“Can you help us?”
It was a humbling honor to receive this request from Molly Spearman, superintendent of the South Carolina Department of Education, directed to South Carolina Baptist churches. Because of the work our churches have done through Heart4Schools in serving over 200 schools in our state, she hoped we could help.
Our schools are in crisis as our state is gripped by the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a matter of weeks, many public schools were faced with the tough reality that the school year would begin virtually with students at home or a hybrid model of limited face-to-face instruction. This would provide a strain on our teachers as well as potential risks to students. Children are at risk of academic decline with limited adult supervision, mental health decline because of isolation and uncertainty, and physical decline because of a lack of food for those in poverty.
The call from the state department was a plea for the church to stand in the gap to help during this time of need, specifically in the area of providing space for learning centers, encouragement to teachers, and food distribution to those in poverty. I assured Mrs. Spearman that I believed S.C. Baptists would rise to the occasion as we have in the past. What better way for us to saturate our communities with hope in a time of need?
We have faced this before. Early Christians rose to the call to serve in the first few centuries. Eusebius wrote in “The Church History” that during the plague, “All day long, some of them [the Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them … deeds were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians.”
When everyone fled to safety, the early church risked their lives through service. In describing the church’s response to the plague, Bishop Dionysius wrote, “Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.”
The last pagan emperor of Rome, Julian the Apostate, stated, “It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well, while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.”
What will they write about us? What we do for someone during a time of crisis will never be forgotten and will be talked about for years to come. This is our moment as a church to saturate every life with the hope of the gospel and to put our faith into action.
We can rise to the call of service or shrink to the sound of silence. Let’s rise.