Giving generously on a shaky financial footing
I never cease to be amazed at those willing to undertake high-wire acts, especially those that due to the absence of any safety-net leave us white-knuckled and gripping our seats. From the moment the world was plunged into the Covid-19 pandemic, I have been giving thanks for the element of safety-net that some governments have been able to provide in the form of job retention schemes and the like. Yet fear remains, and you don’t have to look too far to find commentators warning that the storm of Covid-19 will be followed by a tsunami of economic recession.
All the same, if my recent conversations with a number of CEO’s of mission agencies is anything to go by, the Covid-19 crisis has caused donors to respond in a range of ways. While some have reacted by tightening their belts, others have stepped out in faith, gone the extra mile and committed themselves to giving even more generously and sacrificially. Their response has been not unlike the Macedonian churches, of whom Paul testified, “out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity… they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (2 Corinthians 8:2-3). Despite our increasingly decimated economy, I am aware of some Christian agencies delighted by significant growth in income in recent months.
It’s great to be able to highlight that well into 2020 when the Covid-19 crisis was breaking, there was sustained, generous giving by Presbyterians throughout Ireland to PCI’s World Development Appeal 2019, ‘Farming God’s Way’. Indeed, it’s timely to say a huge thank you to all who contributed to a wonderful total of £497,174 in support of a range of sustainable development projects.
The Moderator’s Christmas Appeal 2020
Looking ahead, we don’t presume on this generosity and are very mindful of the significant challenges we as a church face at home through Covid-19. This contributed to the decision not to launch a World Development Appeal this year at the usual time, but rather to place the focus on a Moderator’s Christmas Appeal under the theme of At Home for Christmas?
This appeal places the spotlight on the challenge of Covid-19 as it heightens the inter-play of a whole catalogue of crises, with catastrophic impact in the most vulnerable of low-income countries, those fragile nations for whom there is simply no safety-net. The appeal will run from Advent well into 2021, targeting support for a range of projects of PCI’s development partners, Christian Aid and Tearfund along with Partner churches in South Sudan, Malawi, Indonesia, Romania, Lebanon, Syria and Nepal.
Responding to the impact of Covid-19 beyond our shores
Let’s take the example of South Sudan. When you look at the impact of Covid-19 you might think that South Sudan gets off lightly. After all, it is currently ranked 153 out of the 220 countries affected by coronavirus, with just 3,000 cases and 61 deaths. Yet the lack of ‘test and trace’ means these statistics bear little resemblance to the real figures. South Sudan is believed to be undergoing a second wave of the virus as refugees flee into the country from recent conflict in neighbouring Ethiopia.
From another perspective, South Sudan has been ranked third most vulnerable country in the world to Covid-19, which is just one of five major crises submerging this nation right now. Inter-communal violence means 40% of its population of 12 million are either internally displaced or barely surviving in crowded refugee camps of neighbouring Sudan, Kenya and Uganda, and beyond.
Covid-19 has disrupted the supply chain and led to escalating prices, preventing food reaching the neediest. Some 7.5 million require humanitarian assistance, including 300,000 children experiencing acute malnutrition, with the potential for famine in the new year.
While our thoughts are filled with Covid-19, the effects of climate change have not gone away. Communities in proximity to the White Nile have experienced the worst flooding in 60 years which has destroyed food crops, livestock and swept away many homes, displacing another 700,000 people.
So, while here in the West the challenges we face this Christmas are serious, if not unprecedented, South Sudan risks being declared a ‘failed’ state. For this, the world’s youngest nation, along with other fragile states, there are no safety-nets, and the suffering is already on an unimaginable scale. Let us take heart, however, that PCI’s development partners, Christian Aid and Tearfund, along with the Presbyterian Relief and Development Agency of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, are already and continuing to serve actively on the ground, working tirelessly to make a difference, helping folk like Nyra, a Community Nutrition Volunteer in Uror, South Sudan. She has been receiving training regarding Covid-19 symptoms and preventative measures, such as setting up ‘tippy taps’ – a simple, hygienically operated, device to allow hand washing with running water.
Nyra raises awareness of coronavirus preventative measures amongst carers of malnourished children, and expectant and nursing mothers attending the feeding centres, committed to the protection of people in remote communities. Community volunteers, like Nyra, mean that families, like Cecilia’s, can be reached with the right information about coronavirus. Cecilia says: “I was worried and confused with my kids not knowing what to do since I don’t have a radio and people were confusing me with different information in regards to Covid-19… I am now enlightened about the disease and I will take what you have taught me seriously to prevent the spread.”
Global disciples in a global pandemic
Deepest appreciation on behalf of all who will benefit from our contributions to this Moderator’s Christmas Appeal. Such giving is one mark of what it means to be global disciples, those whose commitment encourages heartfelt and overflowing thankfulness to God from many who will find themselves far from home this Christmas.
“You will be made rich in every way, so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” 2 Corinthians 9:11
Rev Uel Marrs is PCI's Secretary of the Council for Global Mission.
You can find more about the At Home at Christmas? campaign and the Moderator's Appeal including how to donate online here.