“The ministry continues,” challenged Eron Green, CEO of STCH Ministries, as COVID-19 alarmingly spread over our entire nation. One day it seemed a world away, rather insignificant, and the next day we faced a pandemic–a crisis so vast that no one knew exactly how to respond. Natural fear and anxiety collided with faith in God’s promises. Real-life decisions had to be made.
At Homes for Children and Homes for Families, STCH Ministries staff first prioritized the safety of children and families. They also responded by creating new opportunities to meet needs through this crisis. House parents and resident coordinators became teachers. They provided life-skills training in money management for the older children, writing in cursive for others. More time at home permitted cooking classes as budding chefs discovered new talents. Outdoor games such as baseball and shooting hoops helped with pent-up energy. Staff helped the boys develop an individual strength-training course using old tires. In each home, there were evening nerf-gun wars, movies nights and other activities. These were relationship-building moments combined with fun, conversation and games.
The Family Counseling ministry was challenged by pandemic-magnified emotional, spiritual and psychological stress. Struggles with depression, anxiety and marital conflict have stretched coping skills to the breaking point. The use of technology to enhance ministry moved from dreams and wistful thinking to a can-do priority. Family Counseling re-tooled to provide counseling to these individuals as therapists quickly learned and adapted to distance counseling. Using Zoom, phone conferences and facetime, clients now accessed their counseling sessions while at home or anywhere they could find a private space. Some used their car or even a closet!
As churches closed, both the Faith & Work and the Faith & Finances classes were cut short. “The ministry continues” stimulated creative out-of-the-box solutions.
“As Christians, we have always known that to be effective, we needed to get outside of the church walls,” a staff member encouraged.
The pandemic precipitated a focus on using technology to teach effectively. Working together, the staff researched, experimented and put in long hours to develop videos, PowerPoints and a learning platform. Today, more than 80 people are enrolled in Zoom classes that reach from Houston and San Antonio to Corpus Christi, and now even the Dominican Republic!
Although many Americans have experienced anxiety and loss due to the pandemic, some people are also facing the terror of impending starvation. The COVID-19 pandemic shattered life in the Dominican Republic. Abruptly, quarantine was strictly enforced with jail time, as 90% of individuals lost their jobs.
STCH Ministries International considered how to meet the needs of 299 sponsored children and their families quarantined in their homes, located throughout the island. How do we support our college-aged Christian Leadership and Education Project (CLEP) students? Canceled mission teams meant that the ladies who usually cooked and cared for our mission teams lost their income. There was also a domino-effect as parents suddenly lost their jobs and could not pay tuition. Teachers in our Christian schools were deprived of their salary, although they continued to teach. Orphanages, depending on local donations, suffered a sudden drop in funding when tourism shut off.
Through the generous support from many individuals, STCH Ministries was providentially positioned to meet the physical needs for food. Although many items were scarce and the lines were incredibly long, a connection with the Dominican Bravo grocery chain enabled us to purchase food directly. They stipulated we had to purchase a full pallet of each item—milk, beans, rice, tomato paste, etc. That sounded wonderful! Belatedly, we realized that a pallet of spaghetti was 2400 packages and a pallet of beans was 1080. A pallet was a LOT of food.
Undaunted, ministry partner Russell Jerez directed the logistics of this effort with support from other ministry partners. He hired 2 trucks. He re-purposed our team lodging, Koinonia house, to store the food. Maria moved into the house to organize the food into smaller packets for delivery the following day. Dr. Francisco supervised and guided the delivery process to ensure safety and health for everyone. Rebeca, Valentina and Maria identified and called the neediest families, “We have a packet of food for you!” As families came to receive their food, a ministry partner counseled with each one, sharing scriptures, praying for their needs and encouraging them. As one of the fathers shared his needs, he hesitated. Valentina felt the Spirit prompting her, “Do you know Jesus as your Savior?” He shook his head, and answered that he was ready to open his heart. He received much more than a packet of food, he received the gift of eternal life that day. Later Melody, his wife, responded by WhatsApp, “God used you as an instrument with words of wisdom, so that my husband came to Jesus’ way. He knew God was calling him, and we were praying for that.”
In addition to the urgent physical need for food, STCH Ministries swiftly mobilized to address the children’s emotional and spiritual needs, as well as the interrupted education of the children. The Dominican team led by Rebeca Dinzey began an innovative approach. As a condition of their scholarship, the CLEP students have always “given back” 10 hours per month in support of younger Samuel’s Fund sponsored kids. Each college student was assigned several Samuel’s Fund children. They now call them once a week, ask about their individual situations, pray and share a scripture with them, and help them with homework received over the internet or the WhatsApp platform. When one CLEP student, Vladimir, discovered a family who couldn’t afford internet, he began paying for this service himself. CLEP students send weekly reports:
“We have begun reading a chapter each week of James, and I call them the next week and quiz them. They enjoy our visits.”
“I video chat with my students. We talk about their homework. I encourage their mother because she is very overwhelmed.”
“My student says she is not a Christian because she is afraid of God. I am helping her understand how to have a relationship with Him.”
In the face of adversity, we had to decide how to react. Would we ignore health concerns and continue business as usual? Would we shut down and hide out in fear? In this crisis could we find opportunities to love others responsibly? How could we continue meeting needs? Could we join in God’s purpose to accomplish good even through this pandemic? All of our ministries were forced to adapt. Faith in God’s promises motivated us to find new ways to ensure that the ministry continued. As the world starts to open back up, we continue to pray for the needs of children and families as everyone continues to adjust to a new way of life. We give all the glory to God for the strength and wisdom that allows us to continue healing hearts and sharing hope even through these difficult times. The ministry does continue!
To learn more about STCH Ministries, visit stchm.org.