Pastor Rivas had just heard the news that his entire nation was entering a lockdown because of COVID-19, the virus making its way around the world. No one could leave their homes except for very specific reasons and with special permission from local authorities. No one could visit their friends and neighbours. No one could go to work.
The GFA pastor looked at his wife, sadness and confusion mixed in his expression. His thoughts went immediately to the people in his congregation. They weren’t many, but they were his to care for.
“Lord,” Pastor Rivas prayed silently, “how am I going to help these believers grow?”
Many of the people in Pastor Rivas’s church were first-generation believers, new in their faith. The weekly prayer and fasting meetings and worship services had helped them develop roots that would keep them grounded and growing in Jesus’ love. Now that was gone.
How long would this lockdown last?
As a pastor, entrusted by God to look after His sheep, Rivas worried over them. How long would this lockdown last? When would he be able to visit once again with the believers and encourage them in the ways of Christ?
It was two months into the lockdown now, and Ajani, a daily wage labourer, could see the toll it was taking on his wife, Sahalie. His job made him dependent on a daily income to provide for Sahalie and their 3-year-old daughter, as well as his mother and younger sister who lived with them. Since the lockdown, he had been unable to work, which meant no earnings to buy groceries. Two months of wondering where their next meal would come from. Two months of growing anxiety and uncertainty.
“Financial breakdown has pushed many of us into depression,” Ajani said. “My family, my wife especially, she often talks about what our future will become because we do not have a consistent income. We don’t have enough resources and money now.”
Concern for their health deepened Sahalie’s anxiety.
“What if you become sick in this situation or our child [does]?” she would ask Ajani.
They wouldn’t have the money needed to see a doctor or go to the hospital. That thought haunted Ajani’s wife.
So many people across the world already had fallen ill. The number was in the millions. COVID-19 was affecting people differently. Some experienced a simple cold that went away in a few days with no need for a hospital visit, yet others experienced life-threatening symptoms that ended with them seeing their Maker face to face.
Ajani’s country hadn’t yet faced the uptick in cases other nations had, but it was only a matter of time.
Every day the lockdown went on, Pastor Rivas reached out to the believers in his church. Though he could not physically be with them, his thoughts of them were never far away.
He called them or sent text messages with verses from God’s Word and encouraged them to study and meditate on those verses. Whatever Pastor Rivas could do to stay connected with his congregation, he did. He set up a prayer chain and designated members of his church to pray on certain days.
“We prayed for one week,” Pastor Rivas recalls. “We prayed for various concerns, especially we prayed for all the people who were affected by coronavirus, and also we prayed for the people who are fighting against this virus. … We all prayed for the missionaries and pastors, all those serving the Lord in spite of this coronavirus spread. We prayed for their safety, and wherever they are, that they will continue to help the church and believers grow in the Lord.”
When it was finally safe for Pastor Rivas to visit his congregation, to see their faces, he encouraged them with testimonies of God’s faithfulness. He reminded them of the Israelites’ 40-year journey in the wilderness to the promised land and how God had provided water, food and everything else they needed. “They lacked nothing,” Pastor Rivas told people.
These stories fueled the believers’ faith and gave them courage. But there were still families struggling to make it through the lockdown. Words of encouragement were helpful, but people also needed food. Organizations were estimating that 130 million people could be pushed into severe hunger in the wake of COVID-19.1
“It has raised hope within us that everything is not bad during this lockdown,”
Pastor Rivas was aware of the strained situations some of the people in his church faced because they couldn’t work; many had been living in poverty even before the pandemic.
With the resources he had, Pastor Rivas went to the grocer’s and bought enough rice, oil, lentils and onions to feed seven families. Knowing there were still more families who needed food, Pastor Rivas connected with local politicians to see if they wanted to join him in helping others. Another 40 families were given provisions, yet still more waited.
“[It was] not enough because every day the situation was growing bad to worse,” Pastor Rivas said. “People were struggling and suffering due to lack of food.”
Ajani was one of the people who received much-needed food. The kilos of items would get him and his family through a few more days, maybe weeks. But more than just the physical help it provided to him and his family, it brought them peace.
“It has raised hope within us that everything is not bad during this lockdown,” Ajani said.
“Even though there is no job, there is no work, there is no food—life is at a standstill and nothing is happening around us—it raises a hope within us that somebody loves us, somebody cares for us.”
Throughout the duration of the lockdown, Pastor Rivas organized food-relief distributions. When restrictions eased and there was more freedom for people to gather, the people in his congregation served alongside him to help others—even in their own need.
They contributed eggs, vegetables, potatoes, spices and other items to give away. They cooked food for people and gave of their own minimal resources when they saw another who was in greater need.
One woman even gave half of her monthly disability check to another woman who was struggling during the lockdown.
“I look forward to becoming a help to people,” she says. “I want people to be helped through my life, and I want God to help me become that person who becomes a help to others.”
Through Pastor Rivas’s example and encouragement, the new believers he was so worried about at the start of the pandemic have become a blessing to others as they live out Christ’s ministry by helping those in need.
“Humanity is serving people in need, and they have done it,” Ajani says. “The church has done it perfectly.”
Join us in this long-term effort as we seek to help millions who are affected by this pandemic.
*Names of people and places may have been changed for privacy and security reasons. Images are GFA stock photos used for representation purposes and are not the actual person/location, unless otherwise noted.Previous Article Next Article
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