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With street markets closed, members of the Oyaro Church of Christ in Kenya receive food aid from Healing Hands International. The church has many orphans and widows due to HIV/AIDS.
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Photos provided by Healing Hands International

As pandemic drags on, suffer the little children


So far, COVID-19 has spared children from the worst of its physical effects. 

Most reported cases in kids appear to be asymptomatic or mild, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story, workers with relief ministries told The Christian Chronicle.

“There are ample reasons to believe that the malnutrition rate — which was already significant, especially among children from poor families — is increasing at an alarming rate.”

In Managua, Nicaragua, families are out of work because of the pandemic and can’t pay their children’s school fees. Children are missing out on lunches provided by the schools, said Freddy Noel Gonzalez, a program director for Christian Relief Fund. 

“There are ample reasons to believe that the malnutrition rate — which was already significant, especially among children from poor families — is increasing at an alarming rate,” Gonzalez said.

In Mount Elgon, Kenya, kids are homeless and hungry, said another Christian Relief Fund program director, Peter Marangach.

“Across the mountain, people are feeling the pain of hunger,” Marangach said. “With the majority of our people still struggling with the effects of a long tribal war, suddenly coronavirus surfaced and worsened our problems.”

Even before the pandemic, hunger worldwide was on the rise. Two billion people, more than one-quarter of the world’s population, experienced hunger or did not have regular access to nutritious and sufficient food in 2019, according to a report by multinational agencies including UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

Now, according to projections, “the COVID-19 pandemic may add an additional 83 to 132 million people to the ranks of the undernourished in 2020,” said the report, “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World.” Food supply disruptions and loss of livelihoods put children at higher risk of malnutrition and “stunting,” impaired growth and development.

As churches and ministries that serve children address the growing needs, they must navigate ever-changing regulations and provide safe environments for their workers — all while staying focused on Jesus’ call in Matthew 19 to “suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me.” 

‘ALL EQUAL IN THE EYES OF GOD’

White flags, a universal sign of surrender, are going up across Guatemala, said Rick Harper, U.S. missions director for Health Talents International, a medical ministry supported by Churches of Christ. 

Families in need of food assistance place the flags outside their homes, and Health Talents workers find local churches or ministries that can help. 

With their usual summer mission trips canceled, “most ministries in Guatemala and Latin America have transitioned to serving humanitarian needs,” Harper said, “especially those who receive U.S. teams to supplement their ministry efforts.”

“The thing that is striking is how everyone around the world, regardless of social status, is facing the same situation right now.”

Health Talents uses telemedicine, when possible, for checkups of kids in its ABC program, a child-sponsorship effort that provides children with nutritious food and resources for their education.

“The thing that is striking is how everyone around the world, regardless of social status, is facing the same situation right now:” said Kemmel Dunham, the ministry’s Central America missions director. He cited “health concerns, financial crises, delays in plans, relationship strain, political unrest, uncertainty about the future and on and on.”

“It brings to mind how we are all equal in the eyes of God,” Dunham said. “He is no respecter of persons and gives us all the freedom to choose to obey him or not. But he expects us all to answer to him ultimately.”

In southern India, orphans who recently lost their grandmother receive bags of food from the Nellore Church of Christ, provided through Healing Hands International.

In southern India, orphans who recently lost their grandmother receive bags of food from the Nellore Church of Christ, provided through Healing Hands International.

RELIEF EFFORTS UNDERWAY

Following is a summary of additional reports sent to the Chronicle from ministries with ties to Churches of Christ that serve children and families:

• In Nicaragua, “members of the church and their family members are leaving this world in the anonymity of nightly, express burials,” said Dr. Xiomara Amador, who works with Medical Care Ministry, sponsored by the Baldwin Park Church of Christ in California. 

The ministry seeks assistance to feed more than 100 families who have lost their primary breadwinners to the virus, Amador said.

Healing Hands International has sent assistance to 14 countries, “and churches on the ground have been able to help numerous children and families,” said Jana Owen, vice president of operations. 

• Workers with Orphan’s Lifeline International set a goal to purchase three months of food for the children’s homes the ministry supports, especially those in hard-hit Africa and India, said Larry Bertram, who serves on the nonprofit’s staff. 

“One of the biggest problems with so much shut down in African countries is finding adequate food supplies and getting it transported to local markets where we can purchase it for the children,” Bertram said. “Plus, some countries are experiencing famine on top of the pandemic.”

International Health Care Foundation has distributed food to communities in Nigeria and Tanzania, said executive director Kevin Linderman.

“Also, our clinics provide nutritional counseling to mothers of small children, and we do growth charting to identify malnourished kids or kids at risk of malnourishment,” Linderman said, noting that children in Tanzania are at particular risk of stunting due to protein deficiency. 

• In Haiti, Hope for Haiti’s Children sponsors 10 schools associated with Churches of Christ. Before the pandemic, at least 70 percent of the schools’ students were coming to school hungry, said Ken Bever, the ministry’s president. When schools shut down, the ministry organized food distributions for students. 

As the ministry prepares to restart schools, Bever said, “even the teens in our most ‘affluent’ downtown Port-au-Prince schools are pleading for us to provide them with a lunch.  Last year, they did not need or desire to eat the free school lunch, but now it seems that hunger is impacting all our students.”

Great Cities Missions has sent food aid to churches in Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela, said Chris Fry, director of Latin mission teams. 

“We’ve sent funds to the missionaries, and the missionaries have bought food for church members who have lost incomes,” Fry said. Members of more than 100 Churches of Christ have received aid.

PHYSICAL AND SPIRITUAL NEEDS

“There is enough food to go around in this world,” said Milton Jones, president of Christian Relief Fund. But getting it to those in need “will require a different kind of thinking, a different kind of economy and a different kind of generosity.”

Ebenezer Udofia

Ebenezer Udofia

During the pandemic, the ministry “has had to become a food distributor more than ever before,” Jones said, but workers are committed to the goal that “none of the thousands of children CRF supports will go hungry.”

In Luhrare, Kenya, Churches of Christ have opened dispensaries to provide for the needs of women and children, said Samson Wangila, a CRF program director. “These medical facilities advise the locals on the need for balanced diets, especially for the children and the elderly.”

Beyond the physical needs, families need spiritual support, said Ebenezer Udofia, African director of agriculture for Healing Hands International.

“Most people around us that we serve are feeling as if they have been swallowed up by life,” Udofia said. “Our encouragement to them is to think about what Jonah did. ‘From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.’

Filed under: Coronavirus COVID-19 covid19 Great Cities Missions Healing Hands International Health Talents International Hope for Haiti's Children International International Health Care Foundation News Orphan's Lifeline International Top Stories

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