COVID-19 PRACTICAL RESPONSE

16 April 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has truly turned the world upside down! In the space of a mere four months, billions of people all over the world have been affected and more than 130 000 people have died. South Africa is still in the early stages of the pandemic, with few lives lost. It is, however, the economic impact of COVID-19 to which we respond here, realising that within our church and geographical community, countless people face temporary or permanent unemployment, reduced income, job insecurity, food insecurity, inability to meet basic demands or a combination of all of these. It is into this fragile economic space that Citygate Church feel best-positioned to shine the light of Jesus and his glorious gospel message of hope in a tangible way.

Click on the expandable headings below to read more, or download a PDF version of this page using the button below. 

THREE WAYS TO HELP


Relief

Relief is temporary, emergency help to avert a humanitarian disaster. It often involves donations with very few strings attached. Someone whose house has just burnt down needs relief. Someone who just lost a breadwinning relative may need temporary relief to help them adjust.

Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation (or development) is non-emergency help that assists a person to find solutions to their ongoing problems of poverty. It sometimes involves money, but more often involves a partnership with people that helps them effect changes in their own lives and break the cycle of poverty that they are in. This is not only an economic rehabilitation and retraining, but also an accompanied spiritual and emotional journey of recalibration and redemption of the various aspects of poverty. Someone who has been staying on the street for two years needs rehabilitation; a single mother who struggles to make ends meet on her small income needs development. Most ministry to the poor involves rehabilitation, not relief.
Advocacy

Advocacy means to speak on behalf of someone else. In advocacy, we speak against unjust systems and policies in our society that contribute to people being powerless and vulnerable. Advocacy is concerned with changing the underlying causes of poverty and creating a more just society for all people, rather than addressing the symptoms of such poverty directly. HIV and peer education are forms of advocacy, as are community forums that deal with local drug problems.

TWO KEY CONCEPTS


Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic outlined below covers all three areas – Relief, Rehabilitation and Advocacy. A fuller overview and practical guideline to ministering to the poor will be published by Citygate in the next few days. Two key concepts from that document need brief mention before we continue, as they fundamentally shape the current response.

THE GOAL OF ALL MINISTRY TO THE POOR IS TO FOLLOW JESUS TOGETHER.

People are not projects; they are people, just like us. When we recognise our shared humanity and brokenness, we pave the way for a relational journey towards our mutual wholeness and restoration with God. Following Jesus together means we enter discipleship relationships with people we want to help. These relationships become collaborative partnerships where we help one another discover our mutual brokenness and address this through mutual listening, learning and restoration. We are not the “experts” or the “rich” giving help or aid to the “poor”; no, we are fellow broken humans on a journey with Jesus towards wholeness.

WE START WITH ASSETS, NOT NEEDS.

An asset is something which is valuable and able to increase in value. It is something that can become a resource to us going forward. When we help a person identify and rebuild their lives starting with their assets, we affirm their dignity and help them collaborate with the resources that God has already given them. Focusing on what they don’t have does the opposite, bringing dishonour, shame and despair.

Assets are far more than money and investments. They include the following categories: natural (e.g. land), human (e.g. skills, knowledge and manpower), financial (e.g. capital or access to loans), social (e.g. relational networks and support), physical (e.g. infrastructure and physical assets) and/or spiritual (e.g. prayer). When we help someone identify the assets that they already have, we enable them to start dreaming with Jesus about a better future.

Let’s now turn to see how we can help relieve the immediate and urgent needs.

RELIEF RESPONSE


In short, our relief response (1) helps a person to connect to a relational family and (2) access external aid resources; (3) encourages their relational family to help them meet their basic needs; and (4) connects them to the relief resources of the wider church family.

RELATIONAL FAMILY

Handing out relief items without recognising relational, spiritual and emotional needs does not do justice to the trauma people are experiencing due to COVID-19. Our first task is to make sure that every person is in a relational family, such as a Citygate Life Group or similar group in other NGOs or churches that may partner with us. This helps us be accountable with the resources and paves the way love of Jesus to impact the whole person, not just their material needs. A current list of such groups in Citygate Church can be found at www.citygatechurch.co.za/life-groups/

EXTERNAL RESOURCES

Next, we want to help a person access external aid and resources that can provide relief. This includes:

  • Food relief. This is a Social Security (SASSA) food distribution programme. For details, see https://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/kwazulu-natal/covid-19-lockdown-sassa-warns-against-fake-news-about-food-parcels-in-kzn-46592391 (accessed 15 April 2020) with the criteria. Numbers to contact: SASSA KZN 033 846 3400 or 0716071514 (WhatsApp).
  • Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). This is a national unemployment insurance that can be claimed from if your employer was registered and contributing to this and if you are now involuntarily unemployed (resignation does not count). Contact: BCP@labour.gov.za, 086 439 7296 or work through the Ufiling website: https://www.ufiling.co.za/uif/.
  • Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS). This is a 3-month UIF-based lifeline to help employers remunerate staff during months of low turnover due to COVID-19. Reliable details are available here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/nr183fgc6lxe2hk/TERS%20update%209%20April%202020.pdf?dl=0 (Accessed 15 April 2020). Employers to apply to by email to covid19ters@labour.gov.za or by phone to 012 337 1997.
  • Business help. There are several public and private initiatives that provide stimulus packages and interim funding for small and medium business enterprises (SMEs). We will investigate this more fully and update this document with reliable information.
  • Debt/rental relief options. Many credit providers are offering some form of payment suspension or reconfiguration to help people through this time. Further, a person may have debt insurance that will pay out your premiums in this time. If a person is no longer able to fulfil their debt and/or rental obligation due to COVID-19, we encourage them to contact the relevant organisation urgently to negotiate a solution.
FAMILY TAKES CARE OF FAMILY

If a person is in a relational family, has (begun to) explore the sources of external aid and yet has urgent basic needs, we encourage them to approach both their biological and relational family to ask for help in this time. A basic tenet of the gospel is that we are a radical, sharing, Jesus-following family and that families should take care of one another. Our desire is to demonstrate this beautiful, inclusive, generous heart of God.

THE WIDER RESOURCE OF THE CHURCH

If a person’s biological and relational families and external resources are not able to help them meet their basic needs, the leader of that family (e.g. Life-Group leader) may approach the church to request further help. Qualifying people may then access some of the modest supply of vouchers and food that the church has access to. Our goal is that this will be a final safety net to help people meet their basic needs. Donations of goods and food can be received to supplement these supplies; monetary donations can be made to the Citygate account, marked COVID-19. Details here: www.citygatechurch.co.za/give-2/

REHABILITATION RESPONSE


Our rehabilitation response aims to help people redesign their personal and business finances and operations in such a way that they can (1) survive the storm, (2) position themselves for growth and (3) engage with new opportunities that present themselves in this time. We do this through an accompanied, prayerful, asset-mapping approach. Details are below!

RELATIONAL FAMILY

The first concern is to build relationships that will facilitate the person’s journey of rehabilitation and development. Though a person may need programmes and resources, we believe that relational accompaniment, collective wisdom and spiritual accountability are keys that unlock a different future for someone in need. So, before embarking on any programme, we advise people to join a relational family that will help them on their journey.

ASSET MAPPING

With their relational family, the next step is to discover and map out a person’s assets. These are the resources, skills and gifts that God has already given a person to steward – not only for their own self-development, but also for God’s own bigger kingdom story! Start with personal assets, then do relational community or church family assets and group these into suitable categories, such as natural (e.g. land), human (e.g. skills, knowledge and manpower), financial (e.g. capital or access to loans), social (e.g. relational networks and support), physical (e.g. infrastructure and physical assets) and/or spiritual assets (e.g. prayer).

RESTRUCTURE

A very practical next step is for a person to soberly face the financial reality that they are in. If they are (partially) employed, this means relooking at their budget and restructuring this so that they can make ends meet. If a person is self-employed or a (small) business owner, this means restructuring their business model and operations to (1) wait out and survive the current storm; (2) calculate their losses and reposition themselves for future growth; and/or (3) courageously explore new opportunities presented during and following COVID-19.

We advise that these decisions be made not only with a person’s relational family, but also with the resource of the best business and financial minds in our wider church family.

PRAYER, WISDOM AND ACCOUNTABILITY

The final, and most critical step is to pray and ask God for his way forward. He is infinitely wise and all-knowing; he sees the end from the beginning! Our privilege is to tap into the mind and heart of God and to align our plans to his. There is great security in the collective wisdom and revelation of people following Jesus together! Rather than a lonely figure walking against the gale, we invite people to walk shoulder-to-shoulder with others who support, encourage and help them to stay on course!

ADVOCACY RESPONSE


Our advocacy response seeks to undermine and redefine those structural and systemic flaws in our society that cause many people to be vulnerable and exploited at this time. At the heart of our methodology is not only to speak out against these injustices, but through our actions to model the alternative economy and administration of the kingdom of Jesus. Like Jesus, we don’t hold on to our privilege and power, but sacrificially and generously use these to redeem the brokenness of the world around us (Philippians 2:1-11).

In the Bible, advocacy centres around the people that were most vulnerable in those societies – the widows, orphans and foreign migrant workers (also called aliens or sojourners). These people were not only poor, but also powerless and vulnerable to exploitation in a patriarchal agrarian society. If you had no father or husband or access to land, your economic options were limited. Your survival depended on the generosity of the community. But beyond economic hardship, they were social outcasts that often suffered injustice and lacked the legal protection and recourse afforded to ordinary Israelites.

For us the contextual questions are, “Who are our widows, orphans and foreign workers?” and “How can we practically subvert the systemic injustice that these people face?” To these questions we now turn.

WHO ARE THE MOST VULNERABLE PEOPLE IN OUR COMMUNITY AT THIS TIME?

There may well be more, but the following people at least need highlighting.  

  • Refugees and asylum seekers from African countries. Their vulnerability stems from the following factors: (1) They don’t have access to regular employment and social services without a green ID book and it is near-impossible to get this from our corrupt Home Affairs, even with a lawyer. (2) They are therefore mostly self-employed in skills-based small businesses that cannot operate due to COVID-19 lock-down; (3) They have fled from economic or physical oppression in their country of birth – returning is not an option. (4) Asylum seekers have very little security, as their immigration status may be revised at short notice by Home Affairs. (5) There is a real risk that xenophobia may flare up, as it has in the past, during this time of economic hardship.
  • Single (and/or divorced) mothers. At best of times, many single-income households run a tight budget. If income is reduced or lost due to COVID-19, this will be devastating to many. Spousal maintenance (where applicable) may also be under threat. Further, the emotional load of working from home, home-schooling children and doing all the chores is enormous on a single parent.
  • Blue-collar workers. It is well-known that South Africa’s economy is built on cheap labour. We are one of the most unequal societies in the world. Those people that earn in the lowest income brackets have the smallest savings margins and financial buffers to see themselves through weeks and months of economic upheaval. They are also the most vulnerable to hunger and unsecured lending (which leads to long-term economic bondage).
  • Those without access to internet data. Digital connectivity in this time means access to knowledge, resources, online learning, upskilling and social-spiritual support. Digital exclusion means social-spiritual isolation, and exclusion from opportunities to learn, grow and upskill during COVID-19. Unfortunately, cheap internet data is only available to those people that can buy lots of it. The most expensive data packages are the small pay-as-you-go options that many poor people make use of. If resources are stretched, internet connectivity becomes a dispensable commodity for many people, to their own detriment.
  • The elderly. It is well documented that elderly people are the most at risk of dying from COVID-19. Further, many elderly people are dependent on family and friends to support them financially and practically with getting things done. If such financial or practical support is reduced or cut off due to COVID-19, many elderly people will suffer in this season.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO SUBVERT THESE SYSTEMIC INJUSTICES?

Again, there may be many more, but we feel that the following are first steps in helping those most vulnerable in this time.

  • Social inclusion. Including people into a caring, relational family that spans cultural and social differences gives a voice and ear to those that are otherwise left to fend for themselves.
  • Radical generosity. Relational family groups should, as best they can, help members to meet their basic needs by sharing their resources generously. These needs include food, sanitation, shelter, transport and internet.
  • Social security. As a church, our collective resource may be the only social security someone has. Many people have no savings pockets, loan accounts or other safety nets to draw from in this time.
  • Job security. As far as we are able, we should keep paying the people we employ their normal salaries and not terminate or reduce their benefits. Further, we should try and reduce the inequality gap by being radically generous with the salaries we pay to those people that earn the least.
  • Legal NGO support. A longer-term advocacy cause to consider is to support legal NGOs that help refugees and asylum seekers get permanent South African documentation.

A FINAL WORD


“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17, NIV)”

We desire to let our actions preach the beautiful gospel message in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that the church is not only Jesus’ bride, but also the sharp end of his sword. He desires to wield us and use us to bring his kingdom, shining his light so that all people may know Jesus is Lord and no other.

May the church arise in this time and fulfil her prophetic function, bringing salt and light to a very dark and confused world.

Amen!

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