Ministry as a Response to the Arrival of COVID-19 in the African Continent
Stories from the Young African Leadership Development (YALD) COVID Awareness Campaign
One way to think of Young People’s Ministries is as a hub, an effective center of a vast network that connects the ministry efforts of (and with) United Methodist youth and young adults around the globe. At Young People’s Ministries, we resource and support a wide variety of ministries with youth and young adults throughout the United Methodist Church. In the spring and summer of 2020, we were able to support a special project from Young African Leadership Development (YALD) that would raise awareness about COVID-19 and equip local churches to help the communities prepare and respond to the pandemic. The Executive Secretary of YALD, Rufaro Matongo Martha, and the President of YALD, Peter Cibuabua, are both young adults raised in the United Methodist Church; about ninety percent of YALD’s leadership team consists of young adults who are members of the United Methodist Church. YALD creates opportunities to train and raise up new generations of leaders while working to meet community needs through Christian outreach. The YALD model highlights the important process of training young leaders and then providing them the framework and support to practice and learn while meeting community needs. As a Christian-based organization, YALD provides hope through humanitarian, psychological, physical, and mental assistance, and it creates evangelism opportunities through community outreach.
A summary of the learnings from YALD’s 2020 COVID-19 Project are below, along with questions to consider if you are inspired to take on challenges in your local context based upon YALD’s model.
Young People’s Ministries impact through YALD and this specific project are really incredible and are a testament to the power that young people have to create movements and meet needs in their communities. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, providing handwashing stations and free masks created new members for YALD and the United Methodist Church. In Zimbabwe, food and hygiene packs improved the lives of children at several orphanages. In Rwanda and Tanzania, areas without running water and orphanages were provided with sanitation kits and education about handwashing and how diseases spread. In the Ivory Coast, young people learned how they could adopt responsible behavior with older and younger generations. They learned the reality of how contagious COVID-19 is and the stress it puts on hospital systems. In Cameroon, orphanages and rehabilitation centers in busy, city-center areas benefitted from receiving education about social distancing as well as receiving hygiene and food kits. In Sierra Leone, students at a variety of schools learned about COVID-19 preventative measures and how to teach those in their community who are illiterate how to lower their risks of infection. In Nigeria, similar efforts with orphanages and churches in busy areas created new community relationships. A variety of photos and videos are available directly from YALD’s Facebook page.
Five Key Findings for Ministry Project Planners
Gather evidence, listen, and learn before making a plan. YALD spent time with United Methodist and community leaders in nine different countries – learning about specific community needs and attitudes related to COVID-19. This allowed YALD to create dynamic responses that would be meaningful and appropriate for different communities. Instead of having one response to many questions, their involvement with diverse leaders and communities created many responses to many questions. As they compiled responses, they looked for areas of overlapping needs and coordinated an efficient and meaningful response. While working quickly to be on the front end of COVID-19 responses, they still spent nearly two months listening and learning, working to refine their understanding of actual needs before creating their action and funding plans. This process allowed them to identify four basic needs for immediate responses that could be tailored for different contexts: access to food, hand washing and sanitation, mask creation and usage, and education and marketing. It also allowed them to engage leaders in picturing longer-term needs that could be addressed as well, including vulnerabilities that would arise because of economic changes, damage to communities and social structures, psychological stress, and changes to academic schedules and spaces.
Identify specific goals and build (realistic) capacity to meet those goals. YALD specifically focused on helping young people endure through COVID-19 and government responses to that pandemic. Specifically, they began to build goals to raise awareness and create preventative measures among orphan and student populations who would be at very high risk of devastation if a COVID-19 outbreak happened in their community. Knowing this goal, they continued conversations with national leaders and connections within the United Methodist Church to seek partners for publicity and financial support. YALD also created internal learning goals, so they could track what they learned while they organized the COVID-19 project and apply those learnings to future opportunities.
Clearly set the scope (boundaries) of a project. Knowing the limitations of a project helps make the best use of limited time and resources. Once YALD knew their goals because of their research, they could set their scope on young populations and structures that serve them that could be devastated by a COVID-19 outbreak. Brainstorming or idea sessions gave YALD members the ability to say things like, “Great idea; we need to save that for another project.” This was particularly helpful when one country moved more quickly into a recovery phase of the pandemic than other countries that were still dealing with outbreaks.
Coordinate with people who care. The coordination for this project included members of YALD, country representatives, episcopal, district, and local level church leaders, community organizers, international offices, and school administrators because they understood the goals and scope of the project. This group cared about the project because they understood the positive impact it would have for the young people in their care.
Share multimedia stories. Plans are great; putting those plans into action is great. Take the time to share the impact of plans as broadly as possible. This encourages people to celebrate with you and also to recognize needs that someone may not have previously been aware of. Use social media, email lists, reports to church leadership teams – really, anyone who will listen. If you have photos, videos, and stories to share because you are proud of the work you’ve accomplished, share them and inspire others!