One of our main human illusions — the idea that we have control over our lives — has evaporated in the wake of COVID-19. Fresh groundswells of vulnerability have left nearly everyone feeling newly anxious about the next outbreak, worried about loved ones and job security.
Businesses, governments, schools, churches and hospitals are coming together to creatively reimagine how to provide valuable services to our communities. But some of our neighbors — many of them among those most touched by the coronavirus — will never see the benefit of this creativity.
“Coronavirus has been traumatic and devastating for all of us,” said Rev. Zach Szmara, pastor of The Bridge Community Church in Logansport, Indiana, and national director of Immigrant Connection. “But especially for those who are foreign-born, whether immigrants or refugees.”
Tax paying immigrants unable to work from home (such as janitors, factory workers and service-industry workers) are severely affected by unemployment or underemployment and are also unsure of how they can access the help they need. In addition to the effects of this pandemic, immigration policy over the past few years has made it harder for foreign-born taxpayers to access the same care other taxpayers have.
“Word has gone out over the past few years that those who are foreign-born who have received any form of public benefit (like public health care) may be denied a green card in the future. Many immigrants are unsure of how they can get care without information being used against them in the future,” said Szmara, who is also a Department of Justice immigration legal representative.
Because many of these foreign-born taxpayers have children who are United States citizens, anything that jeopardizes their ability to stay in the U.S. is a grave risk to their families. In this already-tense climate, churches and other Christian communities are often the only environments where foreign-born neighbors can turn to for food, financial assistance and help in navigating this economic environment.
“When a crisis like this arises, and there is need for medical attention, the question arises, ‘what do we do?’ And so what do they do? They look to God and prayer. They contact those in the medical profession in the congregation to try to assist them,” said a Wesleyan pastor from New York City, the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to the immediate impact of COVID-19 on immigrants and refugees, many worry about the long-term impact this will have on their children whose normal school schedule has been interrupted. “Many parents will not go to get school lunches for fear of the information being used against them in the future,” said Szmara. “And even for those who have schools engaged in e-learning, language barriers are even harder to overcome online — and many lower-income families have no Internet at home.”
This pandemic has brought new insecurities to many churches, as budgets take a hit and church members lose their jobs or their health to this virus. But the Church also has a unique opportunity in this climate to be good neighbors to those often overlooked in our communities.
“Our summer programming, like VBS or day camps, may be a great opportunity to work on literacy and other subjects for those in our communities who have fallen behind,” said Szmara. “People not only need information in this climate, they need a guide. So we need Wesleyans in our congregations who can assist people in navigating applications for unemployment or telling them where they can get a COVID-19 test if needed.”
The most important thing, Szmara said, is to focus on ways our churches can nourish our neighbors, rather than turning our attention only toward our own survival.
“Right now, our friends and family have needs, our churches have needs, and yet we need to ask how do we (like Jesus) look toward those most vulnerable during this time, even as most of our neighbors are vulnerable in other ways?”
To learn more about ways to respond to your community during the pandemic, visit The Wesleyan Church COVID-19 Hub.
Ethan Linder serves as pastor of hospitality, collegians and young adults at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana.