By Bekah Rhea
This past Sunday, March 22, millions of Christians gathered in front of their laptops, tablets and smartphones as churches around the world continued to rapidly adapt their ministries in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic. For most congregations, this included some variation of an online service and preparation to approach Lent and Easter activities from a physical distance. We must persist, though our calendars—and our lives in general—have been abruptly disrupted.
While congregations are navigating these new challenges and uncertain times, community and outreach ministries are also facing a variety of obstacles. In times like these, access to human capital and community assets changes daily. Highly contextualized community-development practitioners are doing their best to keep up. Chiquikta Fountain, executive director of Delta Hands for Hope, is one of those practitioners adapting her ministry to pandemic circumstances. Delta Hands for Hope is part of Together For Hope, CBF’s rural development coalition, one of 18 partner organizations across the country focusing on education, health, housing and social enterprise through an asset-based development model.
Based in Shaw, Mississippi, Fountain explained that the community Delta Hands for Hope serves is no stranger to disaster. In the heart of the Mississippi Delta, Shaw has bounced back from flooding, tornadoes and more. However, never in her extensive career has Fountain seen anything remotely like the COVID-19 global pandemic. The hoarding of supplies is disproportionately affecting people on very limited incomes like many of those in Shaw. Overall, Fountain wisely noted this situation is “highlighting vulnerabilities that we have that we didn’t even know that we had,” not just as an organization, but as human beings.
Delta Hands for Hope is focused on equipping school-age children with important life skills, resources and principles. Obviously, a pandemic brings programming like after-school activities and college tours to a grinding halt; but, as Fountain reiterated, this is much more than cancellation. Kids are still paying attention, and they’re “still scared because they can’t see it, smell it or touch it.” This microscopic virus has massive power, just like any natural disaster—yet it is invisible and unpredictable.
On March 19, a clinic near Delta Hands for Hope’s facility had the first patient to test positive for the virus in Shaw. Forced to evacuate, Fountain and her board of directors are still working to accomplish what they can outside of their facility. Prior to evacuation, they had implemented a lunch program serving three or four children in the building at a time thanks to and in partnership with McEvans Elementary School and West Bolivar Consolidated School District. Now, they are working closely with the mayor in order to continue to secure resources for families during this uncertain time.
A testament to their impact, Delta Hands for Hope hasn’t been short on volunteers, which they often rely on. The majority of these willing and eager volunteers are former members, college students who are home now that their classes have changed format. Fountain said that these devoted young people with a lower risk for being affected by COVID-19 are still “making themselves available” because they think of Delta Hands for Hope as their home. Once there is access to the building again, Fountain plans on offering space and internet access to these students, so that they can complete online coursework.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Mississippi is expected to substantially increase but Chiquikta Fountain is fittingly hopeful. She sees this as an opportunity to “equip our kids with the knowledge to be first responders in their own neighborhood.” Delta Hands for Hope welcomes collaboration with any experts in disaster preparedness, virology or related areas. Such professionals can “open up doors to areas kids never knew existed,” and inspire the next generation of first responders, literally and figuratively.
The global pandemic has made many ministers feel woefully under-prepared. But Delta Hands for Hope is using community development to make sure that generations to come are prepared to respond to disasters like these with a spirit of wisdom and persistence.
You can support Delta Hands for Hope first and foremost, by prayer. Fountain asks that you “pray that God would continue to cover us, give us wisdom, and that we would continue to be a beacon of hope.” You can also visit their website for other ways to support Delta Hands for Hope and CBF’s Together for Hope coalition as we all learn a new normal of ministry in the age of COVID-19.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has created a resource hub for the benefit of individuals and congregations in these uncertain times. Bold Faith Resources features original and curated resources for children, youth, adults, worship, missions, prayer, spiritual care, Spanish speakers and digital ministry resources for churches. This hub also includes all COVID-19-related news and updates for the Fellowship. Learn more at www.cbf.net/boldfaith.