The year 2020 will always be remembered as the year of the pandemic. It is extremely rare to have an event that touches basically every person on earth. But that is exactly what COVID-19 has done. For many people, that “touch” has meant inconvenience, discomfort, and unwanted change. But for others, the “touch” was more of a “punch” leading to job loss, separation, loneliness, or serious mental health issues. Then there are those whose fragile existence has been pushed to the very brink – and even to death – by the coronavirus.
The reality is that, during times of crisis, it is always the most vulnerable who are hardest hit. They are the ones who have the fewest resources to deal with additional problems, and yet the greatest impact invariably falls on them – just as it has in this pandemic.
But there is hope! In the gloom of the darkness, lights are still shining! In Rwanda, the churches of the Association des Églises Baptistes au Rwanda (AEBR) were closed in March as cases of the coronavirus began to be detected in the country. That meant people could not encourage one another or pray together during a terrible crisis. The absence of offerings meant no money for the denomination that could be used to help those in need. And it meant no income for pastors, which has made it very difficult for them and their families. The good news has been that, in spite of having very little themselves, the church members have been trying hard to support their pastors in whatever small ways they can. However, AEBR became aware of a group of vulnerable people who were being overlooked – retired pastors and widows of former pastors. (Until very recently, things like pensions and life insurance were not thought of or available.)
With the support of Canadian Baptist Ministries, AEBR organized a COVID-19 relief project which reached out to 48 retired pastors and 38 widows of pastors to help them survive these extremely difficult months. During August and September, meetings were held all over the country with these widows and retired pastors, providing them with enough funds to buy two months’ worth of basic food items like beans, rice, maize flour, and cooking oil.
During these meetings, the church leaders also used the opportunity to encourage them, knowing that many were very fearful since they had heard the coronavirus hit the elderly the hardest. In order to promote sustainability, they were given flexibility in how to use the money. If they were able, they had the freedom to use some of the money for seeds or to start a small business if that could help them in the future.
One of the beneficiaries of this project is 46-year-old Bertilde. Bertilde’s husband had been an AEBR pastor until he passed away in 2005. She was left with five children but no house and no land. They were barely getting by, constantly dealing with chronic hunger. Then the pandemic hit, making their situation even worse. So when she was notified by her pastor that she was going to be receiving help from AEBR, she was so grateful. She already had a long-term plan thought through even before she received the help. She explained, “After getting this great support, I will use half of it for buying food and the remaining half for a small business in order to get some family income for feeding my kids in future days. When God blesses this support, it will be the base or capital for continuing my small business.”
Bertilde expressed her gratitude to those whose hearts were moved to reach out to others during this crisis: “I want to thank the generous people who were thinking of the vulnerable. May Almighty God bless you and comfort you in your plans forever.” Those are the words of someone who unexpectedly found hope in the midst of a pandemic!
For Reflection and Discussion:
- The authors share how the most vulnerable are usually most impacted during times of crisis. Who in your community has been most impacted by COVID-19?
- James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” In what ways are you caring for the orphans and widows in your community?
About the Author
Darrell Bustin is from the east coast of Canada (Moncton, New Brunswick). From an early age, he sensed God’s leading into overseas ministry. Following eight years on the pastoral team at Hillside Baptist Church, he and his wife, Laura Lee, joined Canadian Baptist Ministries in 2002 in order to be involved in church leadership development. The first ten years were spent teaching in a seminary in Indonesia. Then, in 2012, Darrell and his family moved to Rwanda where he works in partnership with the Association des Eglises Baptistes au Rwanda doing church leadership development with pastors, church leaders and those training to become pastors.
About the Author
Ndikumana Gabriel holds a Bachelors Degree in Agricultural Engineering and a Bachelors Degree of Theology from Grace International Bible University (GIBU USA-College). He served as Food Security Project Manager from 2016-2019 with Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB) through the Association des Églises Baptistes au Rwanda (AEBR). He has undertaken various assignments in development projects and agriculture production for alleviating hunger as well as leading and facilitating farmers’ cooperatives for development and self-reliance. Currently he is working in AEBR as Director of Community Development and serves as the Evangelism Leader at the Baptist Church in Kayonza.