After the tsunami of 2004 in Indonesia I was a key translator for an expert on disasters. What I remember from Dr. Jonathan Olford’s workshops is that he talked of phases. The first phase was the “Hero Phase.” After a disaster, volunteers might instinctively step into danger, self-sacrificially — heroically. Victims sometimes endure heroically. In Indonesia there were incredible stories of survival. But this phase only lasts for about three months. Then things get a lot more difficult, not just because heroes run out of energy, but because small problems grow to a breaking point, and recovery gets complicated.
The Hero Phase
I think we’ve been in the hero phase up until now. The Covid crisis in Bolivia didn’t hit like an earthquake, tsunami, flood, hurricane. At first it was just a break, a chance to catch up. But it didn’t take long to realize that in a country where people depend on daily wages, most can’t afford a break. Some had already anticipated this and started with relief hampers right away. I realized that even the helpers were vulnerable. Most of the pastors in our denomination depend on weekly offerings and supplement that with work — they couldn’t afford for their church to be closed and not to have work. So, we heroically stepped in to provide hampers for 21 pastors around the country. This week we organized hampers for another 50. When one pastor’s wife passed away from Covid-19, we provided some help for the cremation expenses.
It occurred to me that pastors would be needing more than food, so I started calling the pastors listed in the UBB directory. I might have tried to call all 321 pastors myself, but one of the pastors in my Pastoring of Pastors support group suggested, “Why don’t we divide up the pastors in the directory, call them, and find out how we can pray for them?” Each pastor in my National Leadership Team accepted the challenge of calling about 40 pastors and praying for them. We’ve met weekly via Zoom to pray for each other and the pastors we’ve been contacting.
The Wall Phase
I don’t think it was actually called the Wall Phase, but Jonathan Olford noted that after about three months, relief efforts run into a wall. Heroes are tired. Victims are complaining. Problems are complex. I think this is where we’re at now. The first pastor I called confided, “It’s hard to have been without income for five weeks.” This past week one of my pastors reporting on calls couldn’t hold back the tears as she shared what a pastor had shared with her, “Children don’t understand when there’s no bread,” and of another pastor, “He’s not buying medicine because there is not enough food.” Another regional leader with tears of compassion for his pastors and frustration with the church said, “The church leaders are ‘cold.’” Coldly letting their pastors go. Denominational leaders want to help where churches aren’t or can’t, but are having to let staff go as well. Yesterday I was in a seminary Board meeting where we’re making difficult staffing decisions. Tough realities are setting in. They hit like a wall and leave people in desperation.
I can’t remember exactly what the next phase was, but I just know that you can’t leave people without hope. Isaiah 40:31 says:
…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles…
One of the ways that our national leaders have been able to stay in contact, even with those who can no longer access the internet, have no data, nor phone time, is through radio. Last week I was invited to preach on the radio. It was a chance to share some hope. People are also hopeful that strict quarantine measures will work and will be able to be lifted soon. Maybe at the end of the month. People are hopeful that courses, like the online course on church planting being taken by 32 potential church planters, will result in new churches after the crisis, or even before. People are hopeful that the world will not forget them in a time of desperation. Even a little bit of outside help can be a great encouragement as it lets people know they’re not alone.
Hope for the Future
One of the major concerns is how this will affect children. I’ve actually heard that memories of the pandemic might become a sociological dividing line between generations. You probably know that Janice had been teaching music to vulnerable children from the “red light” district. The good news is that their mothers are being provided with food, weekly, on the morning that they are allowed out. They are still being helped with their schooling as far as possible. The concern is for their safety and psychological well-being as their homes, which they are confined to, are usually small, sometimes one room and possibly no window.
Praise and Prayer
- Health. There has been one Covid death among people we know but another pastor asked for prayer for his son. He’s been graduated early, as a new Doctor, so he can serve Covid-19 patients. He’s expected to provide his own PPE but can’t afford it. Bolivia’s strategy is to prevent the spread of Covid through strict quarantines because availability to treatment is limited. Pray for our health as quarantine is our best defense. Pray also for the health of our children and Janice’s Mom back in Canada.
- Denominational and Seminary leadership as they face difficult staffing decisions and have limited resources with which to support those under their leadership.
- Pastors, especially those who were relying on weekly offerings and other work to support themselves. Pray for their finances, for family, for health, for perseverance in ministry as it might be without financial support, for their ministries and creativity, and for mental health.
- Children and families. Food for those who have been relying on daily wages. Protection for those quarantined in abusive situations. Schooling as classes have been suspended and as online options only favor those who have that option.
Thank you so much for your continued support!
Bill & Janice