COVID-19 PRACTICAL RESPONSE
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
Next, we want to help a person access external aid and resources that can provide relief. This includes:
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.
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/
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!
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
There may well be more, but the following people at least need highlighting.
Again, there may be many more, but we feel that the following are first steps in helping those most vulnerable in this time.
“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.