It is now over a year after the first case of COVID 19 was reported in Kenya. Since then, today’s official government reports indicate that over 6000 people have tested positive for the virus.
To curb the spread of this pandemic, the government of Kenya instituted physical (not social) distancing, the mandatory use of masks in public, the washing of hands, the establishment of quarantine facilities for those traveling from high-risk contact areas, the restriction of passenger travels from abroad, the suspension of all forms of social gathering including religious gathering, the implementation of a dusk to dawn curfew and the cessation of travels to and from Nairobi, among other measures. The net result of these measures has been the paralyzing of all non-essential services and travels.
While the government’s daily briefings focus on those infected with COVID 19, it does not reveal the number of Kenyans whose lives have been affected due to the pandemic by means other than direct infection. Reports indicate that in Nairobi alone, 84% of its 5 million residents have had their daily lives greatly impacted by COVID 19. More particularly, the 54% rate of unemployment is largely attributed to the pandemic. A report released on the 30th of June by TIFA Research shows that “among those who had been earning prior to the crisis, almost all (96%) report that they are now earning either ‘very little’ or ‘nothing’ relative to what they had been earning before”. This report also reveals that the economic interventions by the government to buffer Kenyans against financial hardship have not been felt by the ordinary citizen. With no direct and concrete social aid from the government, life has become more arduous for the poor majority.
In the midst of this, the church in Kenya has stood with their communities and continued to shine the love of Jesus Christ through various activities aimed at alleviating the pain of its neighbors. In a recent report by Shahidihub Africa, 56.67% of the churches across the 33 counties surveyed were involved in helping the poor with food; 42.86% had a targeted support of basic needs to the most vulnerable including the elderly and the people living with disabilities; 21.08% extended help with basic needs to those affected by natural calamities, while 17.56% offered similar support to Children Homes within their neighborhood.
The material support highlighted above is significant as the church itself has been financially hit by the crisis (For more on this, see Shahidihub Africa). Their own financial vulnerability has not, however, deterred them from generously tending to the vulnerability that surrounds them. The survey found that 11.71% paid rent for those who had lost their jobs. Of note is the fact that the survey does not show whether the beneficiaries were Christians or not. These churches have given materially, not because they are financially rich but because they love giving. Like the Macedonian churches in the midst of severe suffering and trials, their extreme poverty catalyzed rich generosity (2 Cor.8:1-5).
More importantly, it is precisely this love and generosity that validates their commitment to the gospel. Beside material support, churches have also enhanced spiritual services to foster spiritual growth, comfort, compassion, and reconciliation. Some of the noted activities include prayer support [82.20%], counseling (personal problems, conflicts, job losses) [64.40%] and the sharing of the gospel [57.61%]. The heightening of spiritual services and engagement during this pandemic indicates the Church’s hunger for God and its deep-rooted hope. Through prayer, support, counselling and sharing the gospel, individuals and families have had their lives considerably ameliorated in the face of what is proving to be a difficult time.
Lastly, through reaching out to those affected, the Kenyan Church has demonstrated the integrity of the gospel. It has embodied the idea that the gospel does not concern solely of the sharing of the word or meeting the needs of the people but dynamically is comprised of both. They have shown that their presence in a community is not simply to target individuals with a religious agenda but to extend love having fully considered the personhood of the individual. The depersonalization of a human being is irreconcilable with the revelatory and transformative encounter with the person of Jesus. Therefore, though church buildings remain closed and gathering for worship services remain suspended, the church according to this survey, is as active as it has ever been. As Deon K. Johnson, Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Missouri, so succinctly concludes:
“The work of the church is essential. The work of caring for the lonely, the marginalized, and the oppressed is essential. The work of speaking truth to power and seeking justice is essential. The work of being a loving, liberating, and life-giving presence in the world is essential. The work of welcoming the stranger, the refugee and the undocumented is essential. The work of reconciliation and healing and caring is essential. The church does not need to “open” because the church never “closed”. We who make up the Body of Christ, the church, love God and our neighbors and ourselves so much that we will stay away from our buildings until it is safe. We are the church.” (Bishop-elect. D. K. Johnson, June 2020).
Guest Contributor: Birgen K. M. Araap Cheruiyot;
Ph.D (Religious Studies) Student; McGill University, Montreal, QC.
Research Interests: Hebrew Bible; Old Testament Ethics; Immigration & Public Policy