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SERVING GOD IN THE TIME OF COVID-19: A TESTIMONY OF A RWANDAN PASTOR

Since the appearance of Covid-19, humanity has been threatened more than ever. We live the days of fear, panic, anxiety and hopelessness. Like the other strata of social life, the pastoral ministry has also been seriously affected. Social distancing helped slow the spread of COVID-19, but also it increased our loneliness and anxiety during this time. Indeed, in Rwandan context, congregants have a great affinity with coming praying and worshiping God together.

If then things changed to the point the pastor could not even lay his hands on the believers, this had a great impact. Also, to the effects of Covid-19, we must add other harmful consequences of the torrential rain that recently hit East Africa.

Faced with all these challenges, the pastor must always play his primordial role of keeping and feeding the flock of God. The purpose of this article is therefore to share my personal experience as a Rwandan pastor of what it seems to serve God at the time of Covid-19.

First of all, I have to testify that God has really been and is still always there with me, my family and my parishioners. Every parish of my archdeaconry (Hanika) is now responding at some level to the COVID-19 by maintaining worship life and connections. Pastors try keeping being in touch with parishioners via phone, local radio, TV through messages, etc. This showed me that we can maintain physical distance while being socially and spiritually close. As Archdeacon, my role has always been to coordinate: support all parishes to develop an action plan for their preparedness and response.

One of the common answers provided by all the parishes of my archdeaconry is the prayer organized by each family on Sunday. Speaking of the impact of this initiative, Pastor NDARIBUMBYE François of Tambwe Parish said:

"Family service has been very beneficial for the Church: it can be one of the ways of resolving conflicts and thus of maintaining family unity. It allows members of the whole family to be more aware of their role in the life of the Church. For me, after Covid-19, the prayer cell group (an entity of 10 houses) will no longer be the basic unit of the Church because people will be much more aware that the family Church comes first.” Rev. Francois also appreciates the role of Technology in his current pastoral ministry but regrets that he does not master it very much.

As parish pastor, my first role is to encourage the congregants. I try to remind them that God is still in the business of protecting his own and to stay strong until the Lord’s delivering power is fully exerted over the Covid-19 outbreak. I encourage people to find space inside their homes and to worship God intimately and individually, even as gathering together has become impossible.

Besides spiritual encouragement, people also need the assurance that when they are in need, they will get the help. So I try to help meet the physical needs of my congregants, too. This includes urging Christians to help each other and to reflect God's concern for all people, especially the most vulnerable, advise those who have lost jobs to integrate other businesses such as agriculture, livestock, small trade, and others. These activities keep me working, trying to sustain a sense of community and build hope among people.

At the same, I work on other issues like those caused by the climate change which continues to affect our country: support those whose homes have been destroyed, etc. The pastoral ministry is more diversified than ever.

It is difficult to responds adequately to all of the challenges posed by the current situation. Myself I can be vulnerable to making selfish decisions that are focused on protecting myself, but I want to be sure I am also being guided by love for my parishioners and neighbors, especially those who could be most hurt by this crisis.

To conclude, I would like once again to bear witness to the presence of God in my pastoral ministry during this crisis. He helped me to give hope to my parishioners by keeping them connected through family prayers. Also, I feel indebted to thank our partners in mission for what they have been for us in this time of crisis. Thank you very much for your testimonies and encouragement. I see that it is very important to reach out globally to others, to share learning and resources and encourage one another. We are one human family in one shared home.

Joseph SEHORANA

Archdeacon of Hanika and

Butansinda Parish Priest