By Natalie Sarrett
Imagine living in such deeply rooted generational poverty that soap is a luxury.
Picture having been so deprived of basic hygiene practices that handwashing is a foreign concept to your entire family.
Envision having such limited access to media that you didn’t know what COVID-19 was or how to protect your loved ones from it.
This is a reality for many families throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
Because information is a scarce commodity in rural regions, many communities only knew that a wave of death was sweeping the globe. This lack of understanding caused widespread panic and fear of what was to come. Few local leaders even knew what the term “COVID-19” or “coronavirus” meant, so harmful superstitious ideas began to take root in some villages.
In one of these nations, Send Relief discovered that, over time, the relationship between the Church and its surrounding population had been strained and filled with distrust. Seeing an opportunity to bridge the gap between faith communities and the villages to which they minister, Send Relief partnered with local churches in two villages that are known for having the worst poverty levels in the area.
Volunteers from these churches set up handwashing stations at intersections of high-traffic areas, like the outdoor markets and mosques, and printed out informational posters and pamphlets detailing what the coronavirus is and how to combat it. Each pamphlet also contained a gospel message at the end, along with a link to a video illustrating proper handwashing techniques. To houses nearest the churches, volunteers were also able to distribute bars of soap—an unaffordable treat for most families.
While this project was conducted mainly to meet an urgent physical need, it was also a way for the community to heal by alleviating some of the unfounded fear that was spreading due to misinformation. Many were amazed that proclaiming Christians would set up handwashing stations at mosques and care for their Muslim brothers and sisters, and local partners report that their relationships with those previously hostile to gospel conversations have vastly improved.
One Muslim woman who received a hygiene pamphlet, gospel presentation and soap told us, “Christians care more about us than our own religious leaders.”
She explained that their imams were constantly chastising Christians and how little they acted on their faith, but seeing our local partners ministering to them in such tangible acts of love changed her perspective.
The other villagers were beyond grateful for the help they received. Some partners explained that although the villagers knew that washing their hands was key to stopping the spread of the virus, they were unsure of how to do that, given how rare and expensive soap is in their town.
Ultimately, you helped Send Relief serve more than 10,000 people in this region, giving them hope and practical tools to improve the health and safety of their families. Hundreds of people heard the gospel, and the relationship with the local Church has drastically improved.
Thank you for being the hands and feet of Jesus to communities at risk in the pandemic! To learn more about how to make an impact, go to sendrelief.org/covid.