Youth ministry in the thick of the virus

Adam Tomalin

Suddenly, what felt so distant from South Africa became a close reality in a matter of weeks. The actions taken by the government started to bring home the severity and reality of the situation.

It was necessary for the government to respond with the speed and gravitas with which they did because of the vulnerability of so much of the South African population. Many can’t safely quarantine in their small living spaces and densely populated neighbourhoods. Many don’t have access to the healthcare they might need. To add to this, approximately seven million people are immunocompromised by HIV or TB.

Equally sudden to the government’s actions was the impact this all had on Hope Church’s youth ministry. This term I have been praying that more of our youth would be drawn into our groups, particularly the midweek small groups. I have been longing that the youth would grow to love and serve each other better and ultimately grow in their love for the King of the universe. Prior to the coronavirus situation I felt that momentum was building. Then, all of a sudden, something this big happened which made me think that all of these good things would come to an abrupt halt.

But this helped me to realise, yet again, how much I need God. It reminded me how little control I have over my situations - something I know in my head but often fail to live out. I firmly believe that I’m fully dependent on God and can enjoy the care of a powerful Father, instead of being left to a frightening loneliness where everything is down to me. This situation has been another wake up call for me, for sure. Despite some fears I may have, I can remind myself of an ultimate reality and a certain hope which calls me not to fear. It’s this perspective which is driving us, as a youth ministry, to respond in the way we are.

As I’ve thought about how we can continue the youth ministry in the current climate, there have been many questions to consider:

  • How can we continue to engage the young people in light of the differences in accessibility to resources? 
  • How do we reach those who aren’t properly connected to the church community?
  • How can we show love to our youth and their families during this situation? 

The major barrier to meeting virtually is internet access. Many of our teenagers don’t have wifi and data is expensive. However, we praise the Lord that many people have generously offered to pay for data for these families. This ensures that more of our teenagers can remain connected and online resources can be accessed. It’s been great to see people serve the gospel sacrificially by giving in this way and so we’ve been able to keep midweek bible study groups running. We’re connecting our teens into these virtual small groups and checking up on them to make sure that they can access resources and are continuing to look to Christ.  

To reach families who aren’t yet connected into the church community, we’ve been encouraging parents who are plugged in to reach out to the other parents. We want this to be an opportunity for people other than church staff to engage with the less connected families.

In all we do (and before we do anything!) prayer is crucial. We need to strive to work hard with gospel resolve but we do so in humble dependence in God, recognising that without him we won’t see any growth. We love our youth and their families by first praying.

Even through the chaos and uncertainty of these times, Jesus is in control, his kingdom will still grow and his purposes will come to pass.