Coronavirus updates: May 20

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This week’s round-up of news about how USMB ministries and inter-Mennonite agencies are responding to COVID-19 begins with a report from MB Foundation on donors’ generous support for the Church Relief Fund. You will also read about Fresno Pacific University’s Center for Community Transformation raising funds for local nonprofits and two MB congregations that are among those blessed by grants from a relief fund created by Everence, MDS and MCC. We share additional news from MCC about their response to COVID-19, including the decision to reduce programs.

As of May 20, more than 92,000 people have died from coronavirus in the U.S., and 1.5 million cases have been reported. All 50 states are at least partially reopened, even though as of May 19, at least 17 of them had recorded a clear upward trend of average new daily cases over the prior week.

Donors give generously to MB Foundation’s Church Relief Fund

MB Foundation and USMB combined efforts to encourage generosity on Giving Tuesday Now, a global day of giving May 5 in response to the coronavirus.

Forty-five donors responded and with matched dollars the amount added to the COVID-19 Church Relief Fund in one day was $32,426. The average gift was $409.47 and the largest gift was $5,000. All of the original $60,000 in matching pledge funds were realized and matched.

MB Foundation created the COVID-19 Church Relief Fund to help churches maintain financial stability, prevent major staff transitions, and continue to preach the word of God and provide pastoral care. As of May 12, 39 churches have received grants from this fund administered by district ministers and the USMB national director. The total raised and contributed to the fund is $490,593, including $375,000 from MB Foundation.

More information about MB Foundation’s response to the COVID-19 crisis is available at www.mbfoundation.com/covid19.

USMB offers webinar in Spanish

USMB and the Center for Anabaptist Studies is hosting a webinar Saturday, May 23, for Spanish-speaking pastors and leaders. The webinar, How to Equip and Serve the Church during the COVID-19 crisis, will cover topics including new challenges in the midst of crisis, new models of church, health and self-care, resources and opportunities and time for discussion. Participants are asked to register here.

CCT coordinates $100,000 for local nonprofits

More than $100,000 has been raised as of May  12 in an effort coordinated by Fresno Pacific University’s Center for Community Transformation (CCT) to support faith-based nonprofits and community benefit organizations that are providing crucial value to the community, but which are small enough to be vulnerable to “catching” COVID-19.

Working in partnership with a group of nonprofit leaders, Randy White, CCT executive director, created the Faith-Based Nonprofit Resilience Fund in early April after a CCT survey showed one in three small faith-based nonprofits in the Valley had to lay off or furlough staff and one in four said their existence would be threatened if shelter-in-place restrictions extended into May. Fresno’s shelter-in-place order, first established March 19, is set to expire June 1, and the state directive continues based on local conditions rather than a date.

The fund is a 45-day push to raise money needed to ensure stability and viability in the aftermath of the pandemic. The first gifts were sent beginning May 11 and will continue until the end of the campaign. The campaign remains open until June 15.

Read more at: https://news.fresno.edu/article/05/12/2020/cct-fresno-pacific-university-coordinates-100000-local-nonprofits-risk-due-covid

MB churches receive grant from inter-Mennonite agencies

In 2018, Edith Aleman helps to sort food that Community Church will give to people living in Raisin City, California, where many migrants work in the agricultural fields for low wages. The food is delivered by the Fresno Food Bank and the church purchases fresh fruit and vegetables to add to the every-other-week distribution. MCC photo/Dina Gonzalez- Piña

Two Mennonite Brethren churches in California are among the congregations that received a grant provided by the COVID-19 Congregational Relief Fund launched April 13 through a partnership between Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), Everence® and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. to help Anabaptist and related churches facing financial crisis due to COVID-19.

Cristobal Aleman is the pastor of Iglesia Hermanos Menonita West Park (West Park Mennonite Brethren Church), which has 50-60 members. He also pastors 35-40-members at Iglesia de la Comunidad (Community Church) in Raisin City.

Aleman says fear is one of the biggest effects of the pandemic. Many church members, a number of whom are undocumented, feel deeply insecure after losing their jobs because they lack access to government aid or health insurance.

Many members also are afraid of contracting COVID-19, although so far no one has. Aleman says five members have left him instructions, similar to wills, for what to do if they die.

In Aleman’s churches, the grant will be used toward providing food and utilities for members, funds for a Raisin City assistant pastor who hasn’t been receiving a salary during the crisis and social programs such as two food banks run by the churches. But the grant also provides intangible benefits like a sense of comfort and community, Aleman says.

“The grant helps pastors emotionally,” he says. “They don’t feel they’re alone—we’re all together, part of a family. The grant brings joy in the middle of the pandemic.”

Read more about the fund: https://www.everence.com/everence-articles/everence-corporate/everence-news/20200511-grants-provide-help-for-anabaptist-churches-facing-financial-crisis

MCC announces program changes due to COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has scaled up its response to the global crisis, increasing projects related to water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH), local health initiatives and food relief At the same time, the negative economic effects of the coronavirus, including funding uncertainties, travel restrictions and other factors has prompted the relief agency to reduce programs.

All programming in South Africa, Lesotho, Estonia (formerly Swaziland), Vietnam and China will be discontinued in either 2020 or 2021. Administrative changes to programs in Africa, Central America, the Middle East and West Europe will result in 13 positions ending in the current  fiscal year. There will also be shifts in U.S. and Canadian work. For details on these changes, visit the MCC website: https://mcc.org/stories/mcc-announces-program-changes-due-covid-19

MCC gives canned meat in U.S. to people impacted by COVID-19 economic crisis

Because of the urgent needs caused by the coronavirus, this year MCC U.S. has distributed about 10,000 cans of meat in the U.S., including Fresno County, California; Northfork, West Virginia; Harlan, Kentucky; and multiple locations on the East Coast. In Puerto Rico, MCC canned meat was already prepositioned to respond to natural disasters. Now these resources are being used to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic instead.

Read the full story on MCC website: https://mcc.org/stories/canned-meat-impacts-those-vulnerable-covid-19-us

MCC offers webinar series on COVID-19 and border realities

Mennonite Central Committee is providing a free, six-part webinar series on immigration and border realities during COVID-19.

According to the MCC website,  the webinars will “provide insight into the current reality of the U.S. immigration and border crisis. We will seek to understand in a comprehensive way the complexities along the southern U.S. border, the sister communities affected by it and the different ongoing narratives about migration. Explore the role we in faith-based communities can play to witness, provide support, raise awareness and advocate for the most vulnerable. Interpretación al Español Disponible.”

Webinar topics include: Immigration in times of COVID-19; border realities; asylum; church efforts to address immigration; MCC’s migration work in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala/El Salvador; and church-based immigration legal services.

The next webinar, “Church efforts to address immigration,” is scheduled for Tuesday, June 2 at 1 p.m. CST.

To register for upcoming webinars or to view past webinars, visit: http://www.mcc.org/immigration-webinar-series.

MCC advocates for compassionate release for elderly, sick, debilitated prisoners

Mennonite Central Committee is among those advocating for compassionate release for the elderly, sick or debilitated U.S. prisoners. There are 20,119 positive cases of COVID-19 in U.S. prisons as of May 12, 2020, and 304 people have died. COVID-19 spreads like wildfire once it is found in prisons due to the difficulty of implementing the CDC’s guidelines.

Due to the constant cycle of staff and other workers between the prison or jail and community, high rates of infection among incarcerated people also result in higher rates of infection in the community. Cutting down the infection rate in prisons also cuts down the infection rate in the surrounding communities.

To read more about this issue and MCC’s response to the situation, visit the MCC website: https://mcc.org/stories/call-compassionate-release

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Connie Faber
Editor
Connie Faber joined the magazine staff in 1994 and assumed the duties of editor in 2004. She has won awards from the Evangelical Press Association for her writing and editing. Faber is the co-author of Family Matters: Discovering the Mennonite Brethren. She and her husband, David, have two daughters, one son, one daughter-in-law and one son-in-law. They are members of Ebenfeld MB Church in Hillsboro, Kansas.

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