Mark and Sarah are in debt. So they called their local church for help

Mark and Sarah found themselves in a desperate financial situation when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Almost immediately after social distancing was first put in place in Australia this year, Sarah’s bookings as a professional photographer dried up. Mark’s hours at his retail job were at first dramatically reduced, then stopped altogether.

But Mark and Sarah were not alone because, for the past few years, their local church had been helping them to get through debt incurred from medical bills. Their first child was born with a congenital condition and they were not able to call upon immediate family or friends.

‍“We’re looking forward to things at the moment, which sounds ridiculous in the midst of a pandemic.” – Sarah

After failed attempts at seeking financial support from other agencies, Sarah heard about the service of Christians Against Poverty (CAP) through the mothers and toddlers group at a nearby church.

While not Christians themselves, Mark and Sarah were curious about the sort of help a local church might provide them in their hour of need.

“When they came and did the home visits they were super, super lovely and supportive and went through it all with us,” says Sarah about how volunteers from the church helped them access assistance such as creating a sustainable budget, having a CAP caseworker manage their debt demands, and being on-hand to provide personal support.

These past few months have been tough, but through the church partnering with CAP – a charity which equips local churches with practical tools around debt management and budgeting – Mark and Sarah were able to work with trained volunteers to find a solution that would keep them afloat.

‍Now, because they have an advocate in their local church who is able to relieve the pressure on them and give them space to breathe, Sarah and Mark have the confidence to face this uncertain time.

‍“We’re looking forward to things at the moment, which sounds ridiculous in the midst of a pandemic.”

This is certainly a crucial moment for our whole world, as it seems to be full of chaos, uncertainty and division; there is so much hurt from the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19.

As Mark and Sarah indicate, the economic fallout alone will be large and ongoing. It will be felt across our communities for a long time.

But the Good News of Jesus Christ is needed in any and all situations, as Jesus himself commissioned the Church to always keep going with what he started: to serve the poor, to save the lost and to point people to his Good News.

The Church is the people of God, bringing His kingdom here on Earth until it comes in fullness. But how does this translate to someone searching for employment alongside nearly 4 million others after the government stimulus and rental freezes eventually cease?

What happens to those unable to afford groceries or who are facing eviction?

The answer is in the way the Church has been called to live, from its earliest days, as found in James 2:16-17: “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

We’re instructed not just to wish them well, but to say “we’re with you” in the hardship, loneliness and anxiety.

When you’re with someone, you’re attentive to their needs. If it’s only metaphorical, the sentiment becomes meaningless. That’s why charitable organisations such as CAP are important.

“I can’t put into works how grateful I am,” says Sarah about her local church being there for her family.

“We were last night reflecting on this and thought, ‘Imagine sitting here right now, knowing that we’re in lockdown with this second wave and that my income has dried up again, and receiving all those [debt] calls. Having to deal with the debts all individually, each different provider, and their questions.

“We were just reflecting on that, and how different things are.”

Churches have a unique opportunity to regain public faith in Christianity.

CAP supports local churches in carrying out the mission to serve and include the poor in their communities – and to do so while confidently proclaiming the good news of Jesus.

Local churches know their communities best, so CAP assists Australian churches to step into the homes of some of the poorest and at-risk, offering them a practical solution, and sharing the love of Jesus.

Such an important relationship with their neighbours means churches have a unique opportunity to regain public faith in Christianity, by taking action to help people crippled by debt post-pandemic.

Taking this opportunity to redeem the perception of the Church is not about ourselves. It’s about bringing transformation into people’s lives and bringing glory to God in the process.

I believe there are many reasons one could make a case for why Christianity has been good for society. But historical analysis aside, it’s quite simple.

Keeping our focus on Jesus’ mandate and example to truly care for the poor will inevitably shine the light of God into our communities and into the world. Recognition of this work will likely come and go, but transformed lives are forever.

Rosie Kendall is the CEO of CAP Australia and has been working for CAP both here and in the UK for 13 years. She loves the church and seeing the bride of Christ respond to Jesus’ call to serve and include the poor. Rosie’s husband Dave also works at CAP and they have three beautiful daughters, Esther, Lydia and Maeve.

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