Multiplying loaves and fish

Grants help Latino churches stretch resources to get through the pandemic

Cristobal Aleman, pastor of two Mennonite Brethren Hispanic congregations in Fresno and Raisin City, Calif., was concerned about his undocumented members who lacked access to government aid or health insurance during the pandemic. The congregations used a grant from the COVID-19 Congregational Relief Fund — provided by Everence, MCC and MDS — for food and utilities for members, food banks run by the churches and funding for an assistant pastor who hadn’t received a salary during the pandemic. — Dina Gonzalez-Piña/MCC Cristobal Aleman, pastor of two Mennonite Brethren Hispanic congregations in Fresno and Raisin City, Calif., was concerned about his undocumented members who lacked access to government aid or health insurance during the pandemic. The congregations used a grant from the COVID-19 Congregational Relief Fund — provided by Everence, MCC and MDS — for food and utilities for members, food banks run by the churches and funding for an assistant pastor who hadn’t received a salary during the pandemic. — Dina Gonzalez-Piña/MCC

Latino Mennonite churches across the United States are practicing stewardship in ways that have brought hope to a community that continues to struggle due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Three organizations — Everence, Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Disaster Service — collaborated to provide $800,000 of financial relief to churches during the pandemic. These grants were a saving grace for several Anabaptist churches. Uses of the money ranged from paying churches’ financial obligations to helping families bury their loved ones.

Like Jesus miraculously feeding a multitude, pastors were on the front lines to make their members’ “five loaves and two fish” multiply. The biblical story gives insight on how community looks: Showing love through meeting needs. Providing assistance with no strings attached. Making a little go a long way to meet the needs of many.

Stories from these Latino churches reveal the challenges people face within an unjust economic system. Members who worked in factories or the hospitality industry were especially at risk of infection. On the west coast, members of Mennonite Brethren churches were infected while picking fruit.

Congregants had to choose between working to sustain their families or staying home to protect them. Churches needed to help families stay safe and not go hungry. Similar challenges were seen in the Midwest.

Latino Mennonite churches in Chicago saw a drop in attendance and financial giving. A pastor took a significant pay cut. When his church received a COVID relief grant, instead of using it for his personal expenses he helped people in his faith community buy groceries and pay overdue utility bills. This included partially funding funerals for a father and son who died of COVID-related illnesses.

The pandemic revealed a truth many churches of color already knew: Financial and health crises affect communities of color more severely than the population at large. Many do not have adequate access to health care or health insurance. Negligent employers have failed to protect their employees.

Undocumented members of our faith communities couldn’t receive unemployment benefits or economic stimulus funds. They were left out of those benefits due to their immigration status. In Pasadena, Texas, Casa del Alfarero (The Potter’s House), helped undocumented immigrants survive by purchasing groceries and connecting them with local nonprofits. The church became their financial lifeline. This was possible through mutual aid and the COVID relief fund.

The pandemic has magnified stewardship challenges and raised questions for the Anabaptist community: As disciples of Jesus, what are we called to do with the money we are blessed with? How do we understand others who might not be in the same financial situation? How does empathy for those in need play a role in our spiritual practices of stewardship?

Our companions on this stewardship journey include our fellow believers who have given their five loaves and two fish to feed the least of these.

Martin Navarro of Elkhart, Ind., is a stewardship consultant with Everence and associate conference minister for Illinois Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA. In both roles he serves the Latino community.

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