Giving food and hope

Across the world, we are seeing the increasing health and economic impacts of COVID-19. As is the case in many crises, it is the vulnerable and socially excluded who are bearing the brunt of the current pandemic. 

Across the world, we are also seeing the Renew Our World community step out in compassion for those who are suffering. 

Ramesh Babu, Executive Director of the Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief (EFICOR), and Reverend Martin Kapenda, National Coordinator of Micah Zambia, share how their organisations are responding to give hope amidst the crisis.

All across the Global South a few key realities are becoming increasingly evident:

  1. The number of COVID-19 cases is slowly increasing;
  2. Testing is limited, so there are likely many more cases than officially recorded;
  3. Lockdown measures are having a direct effect on the informal employment sector, leading to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

In the face of these challenges – affecting both India and Zambia to differing degrees – relief organisations are playing a key role in ensuring vulnerable community members are able to access basic necessities. 

India 

Renew Our World partner, EFICOR, have been working with the government in response to COVID-19, providing food and safety items to daily-wage labourers and stranded migrants in Delhi and other project locations.

“In India, about 70% of people are below the poverty line,” EFICOR’s Executive Director, Ramesh Babu, explains. “The income of these people is not enough for their own needs, so they have limitations in food, as well as their overall wellbeing and development. These people are mostly agricultural labourers who work in the farms, labourers who work in construction, street vendors and domestic help.”

Since India’s lockdown began on March 24, many in this informal employment sector have experienced a significant reduction – or a complete halt – in their earnings, and most do not have savings; they rely on their daily cash earnings to survive. Without access to pensions, sick leave, paid leave or any kind of insurance, the majority of those in poverty cannot afford food, let alone items like hand sanitiser and masks that might protect them during the pandemic. 

“There are also many thousands of people who have come from many different locations to work in Delhi,” Ramesh says. “But now, these people are stuck here without jobs or homes, unable to return to their villages because transportation has been suspended.”

This has led to many harrowing stories of desperation. Some stranded migrant workers have attempted to walk hundreds of kilometers by foot to reach their homes, only to die on the way to their villages from a lack of food and water. 

EFICOR’s COVID-19 Response Team has been working tirelessly to reach over 4,300 families in need with kits of dry food rations and hygiene items. The team has witnessed families’ immense gratitude for such timely assistance.

“The dry rations support a family of five for at least one month,” Ramesh says. “We also have permission from the government to make the communities aware of key behaviours like social distancing, hand washing and how to do coughing and sneezing. India is a very social country where people live together. Social distancing is not in the history of India – it’s a very new idea and it’s hard to inform people about. So we use the mike and canvass posters to raise awareness in the communities.”

Zambia

Under Reverend Martin Kapenda’s leadership, Renew Our World is responding to the evolving economic ramifications of lockdown in Zambia. 

“Things are shifting very, very fast,” Martin shares. “Life is much quieter, with a lot of people trying as much as possible to be at home. People in the middle class can easily retreat and stay home, but those who are in the vulnerable section of society don’t have that luxury, so they are always struggling to find a way of how they will venture out, make some money and then feed their families.

“So we are seeing new needs emerging, with a lot of demand coming up in terms of food restrictions.”

Martin is working with a number of partner organisations to establish food banks for people in poorer areas of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. By providing basic nutrition and hygiene materials, the partnership hopes to encourage vulnerable community members to stay safely at home. 

“We’re also supporting an enterprise making masks, with tailors out of work,” Martin shares. “It was recently made mandatory that everyone venturing out wear a mask, but not many people are able to have the supply that they need. So, there are a number of women who are making homemade masks, and we’ll be buying these from them. We are supporting livelihoods and taking the masks to give to vulnerable communities.”

Since its beginning, sustainable agriculture has been a key focus for Renew Our World in Zambia, so it has also been a real joy for Martin to witness people’s openness to new farming concepts during this time. 

Our biggest challenge in Zambia is climate change. Most of the people who live outside urban centres tend to live on agriculture. With rapid climatic changes, their yields from their fields are reducing. We’ve just come out of the drought that lasted for two years, and then last rainy season, a quarter of the country struggled with floods, meaning that whatever they had planted and were so hopeful about has been wasted again. That’s why Renew Our World in Zambia focuses so much on issues to do with sustainable agriculture. 

So we’ve looked at this [COVID-19 pandemic] as another opportunity to reach out to the community, those that have the means to do a backyard garden. We pass them seeds, then want them to consider using composite manure. We really want to move away from dependence on chemical fertilisers to having the conservation approach being embedded in their farming, so that they start to renew the ground on which they farm. Along the way, they start to see their yields going up.

At this time, people are quite receptive to new ideas like this. In a normal time, people are in a hurry and they have a lot of priorities. When you bring a new idea on the table now, they are ready to engage and they have enough time to reflect. We have an opportunity to pass on information in small bits. If we take it slow, people are willing to engage much more deeply. Everyone has time to listen to you now. 

Hope and renewal amidst COVID-19

During this crisis, light can still be seen. In the face of India’s profound and pressing needs, Ramesh asserts firm hope in God’s faithfulness and provision.

We have confidence that God will definitely provide for us. We know that God will provide the resources as He’s the one who called us. God’s people are God’s project and God’s project never lacks anything.

As Christians, we have a God who has promised. Hebrews 10:23 says, ‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.’ The Bible is full of promises. So therefore we have the responsibility to cry out to God for the promises to be fulfilled.

In India, there’s a very great sense of fearing God, and thanking God for survival. People have started depending on God and realising it is not our money, nor our fame, but only God who can save us. Our hope is in God alone, in the promise of God which can save the people from this virus. 

We have seen in the Bible situations like this – pandemics, plagues. The structure is like this: there is a crisis, the people cried out in prayer and God delivered them. Crisis. Prayer. Deliverance. That is what’s happening around the world at the moment. We are in a crisis. We all have to look to God. We all have to cry out to Him, and He will surely deliver us. That’s what Hebrews 10:23 says to us. We need to hold that hope.

With the pace of life in Zambia now slowed, Martin has witnessed a renewal of relationships – with God, others and nature. 

We’ve been living in this whirlwind of a very fast moving world and I think people have started to lose touch with their relationships with God and with one another. We are so busy making money, improving ourselves, just trying to work on things that will bring pleasure to ourselves. But now we are seeing that we are coming back to the value of human life – how we can celebrate it, how we can protect it, how we can preserve it and how we can enrich it.

As we all pause, I think we’ll find that many things have been reset. We are seeing the planet go through a process of renewal because we are not exerting as much pressure on it. We’re not having as high levels of pollution. How the environment is rejoicing! 

My children are young. They have seen what the world was like before COVID and they will see what it is like after COVID. For the first time they have been given a window: a time when skies were clear, when there was marine life that you could see in the rivers that pass by our big cities. We’ve all been given a window to see what could happen if we can renew the Earth. With that window of opportunity, we can all use this as a platform to say, ‘We want to see more of this in the future.’ All of us can ask the question, ‘What do we need to do to see that the Earth is renewed?’

We’re in a very sad situation, but we’ve also seen this renewal. We are living at a shift in history. People can feel it, that the world will no longer be the same. A few years ago, we named this campaign Renew Our World. I think this is prophetic. I think it’s coming to be seen that this world can be renewed in our lifetime. I don’t think we really thought of that. Because of this opportunity that has come right before us, I think we need to reflect deeply about what renewal really means. I think at this point in time, we can start to define renewal in a new way, in a more radical way.” 

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Eager to support our partners in prayer? 

Join Martin in praying that all individuals may utilise this season of pause to reset priorities around what matters most: our relationships with God, with our families and with one another; and that all of us as the global church are able to see the myriad of opportunities that are arising to minister to others in personal ways.

Ramesh kindly requests prayer for the health and safety of EFICOR staff and volunteers involved in relief operations, for control over the spread of the COVID-19, and for the resources to continue to support India’s most vulnerable and socially excluded community members, both now and into the future. 

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