Local Churches partner and care for their own community and others.
“The relief fund is not just helping with food on the table and feeding my children. It has given me hope, just when I thought all was lost. It restored my faith that we still have good in the world. When it seemed like no-one was wanting to help God sent perfect strangers (CHS) our way. Thank you for giving me more than just a meal, thank you for caring and giving us hope.”
This is just one response from a single mother of three who has been helped with food relief during the Covid-19 lock-down. But the team have heard many stories like this that encourage them to keep going.
The Church of the Holy Spirit (CHS) in Kirstenhof has been active in surrounding communities for a long time before the emergence of this tiny virus that has caused such massive harm to our global community. “Our first response when Covid-19 became a reality here was – what do we do as a church? How do we respond? How can we ‘be’ real church in community during this time?” explains Ronald Abels, church leader and community worker at CHS.
What they realised quickly was that the church has champions and connectors in surrounding communities already and that there were strong connections and an inter-connected web of church members, activists, and other churches and NGOs, long before lockdown. “We realised the small team of staff and volunteers do not need to be everywhere as ‘saviours’, but we needed to coordinate, mobilise, activate, those already connected,” says Ronald, “And one of the first steps was asking these champions, how can we support you well in this time?”
Starting with the CHS church community, the connecting and caring was easy to kick into gear because, as Ronald says, “We know who is vulnerable in our community.”
Whether it was an affluent granny living alone in a suburbs retirement village, or one of their parishioners who lives on the streets, the first circle of care and concern centred around those within the church community who may need extra care during this time.
“We realised we have a responsibility to look after this group of people first,” explains Ronald, “And so one of the first people to receive food vouchers was our friend who stays on the streets who has been an active member for two years.” This gentleman is also an active member of the church’s team who looks at giving and receiving across the church, where decisions are made in how best to serve the poor and vulnerable in the community and city, pre-Covid-19.
“Something powerful for me was his response when we gave him a food voucher and not food,” says Ronald who went to seek him out under a local bridge he calls home. “He shared how he is often at the mercy of the food options given to him, but what he received that day was choice to buy what he wanted, and it moved him deeply.”
At the start of the crisis, the church identified people who would need to be followed up on regularly, whether it be emotional support or food relief or something else, like data, for example. Congregants donated to the CHS Solidarity Fund, which helped take care of the church community. Then they focused their attention wider, joining the broader parish campaign, ‘Loving your Neighbour’, a fund that focuses on getting food vouchers to food insecure people quickly. “We had access to this fund that we also gave into as a church, when we came across people who were needing help,” says Ronald.
The church also started their own campaign with Pick ‘n Pay food vouchers. “We buy the vouchers, write out the names of people who will receive them, and deliver them to the champions who will hand them out to the community,” Ronald explains. The list changes daily as some go back to work, others get their grants and then won’t put their name forward that week. They partnered with The Bay Church’s Siyakula and the Marina da Gama Rate Payers Association to get food parcels to as many people as possible. This partnership capitalised on the various strengths and resources of the different parties, making maximum impact and enjoying doing it together too.
“Apart from the food crisis, many of the people did not know what the virus was about or how you got it or passed it on,” says Ronald, “And that created more fear and confusion.” A medical doctor from the church went to Capricorn, a nearby community with high poverty levels that is home to many members of the church, and explained to people, especially the elderly, how to protect themselves and general information on the virus. For some, it was the first time they had heard any factual information on Covid-19.
“We do life skills with children in Westlake before the crisis, so we could not ignore the children who cannot go to school at this time,” says Ronald, “So, a teacher found resources and we print them out and drop them off with the children. The church also bought masks in bulk and sold them at cost, to help people sell to encourage business endeavours.
One thing the Church has witnessed is how systems and relationships that exist and are based on trust and relationship before a crisis like this, make serving during a crisis so much easier and quicker. “Systems were already set up, so it was easy to move into action – from the get-go, we knew who was vulnerable in our community.” Says Ronald. They also set up a committee with various decision-makers that made it quick to get actions taken and there were no tedious systems to hold the process up. “Quick responses, team-work, knowing we trust each other, so we can move quickly – that helped a lot,” Ronald explains.
“Jesus in the communities – how do we change the centre of power and focus from buildings to ‘being’ Jesus out and about in all communities? The church is not the central building, but Jesus is the centre and he is everywhere in community, where people are,” says Ronald passionately. This is a good time to test that as we are not able to be distracted by buildings and meetings. “How can we use our buildings to serve people?’ asks Ronald, “And we are in the process of asking what more we can do using our space, and are preparing the space, removed the chairs, and will see what we believe collectively is best so that our building can be used well during this time.”
Ronald has been encouraged to see his church community look out for each other, the parish, and the surrounding communities and beyond. It has given him hope. “If the church shines so bright right now – I see many churches across the city are shining the light and people are drawing hope from that – wow, it has been so good. Why would we ever go back to keeping the light here?” he says, “How do we continue to see Jesus in the community in such a powerful way as we do now?” This has reminded him Jesus is not confined to the church building – but truly, God Emmanuel – in communities, evident in very obvious ways during this time.
“I pray our lights continue to shine after this crisis like it is now.”