Meeting the COVID-19 Needs

| April 16, 2020 | 0 Comments

“Other men would not think the present a time for “keeping festival”: nor, indeed, is this nor any other such a time to them; I speak not of times obviously sorrowful, but even of such as they might consider most joyful. In these days there are lamentations everywhere, and all are mourning: wailings resound through the city by reason of the number of the dead and the dying day by day. For, as it is written about the firstborn of the Egyptians, so now also “a great cry arose: for there is not a house in which there is not one dead.” I would, indeed, there were but one; for the things that have before now befallen us were truly many and grievous … At all events most of the brethren through their love and brotherly affection for us spared not themselves nor abandoned one another, but without regard to their own peril visited those who fell sick, diligently looking after and ministering to them and cheerfully shared their fate with them, being infected with the disease from them and willingly involving themselves in their troubles. Not a few also, after nursing others back to recovery, died themselves, taking death over from them and thus fulfilling in very deed the common saying, which is taken always as a note of mere good feeling; for in their departure they became their expiatory substitutes. At all events, the very pick of our brethren lost their lives in this way, both priests and deacons and some highly praised ones from among the laity, so that this manner of dying does not seem far removed from martyrdom, being the outcome of much piety and stalwart faith. So, too, taking up the bodies of the saints on their arms and breasts, closing their eyes and shutting their mouths, bearing them on their shoulders and laying them out for burial, clinging to them, embracing them, washing them, decking them out, they not long after had the same services rendered to them; for many of the survivors followed in their train. But the Gentiles behaved quite differently: those who were beginning to fall sick they thrust away, and their dearest they fled from, or cast them half dead into the roads: unburied bodies they treated as vile refuse; for they tried to avoid the spreading and communication of the fatal disease, difficult as it was to escape for all their scheming.” (Source: Project Gutenberg)

The above excerpt is taken from a letter written by Dionysus, bishop of Alexandria, to the brethren in Alexandria around Easter in the year AD 252. From AD 249 to 262, the “Plague of Cyprian” swept the Roman Empire, killing so many that the empire suffered a subsequent shortage in manpower for food production and the mighty Roman army. At the height of the outbreak, it is reported that 5,000 people a day were dying in Rome alone. The plague reached Egypt, creating the scenario in Alexandria that Dionysus describes above.

Today, COVID-19 is sweeping the globe. The situation is not nearly as dire as that during the Plague of Cyprian, but there are thousands of people that are dying and hundreds of thousands more that are sick. We are surrounded by fearful people, and while I haven’t heard of the sick and dying being abandoned, there has certainly been an exodus of people fleeing major centers of infection. I pray that the COVID-19 crisis will not reach the proportions of the Plague of Cyprian. I do pray, however, that the response of today’s Christians will equal that of our third-century brothers.

Last week, Plain News requested stories from our readers about how they have found ways to be a blessing to those around them in this time of need. We received a variety of stories which I will summarize below. If you are wondering how you can reach out to your neighbor nearby or far away, hopefully these stories will give you some ideas.

Personal Stories

“In our state, Iowa, where carry out only from restaurants is permitted, an anonymous giver bought food from Pizza Range and gave it to three families according to family size.  Nobody was going hungry, but we were blessed. Sometimes a thought that motivates an action means more than the action.”

“Today I helped an elderly friend in another state by ordering her groceries online. I arranged for a delivery service to pick it up at the grocery store and deliver it to my friend’s home. Some grocery stores are offering delivery service by their own personnel, but elderly people often don't know how to use the appropriate technology to order groceries this way. I got on the phone with her as I was ordering food and asked her questions about what she can eat due to food allergies, her preferences, and not having teeth.”

“I had a customer tell me that while he was sitting in the hospital parking lot while his wife received a chemo treatment earlier this week, a young man from our church came through the parking lot offering music CD's and tracts.  (I don't really think the young man was from our church - although it's possible - but apparently he was identifiable as a conservative Mennonite). I also know of a business owner who is working with customers by extending terms where he otherwise wouldn't.”

“Almost two weeks ago, on Sunday morning, we left a little loaf of bread and a CD at our elderly neighbors’ door. The CD was our local chorus CD, entitled ‘Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus. Later the Mrs. called and let a message on my phone. She was enjoying the singing so much! She had listened to it twice and had a hard time tearing away from it to go do something else. She asked for five more CDs so she could share them with her family. Music that draws the listener to hope in Jesus is definitely a way to bless others during this crisis.”

“For the last eight months, our church here in Huaral, Peru has been helping Venezuelans who arrive in our local area. Our goal was to give them some preliminary aid (like groceries, lodging, and medical assistance) until they get established. Many Venezuelans have come to Huaral and most of those who were willing to work were slowly getting established. We were in the process of evaluating the most needy ones to try to help them best. Then the pandemic hit. The Venezuelans are the first to be laid off from work and are the ones who have the least resources. No job, no food, no family to help them. Some are being turned out of their apartments because they have no money to pay rent. The Peruvian government is offering aid to vulnerable families of its own citizens, but not to Venezuelans. The current needs are overwhelming. We now have limited our help to basic groceries. We allow each family to receive aid once a week. A typical family of three people receives 3 kilos rice, 1 kilo lentils, ¼ kilo sugar, 3-4 kilos potatoes, and ½ kilo oatmeal. These goods cost us approximately $2.75. During the last two weeks, we have served an average of around 800 families each week. Many walk long distances to our distribution center. We deliver the goods to areas where there is a high concentration of Venezuelans. Also, as the quarantine lengthens, even Peruvians are facing acute needs. We have helped a handful of them already, but limit our aid almost exclusively to Venezuelans.”

Organizations

I am aware of several organizations that are working to meet some of the new needs in our country and our world. Their efforts are briefly described below.

Christian Aid Ministries has launched a special initiative in response to the COVID-19 epidemic. CAM is committed to meeting some of the physical and spiritual needs that have arisen in the United States and the poorer areas of the world as a result of the coronavirus. They are providing medicine, medical supplies, and medical care in areas of the world where health systems are inadequate to meet the current need. They are providing food aid in Haiti, Egypt, Israel, and other countries for individuals who have lost their jobs or are quarantined. CAM’s Billboard Evangelism program has created special billboards related to the COVID-19 pandemic and placed them in some of the United States’ largest cities, pointing viewers to the true source of hope and comfort.

A group of Anabaptist ministries has come together to form Anabaptist COVID-19 Response. This coalition is currently focused on meeting the needs of individuals in the United States. Some of the projects they are working on right now are: collecting home-made facemasks and distributing them to medical workers in COVID-19 hotspots; packing lunchboxes and distributing them to emergency responders and hospital workers in the New York City area; and giving food parcels to unemployed individuals in inner-city areas on the East Coast.

Blessings of Hope is a food bank in Leola, Pennsylvania that regularly accepts large food donations and repackages and distributes the food to needy individuals. They have seen an increase in demand over the past few weeks and are currently working hard at packing family food boxes to help those who are out of work and short on money.

The Pilgrim Mennonite Conference has launched a Chaplain Hotline to meet the spiritual needs of people in New York City. This service may be expanded to other cities.

How can we help?

Hopefully some of the personal stories have provided ideas of how you can reach your neighbors, or at least started the brainstorming process. If anyone is interested in contributing to the efforts of one of the larger organizations above, there are ways of helping.

Christian Aid Ministries is estimating that the cost of their COVID-19 program will be $2,500,000 to $5,000,000. Individuals can mail money to the CAM office at the following address: Christian Aid Ministries, PO Box 360, Berlin, OH 44610. Donations can also be made at this web address: https://christianaidministries.org/coronavirus-crisis-care/.  Facemasks can be taken to clothing drop-off centers.

Anabaptist COVID-19 Response is spending approximately $30,000 every week for the meals and food boxes they are currently distributing. Checks can be mailed to: One Kingdom Community, 2044 West Main Street, Ephrata, PA 17522. Contributions can be made online at: https://www.anabaptistcovidresponse.org/how-can-i-help. If you live in southeastern Pennsylvania, you can volunteer to help pack food boxes at: https://feedourhealthworkers.org/volunteer, or by calling (717) 572-0111.

Blessings of Hope works with donated food, but it still costs them $6-7 to prepare and distribute each family food box. You can contribute to this cause by mailing a check to: Blessings of Hope, PO Box 567, Ephrata, PA 17522, or by following this link: https://www.blessingsofhope.com/give-now/.  Or you can volunteer to help pack boxes at this web address: https://www.blessingsofhope.com/volunteer/.

The church in Huaral, Peru reports that the needs they are encountering are overwhelming and they could make use of any donations that are sent to them. To contribute, write out a check to “Iglesia Mennonita del Valle de Huaral,” earmark it for “Venezuela Aid” and mail to: Paul Kauffman, 75 Road 5190, Bloomfield, NM 87413.

The Most Important Thing

Whether we contribute money or time (or both or neither) to helping meet these needs in our world today, we should all remember to pray. Several of the organizations listed above have specifically requested prayer from us. They need wisdom to know who to help. They need strength and physical protection to get the job done. They need wisdom in relating to authorities in their areas of ministry.

In the Old Testament, God promised that if His people humbled themselves and prayed, He would hear from heaven and heal their land. God may or may not choose to heal our land by taking away the new disease called COVID-19. But let’s pray that God will heal our land by using this disease to bring men closer to Him. Let’s pray that the pandemic will bring an end to the many conflicts around the globe.

Christians over the centuries have been remembered for jumping into the fray and meeting needs when no one else wanted to. Today, there are many government organizations that are dedicated to caring for the sick and dying. This, however, is no excuse for the church to not get involved anymore. Let’s rise to the challenge, not for our own glory or so people will remember us, but for the glory of our Lord and the expansion of His kingdom.

-Leonard Hege

Category: Public

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