Presbyterian Church of East Africa: If people don’t work today, they won’t eat tomorrow
by the Rev. Lauren Scharstein | Special to Presbyterian News Service
NAIROBI, Kenya — On March 15, the Kenyan government confirmed the first cases of COVID-19 and announced a nationwide ban on large gatherings, along with the closure of schools and nonessential businesses. Two days later, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) held a press conference to announce the closure of its worship services in adherence with the government directive.
Even as members of the PCEA leadership discussed the closing of in-person worship services, they recognized the human impact of the government directives. The secretary general summed it up clearly: “For many of our people, if they don’t work today, they won’t eat tomorrow.” In a country with nearly 65% of its people working in the informal labor sector, those same directives meant keeping people safe would lead to food insecurity. People around the country could be heard saying they would rather die of COVID-19 than hunger.
“When people are hungry, it’s not about giving them bread for one day,” said the Rev. Peter Kaniah Kariuki, secretary general of the PCEA. “It is about walking with them throughout their period of need whereby you will be able to testify to the goodness of the Lord when you see the daybreak together.”
Within two weeks the leaders of the PCEA had mobilized 4.5 million church members to provide food and support for families. The “Adopt a Family” initiative fed more than 32,000 families throughout East Africa in April and May, and its efforts continue. Parishes and presbyteries have heeded God’s command to love one another in times of joy and struggle. PCEA members and friends have shown up with bags of maize and flour, vegetables and milk, tea leaves and sugar, and money to purchase essential items.
In collaboration with local congregations and community administrative officials, the PCEA has identified the families most at risk and is walking with these families by providing a monthly delivery that provides enough food to sustain a family of four. The church hopes to continue the monthly drop-offs until the pandemic is over, but at least through June.
Some of the members who are donating also are struggling financially during this time. “We have some faithful members who have committed to giving 50 Kenya shillings a week (around 50 cents), and they have been donating each week for the past eight weeks,” Kariuki said. “We also have some rural congregations who could not donate money. One such congregation from Nyahururu, a fertile part of the country, sent an entire truckload of corn that they had recently harvested for families in the informal settlements of Nairobi.”
A Presbyterian Disaster Assistance grant of $8,500 will allow the PCEA’s Adopt a Family initiative to provide emergency food relief and hygiene supplies for vulnerable families. On average, it costs around $50 to feed a family of four people for a month, as well as to provide masks, antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer. So, through this grant, PDA is feeding and protecting 170 families for a month. PDA continues to provide grants for needs such as this through contributions to disaster relief in East Africa.
The Rev. Lauren Scharstein is deputy director for mission with the Presbyterian Church of East Africa. Founded in 1891 and headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, the PCEA includes 56 presbyteries. Its 4.5 million church members primarily focus on four missional areas: evangelism and church growth, education, health care, and water and sustainability.
The Rev. Paula Cooper, regional liaison for East Central Africa, facilitates PC(USA) relationships with partner churches and institutions in Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia. Cooper also provides support for PC(USA) mission personnel and Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) in the region. She assists PC(USA) congregations and presbyteries that are or who want to be in relationship with partners in East Central Africa. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe to her letters. Consider supporting her work in East Central Africa.
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