If you do a quick online search for Natal, Brazil, you’ll find pictures of beautiful bright blue waters and white sandy beaches with vacationers from all over the world scattered along the shoreline.

But hidden from the tourists’ view is a dissonant reality of impoverishment and violence. Half of the population lives in poverty in northeastern Brazil.

When the pandemic hit the region in March 2020, the situation only became worse. Within days, businesses closed and the streets appeared desolate. In an area where most of the population depends on tourism and people work in small businesses just to make enough money to afford their next meal, hunger and lack of health protection supplies brought the community to the brink of collapse.

At this time, Leandro Silva, a missionary for the Brazil-based organization Alef, prayed fervently that God would lead him to find answers. Providence led him to Christianity Today.

“I felt the Lord leading me to a three-day retreat where I was going to dedicate myself to study what COVID-19 was and seek God for direction to give answers to this reality. In all the research I did, the only solid and biblical guidance I found was in Christianity Today in Portuguese.”

As in the rest of the world, after the outbreak of the pandemic, Natal became a ghost town. Churches were forced to close their doors, and pastors were filled with anxiety, torn between government mandated closures, experts’ advice to avoid social gatherings, and a faith-filled desire to continue church ministry as usual. No one in the area knew how to cope with the looming chaos.

Alef emerged in 2003 as a missionary movement with the goal of mobilizing Natal’s churches to work together, serving the poorest, most violent, and most marginalized neighborhoods. Silva, as Alef’s president, felt compelled to provide the pastors with guidance in the midst of one of their greatest challenges.

“I remember coming across an article in Christianity Today that talked about what the churches in Singapore had done to respond to the pandemic,” he said. “The churches in Singapore had responded courageously in the midst of fear, and through many uncertainties they testified of the love of Christ. They did not allow fear to guide them. I felt that was exactly what we needed to do. That article was a very bright light because it had clear and practical information.”

In 2020 alone, CT published more than 250 articles in English related to the pandemic, seeking to provide answers and Christian perspectives at a time when believers were in mandatory lockdowns yet were looking for answers on how to face the pandemic with a Christ-honoring response.

It was also at the beginning of the pandemic that the team at Christianity Today felt God was guiding them to further its translation efforts in order to expand this content to the church around the world. The pandemic accelerated CT’s vision to become a central nervous system for the global body of Christ. Since 2020, over 4,000 translations of articles have been published in 19 languages.

In May 2020, CT published an article by renowned pulmonary doctor, epidemiologist, and public health specialist Daniel P. Chin with detailed explanations of the disease-spreading risks of common church activities in different possible scenarios.

“This article made a huge difference for us,” Silva said. “It analyzed the risk factors, step by step, with charts. It was very relevant material for every problem we were facing, and it was impressive for me to discover that Christianity Today had all these articles available in my language.”

Silva created a COVID-19 strategy manual for Alef, all based on CT articles. “What we did was to contextualize it for our reality and design a project.”

Soon after the manual was ready, Alef set out to provide training, starting with the two poorest areas of Natal.

“Inspired by what we read in Christianity Today about how we should not flee the pandemic, but stay and serve the needy wisely, we raised funds to distribute food to families,” Silva said. “We also designed posters that explained in simple terms what people should do to prevent the spread of Covid. We did training in churches and also house to house, providing them also with sanitary kits.”

Silva’s efforts were just the beginning of a chain reaction that God unleashed to help the communities of Natal.

“When other organizations and foundations in the area heard about what we were doing, they started to donate funds for the mission,” Silva shared. “Even a bank that normally does not allocate funds for Christian or faith-based organizations . . . did so because we had a well-structured project on a solid foundation.”

CT’s coverage of the pandemic also helped Silva notice something he had not seen before: Frontline medical and health workers were physically and emotionally drained.

“After I read stories on how others were helping these sanitary workers around the world, we began recording video devotionals seeking to encourage them in specific ways, and we shared them among the staff of one local hospital,” Silva said. “Later we learned that they themselves were forwarding them to other medical employees in all the hospitals in Natal.”

Within the first six months, Alef went from doing ministry with 50 families to a little over 1,000, and by the next year over 100 churches were involved serving over 3,000 families.

The greatest outcome from this ministry was that whole communities that previously had been closed to the gospel opened their hearts to hear the message of Christ.

“When we didn’t know what to do, when we had no idea how to respond,” Silva said, “Christianity Today was the tool God used to get direction, practical inspiration, and a clear strategy.”