Multi-agency relief fund kept church doors open amid COVID-19

Evangelio En Accion in Selma, California, is doing as much as it can to bring the gospel to the community with help from Congregational Relief Fund

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The Evangelio En Accion, or “Gospel in Action” church, holds a potluck dinner outdoors. Photo: Urbano Gonzalez

The Evangelio En Accion, or “Gospel in Action” church is in the business of hope. But when COVID-19 swept the world, the small Mennonite Brethren church nearly shut down.

Located in Selma, California—known as the “raisin capital of the world”—the church serves what church member Urbano Gonzalez calls “the barrio,” where there’s a high concentration of farm workers.

“We’ve been trying to keep the ministry going there for 10 years,” says Gonzalez, who is not only a church member but also identifies himself as a groundskeeper, treasurer and building manager. “The pandemic really impacted us.”

Known to most locals simply as “the Hispanic church,” Evangelio En Accion now has about 40 families who attend. But when COVID-19 was at its worst, both attendance and giving dwindled precariously.

“Our pastor got ill and so we had to have an interim pastor, then we shut down for a number of months,” Gonzalez says. Their original pastor, sadly, passed away from complications of COVID-19 during the winter.

When Gonzalez heard about the COVID-19 Congregational Relief Fund in early 2020, he decided he’d fill out an application. Launched in April 2020, the fund was originally seeded with a combined $800,000 commitment from Everence®, Mennonite Central Committee U.S., and Mennonite Disaster Service in the U.S., plus an additional $220,553 in contributions from other donors.

Evangelio En Accion received $5,000 from the fund; Gonzalez believes it helped keep the church doors open.

“We weren’t having offerings coming in,” he says. “Some people in our congregation were afraid to come to church.”

The church used the funds to pay the pastor’s salary, improve the ventilation in the church and offer ministries such as food and clothing distribution.

Now the church is back up to its former level of attendance—and Gonzalez has taken on even more roles.

He cues music off the internet for Sunday services—“we don’t have a piano,” he says—and teaches Sunday School. He also started a volleyball league for single men in the neighborhood, many of them farm laborers who are disconnected from their extended families.

“There are a lot of undocumented folks who live around our church, a lot low-income, Spanish-speaking people,” Gonzalez says. “We’re trying to do as much as we can to bring the gospel to the community.”

In June 2020, Gonzalez sent a $100 check as a personal donation back to the Congregational Relief Fund.

“I’m not a rich person, and I’m retired, but I thought of it as a token of appreciation,” he saya. “It was just my thank-you note.”

He still prays for the end of the pandemic. “We want to keep the ministry going,” he says.

Evangelio En Accion is one of many churches helped by the Congregational Relief Fund, which is now closing as the COVID-19 pandemic eases. With the first grant approval made in April 2020, and the final ones approved March 2021, the fund distributed 216 grants to congregations that represented 15 different denominations and more than 16 ethnic groups in 29 states and Puerto Rico.

About Mennonite Central Committee

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is a worldwide ministry of Anabaptist churches, sharing God’s love and compassion for all in the name of Christ by responding to basic human needs and working for peace and justice. In 2020, MCC commemorated 100 years of relief, developmen, and peacebuilding work, today in more than 50 countries including the U.S. To learn more, visit mcc.org or call 717-859-1151.

 

About Mennonite Disaster Service

Mennonite Disaster Service is a volunteer network of Anabaptist churches that responds in Christian love to those affected by disasters in Canada and the United States. While the focus is on clean up, repair and rebuilding homes, this service touches lives and nurtures hope, faith, and wholeness. To learn more, visit mds.mennonite.net or call 800-241-8111.

 

About Everence

Everence helps individuals, organizations and congregations integrate finances with faith through a national team of financial professionals. Everence offers banking, insurance and financial services with community benefits and stewardship education. From July 2020 through July 2021, Everence celebrates 75 years of stewardship – people putting faith into action by sharing resources with each other. To learn more, visit everence.com or call 800-348-7468

Everence
Everence®, the stewardship ministry of Mennonite Church USA, serves individuals, organizations and congregations that share the stewardship principle that all we are and all we have are from God (Psalm 24), a historic biblical belief of Mennonite/Anabaptist Christians. Many Everence members belong to denominations that have historic roots or relationships with the Anabaptist faith community, including the U.S. Conference of MB Churches.

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