The Rev. Isaac Broune travels 22 miles by taxi several days a week to keep in touch with his two congregations.
“No sacrifice is too great to feed the Lord's sheep,” he said.
Broune is in charge of Bethel Quartier-Eléphant and Anani Cité de Paix United Methodist churches, two communities in the outskirts of the South-Abidjan District. They have a combined membership of 600.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Broune — who also is the director of French content for UM News — has been keeping the doors of his churches closed to abide with the decision of the Côte d’Ivoire Conference leadership. However, he said, he does not intend to abandon his faithful, and has even encouraged his members to hold services in their homes.
“Every Sunday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., I fellowship with them, give the Lord's Supper and pray for the sick,” he said.
He visits with 10 to 12 families at their homes each Sunday. Gatherings with fewer than 50 people are allowed as long as social distancing is maintained and masks are worn.
He published a simplified and interactive liturgy based on the conference lectionary readings.
“I use the conference preaching format. For the Gospel reading, I presented the context, explained the text and its message for today in the form of questions and answers,” he said.
Landry Ekra, the leader of the Canaan Methodist class at Bethel Quartier-Eléphant United Methodist Church, said when the temple was closed, church leaders noticed that some of its members had never done a service in their families.
“We asked (Rev. Broune) to provide us with guidelines and tools to understand the message,” Ekra said.
The devotional guide was supposed to be for Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday only, but the members encouraged the pastor to continue its publication.
“Once (he) posts the devotional guide in the church WhatsApp group on Saturdays, I print them out and distribute them to many of my members,” Ekra said. His class group has 78 families.
Broune sends the guide to 300 members.
After reading the texts, the family members interact. Instead of preaching in person, they ask and answer questions.
“Broune has a very original and practical approach in the leading of family worship,” said Jean-Emile Sosso, a lay preacher in the Grand-Bassam District who receives Broune’s communication.
Sosso forwards the guide to United Methodist class leaders in his district. Broune also posts it on Facebook so that others can download it.
These digital tools make it possible to reach more people than the pastor could have done on Sunday, Broune said. In addition to having a strong presence on social networks to interact with his members, he also connects with them by phone.
“I call some each day. Last week, I called all the Sunday school teachers and lay preachers. The week before, it was the church council members. This week, I am calling all the choristers. I usually call about 10 people every day,” he said.
Like Broune, other United Methodist pastors in Africa and the Philippines are at the forefront of the spiritual and physical well-being of their members.
In Congo, pastors are helping members maintain the faith with home worship guidance and daily reminders that God is with them.
“I have more than 300 families. I organize them so that each family can meet every Sunday in their respective home to worship their God,” said the Rev. Clement Kingombe of Ibanda United Methodist Church in Bukavu.
He also runs a 45-minute weekly program on Neno la Uzima radio.
“Once on the radio, I give my phone number, so that anyone who has a particular problem or difficulty understanding the Scriptures can call me back and I chat with him on the phone to avoid physical contact,” he said.
The Rev. Sumaili Bulahimu, pastor of Kadutu United Methodist Church in Bukavu, is hitting the streets to reach the faithful. Every morning and evening, he and his team of evangelists travel the city with megaphones preaching the Gospel and messages of hope.
“It is a moment that we have to seek to evangelize the population to recognize the greatness of God,” he said.
The church in Mozambique also has been nurturing congregants while social distancing.
“In order to keep the spiritual life of members alive, the cabinet sends daily biblical texts for reflection to all families,” said the Rev. Telma Ricardo, a member of the episcopal cabinet and district superintendent in Sofala.
Church member Maria Mahave has been holding services at her home with the materials provided by the Mozambique North Conference.
“Home services take place every Sunday and during the week, between 6 and 7 p.m., we have had prayers, Bible readings and songs. The liturgy and preaching is on a rotating basis, covering all members of the family,” she said. “Now, many church members understand that the church is not a building but people.”
However, Fernandez said, he was able to send Bible reflections that he had written to church members.
“I challenge them to be vigilant and informed about the situation of the pandemic. My goal is to give them comfort, courage to face this ordeal, to follow protocols responsibly, to refine self-discipline and to hold onto God's promises and omnipotent power over this crisis,” he said.
He also encourages them to pray for first responders, the government and the marginalized.
In Kenya, assistance to the poorest has increased. Members of Kayole St. John’s United Methodist Church continue the weekly ministry of serving coffee and food to the homeless but take extra precautions to keep everyone safe.
The Rev. Patrick Wandera, senior pastor, said about 60% of the church participants are men and women who are currently homeless.
“We are seeing churches become so creative in the way they care for the people in the congregation,” Wandera said.
Riruta United Methodist Church in Nairobi also is serving the community in various ways through the epidemic. The church staff is doing its best to connect people, including having pastors make phone calls to five people every day to check on them.
“At this time, we discourage gatherings, but we can encourage connections,” the Rev. Meshack Lumbe said.
Another ministry at Riruta involves writing notes and drawing pictures for nearly 300 street children living in homes. The project is called “300 Forms of Encouragement.”
In Zimbabwe, the church has mobilized its pastors to reach out to members.
“The circuits in Harare's West District send written devotions, messages and audio and video sermons to members,” said Eunice Kadiki, communicator for Harare's West District.
Zimbabwe Area Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa said he is encouraged by the efforts pastors have put forth to connect with members.
“Seeing the pastors and leaders respond positively as they do shows the determination to move forward, whatever the challenges. Hope should be at the center of everything we do in these difficult times,” he said.
This story features reporting by communicators Philippe Kituka Lolonga in Congo, Gladys P. Mangiduyos in the Philippines, Gad Maiga in Kenya, Olvis Dabley in Côte d’Ivoire, Joao Filimone Sambo and Eurico Gustavo in Mozambique, and Chenayi Kumuterera in Zimbabwe.
News media contact: Vicki Brown, news editor, [email protected] or 615-742-5469. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.