Message- Written by Andrea Perrett, convener of the PWS&D Committee
It is a fair statement to say that 2020 was a difficult year and we know that the
challenges continue. We are not in the midst of a 100-yard-dash, rather we find ourselves
in the middle of a marathon. Covid-19 has impacted us all personally; perhaps your work
has changed, your children are at home with you, or you have been personally affected by
the virus. The coronavirus has also impacted communities; businesses are closing, and our
recreation programs and group activities are no longer available.
And the pandemic has definitely impacted congregations; whether you are able to
worship in person, or are staying online, for the first time in our memory our churches
have shuttered their doors and our worship services have been altered for the foreseeable
future, with the familiar singing, passing of the peace and coffee hours being reimagined.
The impact of COVID-19 goes beyond the borders of our country, too. As a
global pandemic, there isn’t a nation that has not had its health or economic situation
affected: sadly, many countries were already running the marathon against food insecurity
or poverty long before Covid-19 became a reality.
While the Covid-19 pandemic is extraordinary, it’s safe to say that we have all
had things we struggle with throughout our lives. When the pandemic is a distant memory,
we will still have sorrows, regrets and losses to contended with in all the important aspects
of our lives.
The Bible is a source of comfort and strength for me, especially over the past
months. And as I have spoken with others, I have been encouraged by the variety and
depth of the scriptures that they have been sustained by during this time.
One of the PWS&D Champions read Psalm 91 earlier in this service. This
scripture says, “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of
the Almighty, will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I
trust.’” I have found myself particularly drawn to this Psalm as a reminder of where I can
find my shelter and strength. It is comforting to know that for thousands of years, great
clouds of witnesses—including Christ—have also been seeking comfort and strength in
Empathy is another thing I have been turning towards and grounding myself in
these days. Life is difficult – I know that I am in need of empathy from others, and I am
trying hard to use a hardy dose of empathy with others – simply acknowledging and
understanding another’s suffering. Empathy is one of the foundational values that underlay
our Christian witnessing. Ruth shows us empathy while journeying with Naomi and Jesus
embodies empathy in action when feeding the five thousand. Paul reminds us to be
empathetic with others, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep”
(Romans 12:15), and the second half of the Great Commandment, love your neighbour as
yourself, encourages us to take a posture of empathy. For me, drawing close to God in
Scripture and practising empathy go hand in hand.
We take on a posture of empathy because we first experienced empathy from God
being empathetic with us. Through the incarnation of Jesus, God joined in with our human
story and experienced the depths of life. Simply put, Jesus understands us. He felt the joy
of friendship, the pain of rejection, and died a human death. We know what empathy is
because we have experienced it from God. As we grow more into the likeness and image
of Christ, we begin to take on a deeper posture of empathy—and we act on it. Today, on
PWS&D Sunday, we are reminded that our work of supporting PWS&D – of responding
and lifting up other people and communities around the world—is a witness to God’s
empathy, care and compassion for people.
During these extraordinary times, PWS&D’s partners around the world remain
deeply committed to their work, no matter what is going on related to the pandemic. While
need was great prior to the pandemic, meeting ever increasing need has become even more
challenging. One of our partners from Malawi commented, “Since the beginning
of the outbreak, we have never stopped working.” Our partners are so conscious of the
vital difference the programs are making at the community level, that they continue despite
the difficulties and personal risks. In many areas the pandemic has amplified the needs
that were already present. For example, in Somalia a profound lack of resources and rising
food prices due to COVID-19 have meant that many simply cannot access what is needed
to sustain their own health and that of their children.
Single mother Fatuma lives in a camp with her two-year-old daughter Hawa. A few
months ago Hawa was very sick as she was malnourished and severely underweight.
Fatuma brought her daughter to a nearby clinic supported by PWS&D, which she had
heard about from others in the camp. “I was worried Hawa would die,” recounts Fatuma.
“She spent 12 days in the stabilization centre where she was given medicine, nutritional
feeding and received a transfusion. I was also given meals while she was admitted.”
Now, Fatuma can hold her daughter close, knowing Hawa has made a full recovery.
Through Canadian Foodgrains Bank, in countries like Somalia and Afghanistan, PWS&D
is responding to increased food needs due to COVID-19 by ensuring that families and children have the food they need to survive.
In a number of countries, PWS&D has supported local partners as they repurpose program funds to provide COVID-19 support. Even as we work to carry on with our long-
term sustainable development work, families have received food kits, as well as hygiene and sanitation items, including hand soap and disinfectant wipes. Lester, a recipient of
these items commented, “I’m so thankful for your support, for the masks, for these small
expressions of love. We’re so thankful. Honestly, we didn’t have access to buy these
things since we’re so far out. But now, thanks to you, we have masks, and won’t have to
use our little bit of money to buy them. Thankfully you are here supporting us with these.
We’re so thankful.”
Part of finding our shelter with God is taking steps to extend that shelter to others
around us. As a denomination, our support of programs like this, driven by our empathy,
help to provide comfort and refuge to others around the world. When we see people
seeking the comfort and refuge of God, we are called to use empathy to invite them into
This has been a difficult time for us as individuals, as congregations and as
nations around the world. And it seems like the coming months will continue to be
difficult. Yet, as we turn towards God to sustain us during these hard times, we find that
God’s care, comfort and empathy is not limited or finite. As we draw close and find refuge
in God’s shadow during these uncertain times, let us work together to reflect this care to
others and invite them into God’s care as well.
God sides with the vulnerable. Right now, it might seem like we are all vulnerable
– but God is big enough to shelter each of us and to come along side us in our hurt and
suffering. There is plenty of room in the shadow of the Almighty, where we can all find
comfort and refuge.