When a crisis hits, it is easy to think only about ourselves and local community. We are rightly concerned about the rate of infection in the UK, and many of us will feel there is more than enough to worry about on our doorstep, but our faith challenges us to look beyond our own interests, to reach out to and learn from others. And so here I want to mention a few ways about how the pandemic has affected the African church and how we might respond.
A friend of mine, Chris Howells, teaches theology to prospective clergy at a seminary in Uganda. He asks for prayer for the church leaders there who are working hard to respond to the crisis, while also facing poverty themselves. Many African clergy receive their stipend direct from giving in the collection plate, and so funds have stopped since lockdown. Chris also points out that despite these hardships, he has been challenged by his African colleagues and students who have demonstrated great resilience, responding from their faith with patience, determination and generosity. We have much to learn in the UK from the global church about how to respond well to suffering.
Last week in the newsletter and in the online service, I mentioned the Diocese of London’s lent appeal – in which funds are being raised in London to supply the Bishops in Angola and Mozambique with strong vehicles for their ministry. In rural parts of Africa, especially, the church community may be the first (and only!) responders to a crisis. The Bishop of Islington Rod Thomas notes: “The need for Bishops and church officers to respond quickly to the pandemic with water, sanitisers, PPE and food has become all the more acute. Please give generously.” Individuals can give online into this cause at https://www.give.net/lent2020/fundraising
Many in our community will be concerned about their friends and families in other parts of the world. We need to remember that in a diverse church like ours our network of concern stretches way beyond the parish. This will include Africa, of course. Members of our church are engaged in prayer and practical support for their friends and family, charities and churches in places like Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and South Africa. Why not ask those you know from our church family about their networks of families and friends around the world, and ask how you might be able to practically stand with them?