| Ministering in lockdown|
If pressed we could all tell a story of our lockdown experiences during the coronavirus pandemic. Sherilyn and Deane – who work amongst refugees and migrants in Europe – tell Susan Beguely how their ministry was affected and how they were impacted personally.
Lockdown officially began for them in March and ended 56 days later. Much of their ministry was put on hold: their premises had to shut, which meant refugees and migrants could no longer drop in for food, clothes, Bible studies or chats. This couple faced similar restrictions to those we had in New Zealand except that bakeries and butcheries remained open along with the pharmacies and supermarkets. As for us, shopping involved standing in lengthy queues with the regulatory spacing.
Fortunately, their city was not severely hit by the disease. As the lockdown continued, phone calls to Deane and Sherilyn’s Gospel Hope Centre increased as refugees and migrants became more desperate. Their work, and thus income, had evaporated and, without any form of government assistance, they were struggling to obtain food for their families. Not only ‘regulars’ called but also their friends. This created pressure on the ministry which was obligated first to its regulars and found itself inadequately resourced to help extra people. A hope of obtaining additional resources from the EU Foodbank came to nothing.
With the Centre closed, food supplies were stored and distributed from the couple’s home. They foresee that, post-lockdown, the need for ministry may extend also to local Europeans since work is very scarce in the south and homelessness is increasing. The Gospel Hope Centre had a limited reopening on May 4: summer clothes were sorted and distributed while Deane was able to meet some of the regular men for discipleship and encouragement.
One of the consequences of the lockdown has been the decision not to renew the lease on the Centre premises, due to uncertainties about meeting opportunities and restrictions should there be a second wave of the virus, and the likely reduced availability of refugees and migrants as they searched for work or worked longer hours. The advantages of this change will be more money to spend on food – the food bag distribution will continue from Deane and Sherilyn’s home – and more time for street evangelism.
Another, unpleasant, outcome of the COVID-19 lockdown has been the presence and operation of organised crime offering free food to struggling families. Although the government is issuing shopping vouchers to its citizens the need is great and gangs have the opportunity, under the guise of benevolence, to recruit vulnerable people to their organisations.
Deane and Sherilyn’s personal experience of the lockdown includes silence in the empty streets such that you could hear birds singing—a delight. There was time to study their language texts, although of course conversation opportunities were diminished! Time was also spent in reading God’s word and prayer. With some restrictions lifting in May they could exercise outdoors; no more running up and down the five flights of steps in the Centre building. And the beach beckoned — with masks worn— by order of the mayor. Which gives scootering a somewhat clandestine look.
- for Sherilyn and Deane as they continue to look for gospel opportunities in their local context
- that their new project will successfully attract funds for supplies needed by desperate people
- that the migrants they serve will clearly see Jesus in their interactions