Covid-19 (new coronavirus disease) is causing huge stress on poor people and communities who already struggle to have food to eat, water to drink or a place to sleep. Some of the measures put in place by governments – even where necessary – are causing immense misery and suffering.
We thank God for the number of churches across the world that are helping these poor communities. They are providing them with food, water and various other forms of assistance. Tearfund and other relief and development organisations are allocating funds to help these churches care for their communities. This help is essential and will help to ease the suffering in many poor communities.
But looking at the response, there is a danger that the support could be limited to the project alone. In a project, care for communities is designed, planned, executed and reported on. Quite often this kind of response requires substantial amounts of money. When the project is finished and the money has run out, the care for the communities stops as well. Not that a project-orientated response to Covid-19 is not important. But the teaching and example of Jesus indicates that care for those in need should be an integral part of the lifestyle of every Christian.
In Luke 4:18–19, Jesus says:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
Through his teaching, ministry and lifestyle Jesus showed what it means to live out this verse. And he demonstrated and taught his disciples to do the same. When he sends his disciples in John 20:21 – ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ – they are expected to follow Jesus’s example not only as part of their teaching and ministry, but above all as part of their lifestyles. Caring for poor people then should not just be a project delivered by Christians, rather it should flow out of their relationship with God and as followers of Christ.
I believe this is one of the big challenges of the Covid-19 outbreak. It is wonderful to hear how churches and Christians care for poor people and communities during the crisis. But this care should not stop when money for a project has run out or the pandemic has ended. There are tremendous needs as a result of the current global crisis, and Christians and churches have an opportunity to care for others and the environment as part of their discipleship. And as part of who they are as followers of Jesus Christ.
‘Caring for poor people then should not just be a project delivered by Christians, rather it should flow out of their relationship with God and as followers of Christ.’
This difference between a project response and a lifestyle orientated response to the needs of people was highlighted recently by Dr Ruth Valerio, Tearfund Director for Advocacy and Influencing. She had received a message from a Christian leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) following a virtual seminar on her recent book, Saying Yes to Life. Ruth’s book highlights that since people are made in the image of God, they are entrusted to look after what he has created. This means Christians should look after creation as part of their lifestyle and discipleship. The leader in DRC mentioned that Ruth’s book could be a great tool on creation care discipleship in his country and the wider region.
Care of those in need and care for the environment should not be a project but it should become a lifestyle as part of our following of Jesus Christ and therefore part of our discipleship. This is what Tim Raby, Manager of All We Can’s Church Community Action for Neighbours (CAN), called for in a Tearfund report in April 2019, which shared recommendations for improving and deepening discipleship. In this report he says: ‘Integral discipleship should be understood as the total submission of one’s life to the lordship of Christ, not simply a series of activities designed to improve one’s relationships with neighbour, God and the whole of creation.’
Watch a step-by-step guide to making tippy taps for handwashing and saving water.
We can see this focus on integral mission as part of discipleship and everyday life in the work of Pastor Kademba in Zimbabwe. He has been working on raising awareness of Covid-19 and training people how to make tippy taps. ‘I train people during funerals and I make sure there is a tippy tap at every entrance that is being used by them,’ says Pastor Kademba. He adds: ‘When we go home people then want further training on how to make tippy taps, which is an opportunity for me to show the holistic nature of God.’
Covid-19 could be a catalyst for a shift towards integral discipleship. This, in turn, could result in real transformation in the lives of Christians, the ministry of churches and in the living conditions of poor communities. Let us not miss this opportunity!
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