D – South Asia
When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, most of our country initiated a partial or complete lockdown. This has led to people losing their jobs and livelihood overnight. From March 22 to May 31, the lowest class has moved to the below poverty line and the middle class to the lower class line. The country’s unemployment is over 20% of the 1.3 billion people. The economy is the worst it has been in 41 years. Most people in the private sector have either been asked to leave their jobs or have no idea when they can get back to work as their employer does not have the money to pay them. Multiple natural disasters have decimated our agriculture. Several statistics show that there will be more deaths due to unemployment and famine than COVID-19.
As a church and body of Christ, it’s time to rise to the occasion and be the salt and the light. We fasted and prayed to the Lord to know how we could serve our community or the circle of influence we have. As James 2:15-16 says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” It was then that we received funds from The Austin Stone to help the needy with food supplies, cooking gas, or rent. As we looked for people to help, we came to know out about a fairly large Muslim community who were daily-wage laborers or housemaids and were in need of food. They were not given any help as their religious leaders were accused of spreading the virus in the community. We got a local team together who went door to door giving food supplies and sharing the gospel with them. This community was completely closed before the pandemic, but as we loved them it gave us an open door and several people opened their hearts. We hope to continue to sow more seeds and have a local church among that community one day.
We also heard about a small family of three. The father, who worked in a small factory before the pandemic, was not paid any wages and could not go into work during the lockdown. Because of this, he could not get any food for his family, and was drowning in worry as to how he would be able to feed his 5-year-old daughter. Our team sent them funds to buy food supplies and began to share the gospel. As we continued to share and teach them, the Lord spoke to them, and the couple accepted salvation and were baptized. The father received a call to come back into work, which has boosted his faith. Where several have lost their jobs, God has kept his job alive.
In our country, there is a small community of migrant workers. They have no proper ID cards with the state, so they did not qualify for any benefits from our government. Also, as they were from an Islamic background, these people were maintaining distance from others. When our team visited them, we noticed that they did not have masks or hand soap to keep themselves clean. The very next day, a group went out and did a hygiene session with them. They also provided food and hygiene supplies. This community opened their hearts, and participated in the prayer time. We are hoping to do follow ups, and use this open door for the glory of Jesus.
D – South Asia
A couple months before I ended up leaving the country due to COVID-19, I visited a new church that one of our ministry partners attends. When I arrived, I was surprised to see that the only people there were our ministry partner and his family. Our partner told us that he’d been facilitating church in their home that happened to be located in an area he had previously prayed to be reached by the gospel. It was evident to me that God had answered his prayers, and that this family was the house of peace among the lost. Once the pandemic hit, our partner was unable to move within that area due to local restrictions. Even still, the church has grown from the original three people to over 15 people. Most of this growth has happened as a result of that family witnessing to their neighbors and inviting them into their time of fellowship!
S – South Asia
K is a woman who lives in an urban city in South Asia with her family. Her husband, M, works at a local company and is the only bread earner for her family. Due to lockdown, M was not able to go into work, and thus, very soon, the family did not have the means to purchase basic necessities like groceries. The local government’s supplies were not reaching them, so one of our leaders reached out to K’s family to see if they could help. The leader was able to purchase groceries and delivered them to the family. When she dropped off the food, the leader shared the gospel with K and her family. The Spirit of God touched K’s family, and all of them accepted the Lord! Our leader is now doing follow up with them. Praise God!
Another one of our leaders, S, planned to help 13 families in need from his neighborhood as he received the funds to do so. He and his leaders planned to invite members from each family one-by-one so that they could give help and share the gospel. Through this, they were able to share the gospel with all the families, and out of that, four accepted the Lord and invited S to come to their homes once the lockdown is over. M was one of the four who accepted Christ. M works as a rickshaw puller. He and his family were in desperate need of basic essential items because M was not able to work during lockdown. They were not receiving any help from the local government, so when S was able to help them, M was overcome with emotion.
With the money received from The Austin Stone, we were able to help meet our 87 leaders’ essential needs like purchasing groceries. We were also able to help 41 house church families who were in desperate need as well. We were also able to help 112 non-believing families with groceries and were able to share the gospel with 91 individuals out of which 17 accepted the Lord. There are also nine additional people who are interested in following the Lord. Our leaders are following up with them.
S – South Asia
We thank God for opening doors for us to work among the lost in South Asia. In a specific area of our city, more than 550 families are clustered together. They are poor and marginalized. Their lifestyle is very different from our own. These people live among garbage, and build their homes from the waste of others. During the pandemic, we have been able to help 105 families through the funds provided by The Austin Stone. We were able to provide those families with food packets that included a notecard with John 3:16 printed on them. It is our hope that, through these packets, God will open many doors in the days to come.
C – Central Asia
Our experience of life here is much the same as what we have heard about life in the rest of the world. Most businesses are closed, people are staying at home, and a disproportionate amount of time is spent on Zoom and other video-conference programs. In the midst of COVID-19, we’ve been incredibly encouraged by the creative and impactful ways our team has rallied to continue to care for refugees, share Christ, disciple believers, and make a particular effort to meet the increased needs of the most vulnerable.
Being a refugee or any other kind of oppressed migrant is always difficult. Language abilities, rights, social standing, access to resources, the validity of your training and experience, and more are largely taken away. Former engineers wash dishes. Former business owners sweep floors in factories. In times like this, when employment goes away, they quickly find themselves in desperate situations.
Most of our work among the poor is developmental—seeking longer term solutions and real progress forward. However, in times of crisis, the need for simple relief and aid goes up enormously. We have felt compelled to step forward and err on the side of generosity. Several churches, individuals, and a foundation have stepped forward to provide additional funds to help us care for those we serve during this time.
For the first time, we have begun distributing food to families. Almost all of us on the team have been sending grocery orders to families we are in relationship with, helping them to survive this season. A member of our Arabic-speaking church, S, recently confessed faith in Christ and was baptized. Immediately following his confession, he began experiencing persecution by his wife and two sons. He has been unwavering, rejoicing that he is counted worthy to suffer for Christ. COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to send groceries to not only S, but also to his entire family including his sister-in-law and her three children. We are doing this as a church to both encourage our dear brother in need and also to present a loving witness to his family. A young believer is learning to return good for evil.
Our refugee fellowships typically share a meal together as a part of their Sunday worship. We have been using that food budget and then adding to it significantly to send groceries to members in need every two weeks. For many of these brothers and sisters in Christ, this is the only help they are receiving. Most have been without work since March. I had this text exchange with someone we sent groceries to:
“Hi A. Thank you so much” – B
“It is not a big gift, but I hope it is a help.” - A
“You thought of us; that’s enough. Thank you.” – B
“You have always helped me. I will never forget it.” – B
“May the Lord protect you from evil.” – B
One couple on our team shared about calling a sweet refugee woman they had been meeting with regularly before COVID-19 hit. They had not spoken for a couple of months; in part because the husband was one of a couple of our teammates that required hospitalization. After catching up for a while, we asked how they were doing and if they had enough food. The young woman responded, “My husband lost his job three weeks ago. I asked him today to go to the store and get some food for us. He told me that he can’t because we don’t have any money. Then you called.” They laughed and talked together about how good God is and how perfect His timing is.
The ability to care for people in their time of need has also opened up many doors for conversation and relationship. Every time we send groceries, we are able to let people know that they come from God’s people who care for them and are praying for them.
Another teammate met a woman over Zoom during the first week of lockdown. The city only gave two-hours of notice. She did not have enough food for her six children over the weekend. She found herself going through trash cans hoping to find bread that had been thrown away to feed them. They got groceries to her first thing on Monday morning, as soon as the lockdown lifted. They are now meeting weekly to share and read together.
Discipleship continues online, as the team seeks to do all it can to care for those entrusted to us. We have helped to pay for rent for some in more extreme situations, as well as helping to cover utility bills to keep people from losing water or electricity.
Here is a message sent from a teammate about a conversation started with a refugee after she sent groceries:
“Random encouragement. I just ordered groceries for a sweet lady and she did the usual ‘May God pay you back for what you did’ thing, and I just went for it and told her basically thank God He doesn’t give me what I deserve which is judgment but instead gives me grace. Anyways we’re in a big text discussion now about prosperity, faith, and Job. All because of groceries.”
Here is a message sent from a mother that we have also been helping out with groceries and rent:
“Hello my dear friend! I dreamed there was an earthquake. Everything was falling down, buildings, mountains, everything. The only place that was safe and without evil was the church. It was the only secure place and was full of light and a peaceful sound was coming from inside. I think it was the sound of worshipping God. It was starting from inside the church but was going up towards the sky, and filling the sky with this peaceful sound. My kids and I went into the church for refuge. Before I entered the church I wanted to clean my hands and face but there was no water. There was something that was like water, but it was not water. I think the reason I wanted to find water to clean myself was to get rid of my sins.”
We also received this text from a believing brother and a friend we have been helping:
“Hello everyone, thank you for your prayers for M. He was reading the Bible and listening to me and some of our other brothers, and last night he accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and God, now he is thinking of getting baptized sometime.”