So much has changed since the Bishop of Southwark chose his Lent Call projects for 2020 that it feels as if we are in a completely different world. All the places where this year’s Lent Call projects are situated have been affected in one way or another.
Our friends in Zimbabwe tell us that the lockdown restrictions there are more restrictive than here. Banks are closed as well as government offices and shops. The stalls where many sell fruit and vegetables to make a living, and which many use to buy food, lie abandoned and it is hard to see how people will manage to get the provisions they need. The government has imposed the lockdown for 21 days initially from 30 March following the reporting of seven cases of COVID-19 and one death. The situation in Zimbabwe has been so precarious for so long now that this added difficulty for the economy and the people will be incredibly hard.
The Holy Land, as you will have seen from earlier posts on this blog, is also in lockdown as there have been cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank and elsewhere. As in Zimbabwe, the situation in the Holy Land, with the years of tension and the increasing economic and social difficulties, will make the plight of those in lockdown even harder. Many Palestinians who work in Israel have travelled home because they are frightened of getting ill there and this is going to make the pressure on hospitals in the West Bank, which are already stretched, even worse.
As you will know from earlier blogs, during our Diocesan Pilgrimage we were unable to visit the L’Arche Community which we are supporting in the Lent Call, but we know that they are struggling during the lockdown as people are unable to be together as usual.
Kaduna in Nigeria, where we are supporting the Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations, has gone into lockdown as well because of COVID-19 cases in the neighbouring areas. Here, too, is a place where there has been tension and so it is important that we pray for all those whom we are supporting that they might find ways to survive this crisis and work together to bring about an end to the spread of the virus as quickly as possible.
But it is not just in other parts of the world that the effects of Coronavirus are being felt. Here in our own Diocese and across the country people are having to deal with being locked down.
The offices of Sparkfish have closed on the advice of Government and the work that takes place in schools has had to stop. The Easter Experience, which the team had been planning for a long time, could not go ahead and the staff have been put on furlough as there is no work that they can do, although it is hoped that the staff will be able to come back to work when the schools go back. Sparkfish asks for our prayers for the young people whose lives have been so profoundly affected at this time, especially those who were expecting to take GCSEs and A-levels.
The Nicholas Stewart Project has moved online during this period and the team is hoping to be able to stay in touch with those they work with in this way. It is not, they say, the same as working face to face, but it allows them to continue to offer help and support to at-risk young people in Wandsworth.
Superkidz is still doing what it can for local families who are in need, as Nick Russell, Manager of the Superkidz Community Trust, says: ”We are distributing more than 100 activity packs and Easter eggs to children and young people, with an Easter story colour in card. (See photos of the team social distancing!). I am also uploading videos for children and carers and young people which will include videos for Easter. We have a WhatsApp group for vulnerable girls, and we are setting one up for Years 6-8 and for Years 9 and above.”
He adds: “We are phoning around our parents and carers weekly to see how they are. We have applied for funding to be able to top up food and electricity or gas for families, where a wage earner has had to stop work and where shortages in budget supermarkets have meant extra spending in convenience stores.” So, as you will see, there is a lot to do and Superkidz continues to work hard to support local families.
This is an Easter day like none other that we have known and it will be hard for many, but please pray for our Lent Call projects and, where you can, give generously to them. Let us join with Bishop Christopher who at the end of his Easter message reminds us that we say today:
Hallelujah, Christ is Risen, he is Risen indeed, Hallelujah.