As soon as the country closed its schools and training centres due to the coronavirus pandemic, Jane* knew she needed to act. For the past eight years, she has served with a small team reaching out to a particular group in the Middle East: families who have children with disabilities.
“We quickly scrambled to put a few things together in a hygiene package that could be given out to the 50 families that we work with on a regular basis. As they are amongst the more vulnerable within the population, we felt it was important to do what we could to help them protect themselves from the virus,” she said.
The hygiene packs consisted of disinfectant hand gel, bars of soap, tissues, an information sheet about how to protect themselves from the virus and a package of small disposable coffee cups (family members often share cups while drinking Arabic coffee). These items were already running low in shops and pharmacies, so Jane and others visited several stores and relied on connections to source the supplies.
Jane and the team delivered the hygiene packs just before the country suspended travel between cities. “At this moment it is difficult to do anything other than staying in touch over the phone with the people in the villages and speaking words of hope,” she explained.
The calls are mainly about peace in the midst of stormy circumstances, “God’s care for us and that whatever happens we are in His hands,” Jane said. “They are always encouraged by the phone calls, so I don’t know what’s encouraging them the most — the fact that I’m calling them or if it’s the actual words.”
At times, Jane doesn’t know what to say when people share about their difficult situations, but she always assures them of her prayers. “Sometimes I pray right there and then on the phone.”
Jane does not take such opportunities lightly. She and her teammates are the first Jesus followers most of the families in the rural communities have ever met. Geographically far from existing churches, these people also face other significant barriers to understanding God’s love: their close-knit society––“which makes it difficult for anyone to question anything they’ve been taught,” Jane explained––and also the widely prevalent misconceptions of what Christianity is.
Because of the work Jane and her team have been doing––advocating for the children with disabilities, removing shame and celebrating the smallest physical improvements––the community has welcomed them in. “Through our ministry we are able to show the love of Jesus in very practical ways, and it opens doors and breaks down barriers. God has not only opened doors into that community but also into people's homes and their hearts. With time, as we’ve been building relationships, people have started to open up.”
Although her team will abide by government restrictions as long as they last, Jane said they will continue relief interventions once the curfew is lifted. “It's still early stages and we don't know exactly how the community will in the long term be affected by this crisis. As things unfold, we will find out more what the most urgent needs are and how we can serve the most vulnerable in that community.”