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Who isn’t talking about CoVid-19 these days? The conversation is unfortunately dominated by loud, powerful voices from the ratings-driven cable news outlets, many engaged in finger-pointing and blame assignment. Some call the virus by names that are ethnically-charged and divisive, in an attempt, perhaps, to buoy our own national and personal “self-image,” sadly at the detriment of our neighbors – all of them created in God’s image and loved by Him.
But there is another softer voice, familiar to the ear of the Christian: God’s Holy Spirit calling us to have mercy on those in need during this challenging time when many are more aware than ever in their lifetime of both their physical and spiritual needs. Mercy never seeks to establish blame, but instead comes to the aid of those in need simply because they are in need, and because Christ exhorted us to love others as we love ourselves. The Good Samaritan didn’t question the man by the side of the road to determine his “worthiness.” He simply helped him because he was in need.
Four months ago, ministry leaders among ethnic minorities within the PCA’s Mission to North America (MNA) formed a body now known as the Ethnos Coalition. We have collaborated to provide insights and practical suggestions for ministering love and mercy to our neighbors during this crisis, particularly to those ethnic minorities who may be especially vulnerable at this time.
Over the years, many of our churches have ministered to ethnic minorities through outreach programs such as ESL and after-school tutoring, and through mercy ministry such as food pantries and clothing closets. Relationships of love and trust have been nurtured through such interactions. Ethnic minorities and other vulnerable persons in our communities need the church to demonstrate the love of Christ in practical ways now more than ever. Providentially, many churches can now find new ways to serve those who are already in their outreach relational circles, and through them to other vulnerable members of our communities.
Our Asian American neighbors are being singled out
Please love our Asian American neighbors. This is clearly required of all of God’s children. Loving our Asian American neighbors in a time of hate-driven and fear-filled racism today is more critical than ever. Many of our Asian American neighbors are in need of our love and support right now.
What exactly does Gospel neighboring look like for our Asian American neighbors, as well as for brothers and sisters in these CoVid-19 times?
For some it might be in the form of a passive love that prays for those who are suffering as a result of racism. For others passively loving our Asian American neighbors might mean spending more time in meditation, self-reflection, and introspection, to consider why anti-Asian or xenophobic comments have not bothered you, why you find racist jokes like Kung Flu and other cruel comments amusing and/or harmless.
For some, Gospel neighboring is more active and takes the form of financial support of local Asian American restaurants and other businesses affected by Anti-Asian American racism. Active Gospel neighboring might also include courageously stepping in to intervene when racial bullying and violence occurs in person or online, teaching our children how to love Asian American friends by refraining from speaking negatively about, joking about, or teasing Asian American peers online or on social media, or by being complicit in their silence by allowing it to occur from others. Loving our Asian American neighbors will also mean lovingly speaking up against others who continue to express racist comments toward your Asian American neighbors, even when sometimes, oftentimes, the “others” might just be your own family, friends, congregation members, and church leaders.
After the Black Death of 1527, Martin Luther addressed the responsibilities of ordinary citizens during a previous period of contagion in his letter “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.” On the one hand, he did not encourage Christians to expose themselves recklessly, while at the same time he challenged them to practice a love for neighbor, born out of their love for God. (Mark 10:45)
Suggested actions which do not involve reckless danger but do require obedient sacrifice
It is the duty of the deacons to minister to those who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress. It is their duty also to develop the grace of liberality in the members of the church, to devise effective methods of collecting the gifts of the people, and to distribute these gifts among the objects to which they are contributed. (BCO 9-2). We encourage diaconates to proactively and practically minister to those in and out of their local church by:
- Meeting basic needs
- Collect food, over the counter medications, clothing, household supplies, etc. so those in need can meet their basic needs.
- Deliver or set up pick up points or drive-throughs for families in need to get supplies.
- Purchase grocery store gift cards and distribute as needed.
- Helping provide shelter
- Provide stipends so low wage workers who are out of work can pay for rent, utilities and other basic needs.
- Collect items that will help keep the children of those who are in need stay occupied while they are at home (crafts, toys, books, games, etc.).
- Determine need and then collect electronics such as laptops, tablets, phones, etc. so those in need can stay connected.
- The internet is the lifeline for families, consider paying for internet service for families in need, particularly those working from home or with children whose lessons are now exclusively online.
- Promoting outreach
- Compile a list of all the people you’ve ministered to through your outreach and mercy ministry and contact them to find out what their most critical current needs are.
- Ask those in your congregation who have already built trust with ethnic minorities (leaders of ethnic congregations that meet in your building, ESL teachers, etc.) what specific needs they are aware of among those they serve, and how they suggest your congregation might best help.
- Find ways to build on these already existing relationships: Can you help ESL teachers with technology so that classes can continue online? Can they invite their students to watch your online worship service, and perhaps do a vocabulary lesson built around the sermon concepts? Can you have the sermon translated into the primary languages of the ESL students? Can the ESL teachers do a Q and A with those students that watch the worship service? Can an ESL prayer group meet online, with the pastor as a participant, using simple vocabulary and avoiding “insider” language?
- Invite church families or small groups to “adopt” a family in need, stay in touch with them and deliver the items they need.
- Create a church call in center for people who are scared, worried, getting angry with their family, etc. Staff a phone center where people can receive prayer and counsel.
- Practicing being part of a connectional church
- Many PCA churches are not located in poor and marginalized communities.
- The Ethnos Coalition members represent over 100 churches ministering to those in deep distress from this pandemic. Contact any of the Ethnos Coalition members and they will help you connect with diaconates serving those who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Connecting with ethnic minorities in our communities in ways they will understand
Multilingual virus information: Refugees and other immigrants and internationals in our communities whose primary language is other than English may not have received even the most basic reliable CoVid-19 information in their first language.
Thanks to Rachael Stone of Restoring Hope Roanoke (and an ESL trainer!) for collating links to reliable coronavirus print and video resources in dozens of languages in one document:
Perhaps some of your members work in health care? Or serve on local or state government or hospital or clinic boards? They might be grateful to have these linguistically targeted resources to disperse accurate information to some of the most vulnerable in your community.
A pastor of Christ the King PCA in Philadelphia who ministers to Brazilians has worked with a graphic artist to produce Portuguese CoVid-19 handouts on how to protect oneself and others and is also posting short virus updates in Portuguese with Biblical messages of hope several times a week on his YouTube channel.
Spiritual resources in other languages: Everyone is experiencing the disruption of all that once seemed dependable. Speakers of other languages in your community are especially hungry for eternal spiritual truths. Here is a short list of websites with hopeful content:
- The Bible Project provides Biblical concepts in multiple languages: https://bibleproject.com/languages/
- This new website gathers Biblical resources in 2,500 languages. Find the language, dialect you want then choose something to share with those you know who speak that language:
Are you a pastor of a church that worships in a language other than English now doing your services or perhaps short videos in that language online, that could be shared with others? Consider posting them on Facebook or YouTube videos so that their reach can be multiplied as many are spending hours on their phones or tablets, searching for meaningful content.
What spiritual resources in other languages might it be possible for you to produce at this time, either on your own or through collaboration with other ethnic churches? This could be a real comfort and encouragement to refugees, immigrants and internationals who are suffering deeply during the pandemic. We’d love to hear about what you’ve done and share it with others who could benefit!
It is no accident that refugees, immigrants and other internationals are present in our communities. It is part of God’s plan to draw them to Himself, as Acts 17:26 and 27 makes clear. “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.”
Every believer is part of God’s plan to do that! And many are already our brothers and sisters in Christ! God works powerfully in the midst of brokenness. Will we allow Him to work through us to address the physical and spiritual well-being of our neighbors?
It is time to be bold and honest. It is time to love our neighbors and be the salt and light of the world. For such a time as this…
It is our prayer that the suggestions in this document will inspire and equip you to act lovingly and mercifully to ALL of your neighbors. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)
The Ethnos Coalition invites you to reach out to any of them with specific questions or comments. It is our desire to help you love your neighbor effectively. Our contact information is available on the Mission to North America website at https://2019.pcamna.org/
The Ethnos Coalition* Ministry Coordinators & Directors collaborated on this article:
Hernando Sáenz – Hispanic Ministries, (Chairman, Ethnos Coalition)
Alex Jun – Korean American Leadership Initiative
Bill Sim – Korean Ministries
Darcy Caires – Network of Portuguese Speaking Churches
Dony St. Germain – Haitian American Ministries
Pat Hatch- Refugee and Immigrant Ministries
Randy Nabors – Urban and Mercy Ministries
Wy Plummer – African American Ministries
Jeb Bland – Native American/First Nations Ministries (Editor)