Monday, April 20, 2020

Desperate Needs in the Global Church

Africa is 20-30 days behind North America as it relates to COVID-19 cases.  This virus started in
Asia, moved to Europe, then to North America, and now Africa.  The WHO predicts 3 million cases in Africa with 300,000 deaths.

I spent two full days this past week, with Zoom call after Zoom call, listening to our partners in Africa and how the COVID-19 virus was affecting them personally, as well as their community, city, and nation.

To say that those conversations were heavy and difficult would be an understatement.  They were disturbing and discouraging, despite how delightful and beautiful our partners are.  [Our partners are so positive - seeing what God is doing to the Church, to people's faith, and seeing how He is bringing good despite the pain!  I love each and every one of these dear brothers and sisters.]

We heard stories of food insecurity, significant increases in prices, police brutality in enforcing the lockdown, corruption in the distribution of food by governments, lack of water, and danger to our own teams who were distributing food by those desperate for food.  There is a lack of testing, lack of ventilators, lack of ICU beds, and a lack of resources to flatten the curve and keep the virus from spreading.  Many believe that the reported numbers are a fraction of what is truly occurring. Our teams tell us that people continue to say that they would rather risk dying from COVID-19 than dying of hunger.  And amidst these challenges, other challenges don't stop.  The son of one of our partners was kidnapped this past week and threatened with death, and three church members of one family in one of our partner churches were raped.  Our heart aches for the on-going trauma that people have to survive, day after day.

We are encouraged by the number of churches and organizations who have signed on to our Coalition for Action: COVID 19 in Africa, and this week we tried to raise the bar further by requesting all those in the coalition to work towards having all of their church members wear masks outside of their homes.
This is a global health crisis with a global economic crisis on top of it, and the latter crisis may cost more lives than the former in the poorest nations.

And this is unlike other times, because we are being called to remember the poor while dealing with our own crisis.  This is a time of real treasure-testing for us.  We are reminded in Matthew 6:19-21, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

This is the time to remember the poor and the most vulnerable.  We can't let ourselves be shut down because of how overwhelming it is and escape in Netflix, while they parish.

Dr. Sudi, son of Caroline Sudi, our partner in Kenya.
Government officials in Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, and Malawi have voted to forego their April salaries to combat COVID-19.

I have decided to join them and put my April salary toward the continued fight of COVID-19 as well. Michael, my husband, and I have chosen to put our stimulus funds towards helping people in Africa purchase food and sanitation supplies in order to stay home.

We understand that everyone is at a different place in terms of their ability to give.  We would like to challenge you, our brothers and sisters in North America, to prayerfully consider what God would have you do during this unprecedented time.  Join with us in helping African families have a choice to stay home and wait out the crisis as directed.  All donations until the end of April will be given to help the fight against COVID-19 in Africa.

For more information, as well as some excellent resources about COVID-19 in Africa, please go here.

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Global Church: Building a Coalition to respond to COVID-19 in Africa

"The government is recommending..."

"The government has announced..."

"The government is not..."

These words fill our world these days, as we watch what governments are doing to address COVID-19 around the world.  Some of these reports make us happy, some make us angry, some make us concerned.

While the voice of government and the health community, it is also important for the Global Church to play a role at this important time.  The DML team spent time this week researching for a message from the Global Church as it relates to the response of COVID-19.  We searched but sadly we did not find much.  We found announcements of prayer and fasting days, we found denominational recommendations for not gathering in church buildings, but little else.

What has happened to the voice of the Global Church?  When did we lose our voice and shift our attention only to the government for recommendations and procedures?

When did our prayers become pleas of provision and mercy, and then stop at "Amen," rather than prayer urging us into action, as the body of Christ - the hands and feet of Christ - in a world that desperately needs the "called out ones" to act?

As I spent time on my knees before God last week, feeling sick to my stomach about COVID-19 in Africa and feeling judgmental about the Global Church, I felt God's nudge in my spirit. The conversation went something like this: 

(Disclaimer:  God can sometimes sound a bit snarky with me - more of my influence on how He speaks to me than how He probably really speaks.)

Renita:  God, where is your church in response to COVID-19 - 2.2 billion people on earth who claim to be Christian?  What has happened to the Global Church's voice?  We keep praying and asking you for things, but where is the action?

God:  Good questions.  But let me turn it toward you.  What are you doing to mobilize the Global Church?

Renita:  Me?  Well, I shouldn't be surprised at your question.  When I ask things of you, you tend to turn the conversation back to me and ask what I will do on your behalf.  Well, the DML team called on Christians to donate money to give food.  And then our good brother and sisters who partner with us delivered it.  But that's not enough!  There needs to be an urgent and proactive response by your people to come against what will need to be a reactive response to a catastrophe if we don't do something!

God:  So why don't you do something then?

Renita:  C'mon.  I'm a little person in Michigan working in a tiny organization.  I have NO authority and no connections to address the Global Church.

God:  Really?  Are you sure about that?  (Pauses as those words sink in.)  I could have sworn that you have given testimony to how I have opened doors for DML to work with many denominations, who have many members in at least ten countries in Africa.  Are you saying you don't have a network in which you can do some mobilization?  It may be that you have these networks and connections for such a time as this.

The light bulb came on for me.  For such a time as this.  I suddenly realized that we work with denominations that make up more than 30,000 churches and 12 million members.  I realize that we have good relationships with organizations in North America that work with even more churches and organizations in other places.

Maybe we can invite them into a coalition that speaks with one voice for the Global Church as it relates to COVID-19.  This idea began to grow.  Not just one day of prayer and fasting, but every taking turns to do this every day for the next month, spread out throughout our network.  We are asking every partner to endorse a statement of action relating to COVID-19.

And so that is what we are doing.  This is Phase II of DML's work to address COVID-19 and to do our best to create a unified voice of action for the Church.  There is too much misinformation going on in Africa, along with a lot of inaction.  We need not wait for government to make efforts.  We can do this as the Church.  And as we do this, we will continue to hear of more challenges and difficulties for our brothers and sisters in Africa.  But that is what happens in the body of Christ - when one part is in pain, we come together to address the challenge.

In 1527, the great reformer Martin Luther, wrote a letter concerning a plague that hit his town of Wittenberg.  He said this:
I shall ask God mercifully to protect us.  Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it.  I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.  If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others.  If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above.  See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.
To read his whole letter, go here.  It is a very good read, for such a time as this.

If you are interested in joining this coalition as a church or a ministry, please email me and let me know!  If you would like to know more, please read our working document, Coalition for Action: COVID-19.

Stay safe, my friends!