sharing his love and compassion to those most in need. Imagine a ministry from your local church that sends peer trainers out into the marketplace each week to raise awareness about snakebite. Imagine your church holding special trainings for the community to teach them how to reduce their risk of snakebite? What if you had a ministry that would visit snakebite survivors to listen to and address their needs, and to pray for their healing? We see this as a wonderful opportunity for churches to show the love of Christ to the people of their communities. For churches that can catch the vision, we would be glad to talk with you about whether we can help.